Last Saturday night, in front of over 41,000 fans at Truist Park, Austin Riley came to the plate in Game 1 of the NLCS for an at-bat he’ll remember for the rest of his life. Tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth, with just one out left, the Braves third baseman walked it off with a line drive to left field, giving the team a crucial 1-0 lead in the NLCS against the Dodgers. You’ve seen the hit a hundred times by now as it’ll no doubt go down as one of the many big postseason moments in Atlanta Braves history. Even sweeter, it just so happened to be Riley’s first professional walk-off RBI.
Riley had also tied the game a few innings earlier with a solo shot, but the heroics didn’t stop there for the Mississippi native. He again came up with a big hit in Game 2 on Sunday, which allowed Eddie Rosario to do what he did an inning later. Down by one in the bottom of the eighth, Riley barreled another ball, though this time to left-center, scoring Ozzie Albies (again) and tying the game 4-4. Three incredibly clutch hits in two consecutive nights, and this NLCS is just getting started.
Which brings us to the point of this post. On Monday, Baseball-Reference tweeted a rather impressive stat pertaining to Riley, noting just how clutch the Braves third baseman has been so far during this League Championship Series.
Austin Riley has swung the Braves's championship odds by 10.7% in the NLC, according to cWPA
Last year, he had a -1.4% cWPA in the NLCS https://t.co/w7D8lJ9Iqc
— Baseball Reference (@baseball_ref) October 18, 2021
In case you aren’t familiar with WPA (Win Probability Added), it’s simply just another stat that attempts to measure a player’s contributions, though the cool thing about this particular one is that it essentially tells you how impactful (or clutch) a specific hit is at a precise juncture of a game. Linked with win expectancy, WPA helps us determine which player contributed the most to his team actually winning the game, which is like the whole point, right?
But what BR’s tweet above is talking about is something called cWPA (Championship Win Probability), which is the same thing as regular WPA, except it’s quantifying a World Series win or loss… not the current game the player is actually contributing in. So what BR is actually saying is that, because of Riley’s impressive offensive contributions in the first two games of the NLCS versus LA, the Braves chances to win the World Series this year have increased 10.7%, which if you think about it for a minute, is a helluva jump.
Just consider how Atlanta’s World Series odds have fluctuated throughout the 2021 regular season. I mean… we’re talking just a swing of a few percentage points over the course of the year…
|March 31 (pre-season)||5.2%|
|July 31 (mid-season)||1.0%|
|October 3 (end of season)||9.6%|
*World Series odds were compiled from FanGraphs
As you can see, from the day before Opening Day to the day the season ended, the Braves chances to win the World Series increased by roughly 4.5%, which is pretty much expected given it took the team over half the year to finally start playing playoff-caliber ball (thank goodness for those trade deadline additions, right?). Now, as of Tuesday, Atlanta’s World Series chances sit at 27.5%, trailing only the Red Sox, who currently lead its LCS 2-1 against the Astros.
Now, obviously any player’s performance at this point in the year — with just four teams left — is going to create more of a swing to his respective team’s chances at winning the World Series. That’s just logical, for as the pool of teams decrease, the volatility increases. However, it’s interesting to note that, without Riley’s nearly 11% push, the Braves would be just behind the Astros on that list of WS odds above, which makes perfect sense because without Riley’s three clutch hits, the team would almost certainly be down 0-2 in the series against LA.
The point is: Austin Riley is having an incredible year, and even more so, a magical postseason. Who knows exactly how clutch he is, for that’s such a subjective thing to try and quantify. But regardless, if there’s a player I need to come up with a hit late in the game, Riley is definitely my man.