Ronald Acuña MVP Breakdown

(Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

Ronald Acuña Jr.‘s MVP campaign is off to a hot start in the 2023 MLB season. The Venezuelan right fielder is a three-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner. The 25-year-old has been in the MVP conversation every season since entering the league, but now the Atlanta Braves star’s game has finally come full circle. Here’s why Ronald Acuña is the frontrunner for the NL MVP early in the season.

Leadoff Hitting:

Ronald Acuña has always been a star hitter compared to the league average. With a league average sitting at .323 in the 2023 season, Acuña’s leadoff-hitting numbers look unrealistic.

In terms of Acuña’s career, he is unparalleled when adding runs at the leadoff position. Grant McAuley has put context to prove how outstanding the outfielder has played in his career.

 

Grant McAuley’s tweet was from 2021, but Acuña seems to have leveled up this season. The Braves score early with Acuña as the catalyst. In his first plate appearance in 45 games, he is 21-for-41, has seven doubles and two home runs, struck out three times, and has been walked four times. Those numbers put Acuña’s slash line at .512/.556/.829 for his first at-bat of a game this season, making it an impressive start, and putting him on pace to be the best leadoff hitter of 2023. This is a continuing trend for the Braves star. Of Acuña’s 18 SB, seven have come in the first inning and he’s been in scoring position in 28 out of the 45 games this season.

The Braves score .80 runs per game in the first inning, making them first in MLB. It’s helpful when Acuña has scored 14 runs in the first inning in 45 games. They jumped from .43 in 2022 to .80 in 2023, an 86% increase.

Compared to a Legend

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Acuña is now being compared to Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, who is known as one of, if not the best leadoff hitters of all time. Acuña’s comparison to the Hall of Famer is pretty spectacular. It’s not often that players are compared to Henderson, who owns the MLB career records for stolen bases (1,406), runs (2295), and for being caught stealing (335).

Henderson is a 10-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger Award winner, won a Gold Glove Award, and was the 1990 AL MVP. He also led the AL in walks four times, runs five times, and stolen bases 12 times. He’s second in walks for his career with 2,190. To put into perspective how prolific Henderson was as a base stealer, he has 468 more stolen bases than Lou Brock, who has the second-most stolen bases of all time, which represents almost half of Lou Brock’s entire stolen base total of 938 bags swiped. Henderson played 25 seasons in MLB, finishing with a career slash line of .279/.401/.419. Henderson averaged 121 runs, 27 doubles, three triples, 16 home runs, 59 RBI, 115 walks versus 89 strikeouts, and an astonishing 74 stolen bases per 162 games. He retired at the age of 44.

Acuña chasing leadoff history:

To compare what Ronald Acuña is doing in leadoff hitting compared to MLB leadoff hitters, here is where Acuña ranks in statistics:

  • Hits: 22 (1st)
  • Doubles: 7 (1st)
  • Runs: 15 (1st)
  • Batting Average: .524 (1st)
  • OPS: 1.398 (2nd)

To compare this clip to baseball and Braves history, Acuña is on pace to break records. According to MLB writer Mark Bowman, here are the records Acuña is on pace to break:

Hits: 77
MLB record: Lefty O’Doul, 64 in 1929
Braves record: Chipper Jones, 49 in 1998 and Marquis Grissom, 49 in ’96.

Doubles: 24
MLB record: Craig Biggio, 17 in 2004 and David Wright, 17 in ’12
Braves record: Freddie Freeman, 14 in 2014 and Marcus Giles, 14 in ’03

Runs: 52
MLB record: Lenny Dykstra, 45 in 1993 and Rickey Henderson, 45 in ’85
Braves record: Chipper Jones, 33 in 1999

Batting average: .524
MLB record: Lefty O’Doul, .508 in 1929
Braves record: Rogers Hornsby, .411 in ’28

OPS: 1.398
MLB record: Babe Ruth, 1.607 in 1920
Braves record: Eddie Mathews, 1.249 in 1955

Comparing Acuña to himself:

As stated earlier, Ronald Acuña is an elite hitter in MLB, but what happens when you compare the already elite hitter to himself? Here are some impressive stats from the 2023 season compared to Acuña’s career to show this season’s historical greatness.

Ronald Acuña’s career batting statistics from 2018-2022:

  • AVG/OPB/SLG: .277/.370/.517
  • OPS/OPS+: .888/132+
  • HR%/SO%/BB%/XBH%: 5.2%/25.3%/11.4%/10.0%

That is very impressive from the outfielder, and no one is arguing these are alarming numbers. However, compared to this year, Acuña makes these numbers seem poor.

Ronald Acuña’s batting statistics in 2023:

  • AVG/OPB/SLG: .344/.431/.600
  • OPS/OPS+: 1.031/177+
  • HR%/SO%/BB%/XBH%: 5.3%/14.4%/12.4%/11.5%

All numbers represent increases from his career statistics. For his career, Acuña batting .277 is good, however, a leap to .344 in 2023 is a vast improvement. His OPS is through the roof, but the one number that should pop out is his strikeout percentage. From 2018-2022, Acuña averaged 3.4 AB/SO; in 2023, that number went to 6.0 AB/SO—an appalling number to give the Braves more confidence in his plate vision.

This would be why Brian Snitker came out and said back in the middle of May,

“I think he’s (Ronald Acuña Jr) playing the best baseball of his career”

Compared to this season, Tom Verducci even broke down how Ronald Acuña has changed from his first year back from ACL surgery.

Comparing Acuña to the field:

Acuña, of course, has been impressive compared to his career, but that’s just one player, and the competition is himself. But what about comparing himself to the rest of the league? When comparing Acuña to the league full of star-studded names, and skilled players, the outfielder is still putting on a clinic on the field. Here are some impressive numbers:

Compared to MLB:

  • .344 Batting Average (2nd)
  • 44 Runs Scored (1st)
  • 62 Hits (2nd)
  • 13 Doubles (T-11th)
  • 11 Home Runs (T-11)
  • 108 Total Bases (1st)
  • 26 Walks (15th)
  • 18 Stolen Bases (2nd)
  • .431 OBP (2nd)
  • .600 SLG (4th)
  • 1.031 OPS (4th)
  • bWAR (T-1st)
  • 2.7 OffWAR (1st)

All major statistical batting categories– and Acuña is top 15 in almost all of them. Further, he’s in the top five in the league in AVG, Runs, Hits, TB, SB, OBP, SLG, OPS, bWAR, and OffWAR. Acuña is not only having an impressive season on the field but one of the best starts to an MLB season ever.

Regarding the high-flying names, Acuña surpasses pre-season MVP betting favorite Mookie Betts, Juan Soto, and Fernando Tatis. Fans are seeing a resurging right fielder who, fully healthy, is still one of the top dogs in the sport.

Acuña chasing batting history:

And, of course, Acuña is on pace for more history. Here are some more historical contexts for what Acuña is chasing:

Braves Insider Grant McAuley tweeted this Sunday:

#Braves Ronald Acuña Jr. is playing his 46th game. 

He has now scored 44 times. 

That’s a pace for 155 runs. No player has eclipsed the 150-run plateau since Jeff Bagwell scored 152 for the Astros in 2000. Prior to that, it was the Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio with 151 in 1937.

Prior to Acuña’s 44th game, Grant also tweeted this:

It’s #Braves Game No. 43 and Ronald Acuña Jr. has officially arrived on a 40/40 trajectory. Actually, its 40/60. Something that’s never been done in MLB history.

Baseball fans should watch this pace, as every Acuña AB is becoming must-watch TV. Acuña’s current pace puts his season on track to be one of the best MVP seasons the sport has seen. There’s still a lot of time left in the season, but it looks like Acuña is the frontrunner for the NL MVP.

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Brooks Thomason

As a up and coming writer, Brooks has been born and raised as an Atlanta Braves fan. Going through the years of Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Brian McCann as a kid, to Freddie Freeman, and Acuña, Brooks has seen Braves stars come and go. However, his fandom always remains with Braves Country.

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