Ronald Acuna Jr, 25, has been in the majors since 2018. The superstar outfielder has proven to be wildly talented and productive in just about every healthy season in his young career. In almost every single full season (excluding 2020) he posted a Fangraphs War of four or above with an OPS of 850 or above with the Atlanta Braves.
Hitting, fielding, running the bases, and covering ground in the outfield, he has more than lived up to the lofty expectations set on him prior to his MLB debut.
The only blemish on his torrid start to his career was the 2022 season. After tearing his ACL mid-way through a productive 2021, Acuna struggled through last season. Career lows in on-base percentage, OPS, and an uncharacteristically low walk rate yielded a mediocre season.
However, he has not only transformed back into the player he once was, but he’s also easily having his best season so far. A National League-leading 1.015 OPS to go along with a 2.4 Fangraphs War. Despite only playing a quarter of the season, Acuna has surpassed his 2.1 mark in 119 games last year.
It’s usually not a responsible take to anoint someone an MVP this early. With how much can still play out, it’s always easier to take “the field” when comparing everyone to one guy. Acuna’s been that guy, but this is his year.
He’s been phenomenal, here’s why it’s going to be sustainable.
Ronald Acuna Jr. is Already the NL MVP
Stolen Base Rule
It’s been well documented that the new rules implemented this past offseason were designed to benefit base stealers. Pitchers are only allowed two “disengagements” from the mound; runners can operate with a significant decrease in risk knowing the burden is on the pitcher.
Acuna has always been a problem on the basepaths. He’s had a season with 29 stolen bases and a season with 37. A runner like Acuna is adept at knowing when to take advantage of the pitcher and the new rule to his benefit. Despite only being two months in, Acuna has already swiped 20 bags: national league leader and second in all of baseball.
It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility to assume he will reach the 50 stolen base plateaus. Between these rules and this upside, the sky is the limit for him on the bases.
The Total Package
Some players who have success stealing bases don’t offer a whole lot else to the table. Some players who get on base or hit home runs also can’t offer a whole lot else.
In the case of Acuna, he offers everything. While it’s been detailed his ability to provide a use while on the bases, it matters more if he can get on base and get on base a lot.
His league-leading .427 on-base percentage shows his ability to be uber-productive while not picking up hits. His .351-mark last year has improved drastically; coupled with his speed, he’s a tough player to prepare for.
Home runs make offenses significantly more efficient and make players more valuable for teams. Acuna burst onto the scene with 26 in his rookie campaign; he followed that up with 41 in 2019, his first full season in the majors.
He has 11 already so far at the end of May. On top of everything Acuna can already do, his ability to provide the Braves with 35 home run upside is just another strength to both Acuna the player and the Atlanta offense overall.
While Aaron Judge won his MVP season a year ago hitting 62! Acuna doesn’t need to reach that mark, nor does he have to come close. The overall package is enough to both sustain his torrid start and continue to produce at an extremely high level this season.
Could This Season Be Historic?
While still very early, it’s fair to assume that Acuna’s 2023 season could be one for the history books. Judge in 2022, Mookie Betts in 2018, Bryce Harper in 2015, Shohei Ohtani…pretty much every year. There are certain MVP seasons that find a way to separate themselves from the pack. This could be one of those.
Acuna has played for just about two months. He has already right near a fWar mark of three. This means he is on pace to finish with a mark right around nine. Judge’s 2022 season was 11.5, and Betts in 2018 was at 10.5.
Those seasons are revered as some of the greatest single seasons of all time. Acuna is not too far off from putting himself in that company.
With the weather warming up, fly balls that may fall for outs or doubles in April and early May will start to leave the yard in the summer months. This will only increase the on-base percentage, the slugging percentage, the OPS, and the counting stats. (home runs and RBIs)
Double-digit fWar seasons are few and far between, but this feels like the next guy to accomplish that feat.
Acuna Jr. has more than bounced back from his ACL injury and is going to run away with this NL MVP award. Not only will this be a great season for the Braves superstar, but it’s going to be historic.
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