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MLB DFS picks for 5/20/2021: Austin Riley and the Atlanta Braves

Has Austin Riley finally arrived?

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves have been a letdown offensively this week, but they still carry a .188 ISO on the season, which is tops in the league. And against right-handed pitchers—which Atlanta faces today—they carry a .191 ISO. This mark is second in the majors, behind only the Red Sox. Right-handed starter Wil Crowe profiles more like a low leverage relief option, and he has not impressed during his brief time in the bigs. He is generating more ground balls and soft contact this year than last, but he walks plenty (11.2%) and doesn’t strike many out (19.1%). On the year it’s 10 walks against 17 strikeouts over 20 23 innings, for reference. He has a 4.35 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, but I think the .276 BABIP and 11.1% HR/FB rate will course correct soon enough, maybe starting today. If so, that’s good news for Atlanta’s sticks.

If you do stack Braves today (or any other) odds are you’re looking at the top four hitters and deciding what to do from there. Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman, Marcell Ozuna, and Ozzie Albies are probably locked in, but after that it’s either Austin Riley or Dansby Swanson depending on your taste/needs. For my part, I think it’s the light-tower power of Riley we should be prioritizing.

The 24-year-old third baseman entered the scene in 2019, and amassed a .232/.288/.448 slash line over his first two seasons. The best part of it all was the .216 ISO, but that came with a .31.2% strikeout rate and a below average 6.4% walk rate.

So far in 2021, Riley is a different sort of hitter.

One big switch is more judiciousness at the plate. Riley isn’t swinging at over half of pitches thrown at him anymore. Instead, he’s down to a 45.5% swing rate, and his chase rate is an above-average 29.8% mark. I’m inclined to trust his newfound double-digit walk rate, as a result.

One curiosity to me was his quality of contact. If he’s being more patient at the plate and picking his spots, one would assume that he’s hitting the ball harder. That isn’t the case in the early going, however. Instead, this reads more like a guy who is focusing on making contact. It’s not all bad, though. Against right-handers in particular, Riley is slashing .324/.444/.490, with all five of his home runs and a tolerable .167 ISO. But the big news is the 14.3% walk rate and the impressive 21.4% strikeout rate. I’m pretty enamored with a young guy who possesses his power who is finding ways to improve at the plate.

As for the power, I think it shows up in his 112.2 MPH max exit velocity, which puts him in the 87th percentile. We know from using our eyes that Riley can really get into one at times, so it’s nice to see it on the page. That mark puts him 37th in the bigs this year, around guys like J.D. Martinez and Jose Ramirez, for reference. For only $3,500 on DraftKings today, I’m in love with Riley as a somewhat sneaky floor play with upside. At least as much as anyone can be on a four-game slate.