By MARK SIMON
The top two plays in run value on Braves Austin Riley’s defensive ledger, both from the first two weeks of 2021, showcase the performance improvement for the Braves’ third baseman this season.
In 2020, Riley ranked last among third baseman in Defensive Runs Saved (-10). He’s improved to just better than average (2 Runs Saved) at the hot corner this season. He’s similarly made a nice jump on the offensive end which, with Ronald Acuña Jr. being out for the season, looms large for the Braves.
But we’re here to put a few more numbers on his defense starting with how much better he is on balls hit to his right, like the one above hit by Jonathan Lucroy in April.
Austin Riley – On Balls Hit To His Right (3B)
With > 0% Chance of Recording Out
2020: 22 plays made on 39 chances (56% out rate)
2021: 38 plays made on 56 chances (68% out rate)
Riley has 16 more plays made than he did in 2021 but has only one more play that he didn’t make.
He’s gone from being 4 plays below average for the season on those balls to 5 plays above average.
Similarly, on balls to his left, he’s gone from 3 plays below average to 2 plays above average.
We’re going to take an educated guess that Riley has worked on his reaction time to balls off the bat, the kind of thing that’s a necessity to be good at if you’re going to play third base. That belief is based on how he’s fared better when he’s had to dive for balls.
Austin Riley on Diving Attempts (3B)
2020 2 plays made on 16 attempts (13% success rate)
2021 9 plays made on 26 attempts (35% success rate)
Last June, Braves third base and infield coach Ron Washington told David O’Brien of The Athletic of Riley: “He has tremendous instincts, he has quickness and, more than anything else, he has aptitude.”
That quote didn’t seem to fit quite right then but it looks much more on the mark now.