The All-Star Game is still well over a month away, but voting will begin heating up in a blink of an eye, and the Braves are sure to have a few representatives again this year. There are the obvious candidates like Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman (even though he got off to a slow start), and Ian Anderson, but perhaps the most deserving of the bunch to this point in the season is Austin Riley.
The Braves third baseman also didn’t get off to the hottest of starts, but he’s been on a historic tear over the last month-plus. Since April 17th, Riley has arguably been the best player in the National League, slashing an eye-popping .376/.469/.697 with nine homers and 20 RBIs, and those numbers have been even better of late. Over his last eight games, he has hit .500 with six homers and 11 RBIs, posting an almost unheard-of 1.831 OPS. Riley is the hottest player in baseball right now, which is why he was named the NL Player of the Week yesterday, and if All-Star voting were to take place today — he would be a lock to make it and would probably end up being named the starting third baseman.
Thanks to his recent run of play, Riley is currently 5th in the National League in batting average (.320), 3rd in on-base percentage (.414), and 6th in OPS. Among third basemen, he ranks 1st, 1st, and 2nd respectively in each of those categories, and only Kris Bryant has tallied more WAR than him.
Riley will have to cool down a bit eventually, but there are plenty of signs that he’s turned the corner and is well on his way to becoming an All-Star caliber player. His weighted on-base average (wOBA) is .411, his expected weighted on-base average is .366 (xwOBA), and his WRC+ is 159 (nearly double his major-league career-average). However, all of these offensive numbers are much more in line with what Riley produced at every level in the minors, and he was a notoriously slow starter with each promotion.
Keep in mind, Riley had yet to even log an entire season’s worth of games before the start of the 2021 campaign. Teams figured out what worked against him once, but he’s made the adjustments, and it might be a while before opponents find something that consistently plagues him again. Riley’s hitting everything well, recording a .265 average against breaking balls, .325 mark against fastballs, and .417 average against offspeed offerings. There was a reason he was the Braves top prospect a couple of seasons ago, and he’s still just a freshly turned 24-year-old. 2021 could very well be the first of many All-Star games for Austin Riley.
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