May 15th, 2019. Remember that day.
On a warm Wednesday in the middle of May, the Atlanta Braves franchise changed forever.
It’s been just a shade over two weeks since Austin Riley broke into the Big Leagues. If you’ve been following along, you know how exciting it’s been to watch this kid. If you haven’t been following the Braves as of late, you may want to start paying attention again.
May 15th marked an iconic day for the aptly-named Baby Braves. It was a day as long-awaited, if not more, than the day a particular Venezuelan left fielder joined the Big League Braves. What was his name again? I’m drawing a blank.
Anyway, Riley has more than cemented his place in Cobb County, slashing an unreal .375/.786/1.192 with seven home runs and 20 RBIs in 14 games.
Yes, you read that right. 14 games. That’s it. Riley has played 14 games.
What makes the kid impressive beyond his power and ability to come through in tough situations is his apparent consistency. Riley does not just see the ball. He stalks it. He’s making solid contact on every pitch and, more often than not, puts it exactly where he wants it to go.
Riley is scary, dangerous and thrilling to watch. And he’s putting up numbers at an alarming rate, already passing some players high up in the MVP conversation.
Austin Riley: 5 HR, 14 RBI in 48 AB. https://t.co/epRFtyJNcC
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) May 28, 2019
Dave’s comparison is dated by a few days, but the sentiment remains. This kid is producing at an alarming rate, and it’s the most fun thing to watch since Acuna’s breakout season.
Now, I could sit here and talk about how electric this kid is all day. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. But a few questions come to mind about Riley.
How long can he stay this hot?
What will be his slash line come October?
Will we see a record-breaking season from him?
These are just to name a few. I personally want to see what his line will look like at the end of the season. The primary way to look at this is to calculate current output, stacked up against specific performance per month, with a look at his ability to break out of the rough spots, like prolonged slumps and weakness against different pitches.
The problem with that is he’s only been in the majors for 14 games. We can compare his farm stats and see how they stack, but you know as well as I do there’s a vast difference between minors ball and majors ball.
We can’t accurately and statistically figure out his projected output.
So instead, let’s roll up our sleeves and speculate WILDLY.
Austin Riley: Predicting 2019
Now, I’m not saying I’m blindly throwing numbers out of nowhere. There’s a good way to analyze his projected output, and we’ll take a look at that. For starters, though, let’s take a look at what his 2019 will look like if he keeps his current pace.
Current stats: .375, 7 HR, 20 RBI
Current pace: .375, 59 HR, 169 RBI
Let’s play make-believe for a second. Let’s say Riley stays steady at the same pace he’s been playing since his call-up. We could see numbers put up by a rookie that baseball hasn’t seen since the likes of Ichiro (.350, 242 H, 56 SB) and Albert Pujols (.329, 37 HR, 130 RBI). Well beyond that, as a matter of fact. Could we see another season of a dual ROY and MVP winner? It’s been a while since Ichiro’s feat in 2001. If you ask me, we deserve to see a change.
On-pace numbers are fun to look at. It’s enjoyable to see what potentially lies ahead for a budding superstar. Do you know what else is fun? Looking at numbers everyone believes he’s incapable of.
Let’s say he goes beyond his pace and doesn’t stop driving in runs, blasting homers and blowing the cover off the ball. Say he never cools down and flies beyond that pace. Let’s have a little fun for a second. What could that look like?
Current stats: .375, 7 HR, 20 RBI
If he literally doesn’t stop: .397, 80 HR, 230 RBI
The year is 2019. Bryce Harper never broke out of his slump. The Braves are 50 games ahead of the Phillies atop the NL East. Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom are sitting on 7+ ERAs, and Jose Ureña is without a job after getting released. We’re a day from the playoffs starting, and Austin Riley is looking for a feat never reached before: home run number 80 on the season.
Riley never stopped hitting the ball, averaging a home run every couple of days and knocking Barry Bonds off the record books, where he belongs (I’m a firm believer in the no-steroids thing, but that’s a topic for another day). The world never sees a season like that of Riley. Until next year, that is, when he breaks his single-season record with 90 home runs. Atlanta is cemented as the best team in baseball for decades to come and all is right with the world.
Well. That was fun. Now, there is no way he can get even hotter than he’s already been. But that’s a world I’d be fond of living in.
The Rhythm of the Game
In the spirit of that, it should also be noted that Riley is human. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but he’s a living, breathing human being. People go into slumps. People cool off. Nobody’s perfect.
I like to think baseball exemplifies that well. Take Ted Williams, for example. Ted, who is considered to be one of, if not THE greatest hitter of all time, broke the batting average record in 1941 with an astounding .406 mark. That rounds to 40%. Averaging that out, we see that Ted Williams failed 6 out of 10 times to get the highest batting average of all time.
That’s the beautiful thing about baseball. It not only shows the peak of human ability stacked up against the peak of human ability, but it has a big enough margin for error within it, so 40% is considered an elite number. It paints the picture that, yes, humans aren’t perfect, and still manages to bring up some of the most talented people on the planet to be a part of it, showing just what humans can do.
Okay. Now that I’m off my soapbox let’s get back down to brass tacks. Let’s see how I believe Riley’s slash line will look at the end of the year.
Current stats: .375, 7 HR, 20 RBI
My Projected 2019 stats: .309, 41 HR, 107 RBI
Taking into account the dreaded post ASG slow period, playing time above replacements and different pitchers figuring him out, we still see a potential line that we haven’t seen from a rookie in a very long time. Possibly ever.
You have to take the slow months into account. But, I think it’s safe to say he’s cemented a spot in Cobb County for the foreseeable future. Given how quickly big league arms can figure out the young guys, it’s expected to see him drop off a bit. But don’t expect too much of a dip. Dropping to a homer per 14-15 at-bats and having an almost 60 point dip in average from .375 to .309 is still unbelievable. I know 41 home runs may come off as bold, but this is a player that already has 22 homers between AAA and the majors this year. That would lead all of baseball, and 20 of those homers have come in the last 32 games. I believe his home-run production, at least, is sustainable.
Yes, I know this is all general speculation, derived from statistical probability and my gut feelings. But not everyone can do what Riley has done in that short amount of time. The New Kid is putting up numbers that no one in the history of baseball has done in their first 15 games. The future of the Braves looks brighter than we’ve seen in a long time. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see how this pans out.