Riley's sights set on Gold Glove in 2024

February 26th, 2024

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- stands as just one of six Braves players ever to produce three consecutive 30-homer seasons. By the end of this year, he’d like to be one of just three third basemen in franchise history to win a Gold Glove Award.

“That’s what I’m going for,” Riley said. “I thought I did a pretty good job last year. That’s the goal this year.”

Riley might want to turn to his manager Brian Snitker to serve as a campaign manager. Snitker has given some colorful responses when asked for his thoughts on how some defensive metrics viewed his third baseman in the past.

“You can take those defensive metrics and put it you know where,” Snitker said. “I judge defense with my eyes, not some metrics. It blows me away every year when I look at the Gold Glove thing and I see all of the numbers they have. You know the guys who can defend, and Austin Riley is one of the best defensive third basemen in our game.”

Still, if you look at Baseball Savant’s metrics, Riley was tied for 23rd among all qualified third basemen with 0 Outs Above Average last year. This actually was a sign of progress. He was tied for 30th in 2022 with -6 OAA and 30th in ‘21 with -3 OAA.

FanGraphs’ metrics were much kinder. Riley ranked fourth among qualified third basemen with 9 Defensive Runs Saved last year. He was fifth in 2022 with 6 DRS and first in ‘21 with 13 DRS.

As for the Snitker eye test, it led the veteran manager to firmly believe Riley already should have won his first Gold Glove Award.

“I hate that he was overlooked last year,” Snitker said. “That’s a sin that he didn’t win a Gold Glove.”

Riley can at least take pride in the fact that he joined the Pirates’ Ke’Bryan Hayes and the Rockies’ Ryan McMahon as the National League’s three Gold Glove finalists last year. Hayes was named the winner.

Regardless of what is deciphered from the differing metrics, Riley can confidently say he has become a better defensive player over the past couple years. He dropped a few pounds this offseason with the hope to improve his glove-side range.

“I think the [defensive improvement] is what I’ve taken the most pride in because I was so bad,” Riley said. “I’ve come a long way. I think it’s just going to continue to get more consistent.”

Riley might be a pretty tough self-evaluator when it comes to his defensive development. He certainly endured inevitable growing pains during his Minor League days. But Snitker remembers Chipper Jones always providing encouraging reports when asked about Riley’s glove.

“Chipper was always very complimentary because he went around and saw him a lot in the Minors,” Snitker said. “He was always really high on him as a defensive third baseman.”

Clete Boyer (1969) and Terry Pendleton (‘92) are the only Braves third basemen to win a Gold Glove Award. Riley might eventually add to this list.

Regardless of whether Riley ever wins the defensive honor, he seems destined to spend the next decade being compared to Jones and Eddie Mathews, the Braves’ two Hall of Fame third basemen. He already stands with them as half of the franchise’s six players who have had three consecutive 30-homer seasons. The others are Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy and Andruw Jones.

Riley wasted little time powering up for 2024, hitting his first home run of the spring in Sunday's 5-4 loss to the Red Sox at CoolToday Park.

Riley has finished among the top seven in NL MVP balloting each of the past three seasons, and he has earned an All-Star selection the past two seasons. His primary goal is to reintroduce himself to the thrill he felt in 2021, when he and his Braves teammates won the World Series.

But if he can be greedy, he’d also like a Gold Glove.

“I know there’s a lot more coming,” Riley said. “You just try to get better with everything every year. I don’t think there is a secret formula. It’s about continuing to work and learn myself. Hopefully, we can continue to climb up that ladder.”