Okay, okay, OKAY! Stop your giggling. So, I might’ve been here before, writing a similar post for the last 12 years. Well, listen, wise guy, Austin Riley is only 23 years old, so it couldn’t have been 12 years unless he was a sleeper in an Esports league. By the by, is Spanish-language Esports called DEsportes? Or dEsportes? Or Esportes? Or something else? My brain hurts thinking about this. You know what else makes my brain hurt? Eating ice cream too fast and not drafting Austin Riley and I’m all out of ice cream! What? You know exactly what I’m saying! I believe it was around August 15th, about fifteen days and/or halfway through the previous season, when I said something like, “Austin Riley can’t stop striking out, huh? Man and five ladies, he is bad,” then I looked away and went back in October to look at some guys. Grey Looks At Some Guys coming up next, a new special brought to you by the Hallmark Channel and For Eyes. Austin Riley’s strikeout rate was 30.8% in July, 29.3% in August and I wrote him off. Then, after the season, I went back and saw he had a 17.3% strikeout rate in September and I slowly looked both ways to see if anyone else was seeing what I was seeing. They weren’t! Yes, it’s a little goofy to break down what a hitter is doing with strikeout rates in such small samples, but last year was goofy, and we don’t have a ton to go on. Plus, this is a narrative we’ve been waiting for with Riley. He had plate discipline in the minors after he settled into a level, and now he’s finally had one full season in the majors (462 career at-bats) and the strikeouts are coming down. If that happens, well…So, what can we expect from Austin Riley for 2021 fantasy baseball and what makes him a sleeper?
First, I want to screenshot something for you:
Draw your attention to the xBA column. The most pitches seen and doing the most with them. Not being hurt by offspeed or breaking stuff like he was before, and killing fastballs year over year. Could be written off as a fluky final month, and, who knows, maybe it was, but his last two years in Triple-A saw batting averages of .282 and .293. .282 was fueled by a high BABIP, but the .293 number was what we’re seeing here. He eventually settles into a level and begins to hit.
In his last year in Triple-A, he also had a 20.1% strikeout rate. When looking at his plate discipline from last year, it shows more of the same. He cut his Swinging Strike rate, cut down on pitches swung at outside the zone and when he did swing, his contact went way up. His Contact% went from 63.2% to 72.5% year over year. Right now, the Braves have Travis d’Arnaud penciled into the cleanup spot, and The French Terminator may say, “Le be back,” but we’re smarter than that. He’s not actually good, c’mon. I’ll put money on it that at some point in 2021 Riley becomes the Braves’ cleanup hitter and breaks out in a huge way. Looking for a guy who is being drafted around 250th overall in some leagues who could be a top 50 hitter? Look no further (unless you want to see his projections). For 2021, I’ll give Austin Riley projections of 84/31/96/.277/2 in 582 ABs with a chance for more.