Braves: Paths for Austin Riley and Freddie Freeman to Win MVP

We take a look at what it would take for Atlanta Braves stars Austin Riley and Freddie Freeman to come away with the NL MVP in 2021.

There is just a month left in the 2021 season and the Atlanta Braves have two legitimate contenders to win the NL MVP.

And, of course, had Ronald Acuna Jr. stayed healthy this might not even be a discussion at this point as he was likely to run away with the award.

Despite not playing since July 10, Acuna still ranks 7th in the National League in WAR at 4.3.

Still, the Braves have two strong candidates for the award in Austin Riley and Freddie Freeman.

I think they both face an uphill battle to win the award, but let’s look at their path for getting there.

 

The Contenders

There are about five really solid contenders for the NL MVP award, including Riley and Freeman.

The other three are Fernando Tatis Jr., Bryce Harper, and Max Muncy.

As long as Tatis stays healthy and somewhat productive in the final month, I think he wins the award easily.

Braves fans don’t like it, but Harpers is a serious contender with 5.1 WAR and a 164 wRC+. If he leads the Philadelphia Phillies to the NL East crown, he’ll have a very strong case as well.

Those two are probably the favorites at this point.

 

Get Hot

Plain and simple, either Riley or Freeman — hopefully both for the Braves sake — needs to get red hot in September.

Both are pretty far behind the other candidates in terms of WAR and wRC+, which are metrics a lot of voters look at these days to determine a player’s value for their team.

We all know how invaluable both Riley and Freeman are to the Braves and that without them they wouldn’t even be sniffing the postseason.

But when it comes down to it, voters are going look at numbers on a paper to decide — and right now that doesn’t favor either Freeman or Riley.

WAR is never a great stat to look at for first baseman as even the best defensive first baseman carry a negative defensive WAR.

Freeman is a Gold Glove first baseman and has a -11 defensive rating, according to FanGraphs. Another reason why I still don’t trust any defensive metric they’ve come up with.

Either way, it’s going to take a real hot streak to end the year, leading the Braves to the NL East title for one of these guys to win.

Riley was already on fire in August slashing .359/.391/.583 with a .973 OPS and 6 home runs. It will be hard to outdo those numbers in September.

He actually had a higher OPS in July, though, at 1.099 with 9 home runs, so it’s possible.

Freddie slashed .323/.374/.525 with a .899 OPS in August, but his best month also came in July when he slashed .375/.470/.594 with a 1.063 OPS and 6 home runs.

If he can do that again with a little more power, that would certainly give him a chance.

 

The Countings Stats

This is really what gives the two Braves sluggers a chance as they rank very high in the counting stats.

They’re tied for fifth in home runs with 28. Freddie leads all of the NL in runs with 95, while Riley is eighth in RBI. Riley is seventh in average at .303 and Freddie is 12th at .296.

Getting to 40 home runs seems unrealistic, but I think they’d have to at least get to 35.

Freddie needs to try and get to at least 90 RBI, which will be a challenge. And both need to stay around .300 with the average.

OPS is another big stat as well for voters when determining OPS. Riley ranks ninth at .911 and Freddie 11th at .898.

Harper and Tatis rank first and second at 1.008 and 1.004.

The Braves sluggers would need to get to at least .950 to be in the running, and that’s a tall task in one month. They would also need some help from Harper and Tatis having cold months and their teams missing out on the postseason.

 

Will They Split the Votes

The problem with having two MVP candidates is they will likely split the votes. Who has been more valuable to the team?

That’s a really hard question to answer and one that voters will likely be split on — hence why the votes among them will be split.

From a fan’s perspective, I certainly want both to be hot in September and for them to continue to split the votes because that means the team is doing well.

But in order for one of them to win, their best path may be for the other to cool off a bit — and still have the team win.

In other words, let’s say Riley has that huge month and Freddie is just average. Voters could then point to September as Riley carrying the Braves to an NL East title and he’s clearly the MVP of that team.

 

The votes being split and them being so far behind in the advanced stats like WAR, OPS, and wRC+ are why neither is likely to win the award.

However, I’m all for them giving it their best shot in September as they both lead the Braves to the postseason.