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The Braves’ dynamic duo is on pace for franchise history

Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies are on pace to make history. They also are the latest installment of a long-standing Braves tradition.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 season for the Braves has certainly been exciting to this point. While the pitching has been a roller coaster that has caused headaches and heartaches, the offense has been as good as advertised. While Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson, and others certainly add significant value, it is Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies that create the most excitement. Combining elite talent at such young ages with fun personalities, they have taken the baseball world by storm. Fortunately, due to long-term deals that both have signed over the past few weeks, the dynamic duo will be in Atlanta for the foreseeable future.

If this story sounds familiar, it definitely is. Over the past 25 years, the Braves have had good success at producing talented offensive twosomes that immediately contributed to the Atlanta offenses at young ages.

In the late 90s, it was Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones. In the mid-2000s, it was Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur. At the beginning of this decade, it was Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward. The talent and production among these six players during their time in Atlanta was quite productive. The amount of accolades this group earned as Braves is outstanding:

Five top-five Rookie of the Year finishes

14 Gold Gloves

Nine Silver Slugger awards

24 All-Star appearances

11 top-ten MVP finishes

Chipper has added an MVP award and Hall of Fame induction to the list. In time, Freeman and McCann may add to the numbers as well. Overall, the Braves have had a very successful run at producing homegrown offensive talent.

The special thing about 2019 is that it is the first full season Acuña and Albies will be playing together in Atlanta. It is similar to 1997, 2006, and 2011, the years the other three aforementioned groups played their first full season together for the Braves. I thought it would be a fun stroll down memory lane to revisit the first time Braves fans got to enjoy these prolific pairings together for a full season in Atlanta. Furthermore, I also wanted to give an idea of what type of production it would take for Acuña and Albies to make their combined first full season in the majors truly historic.

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

1997 - Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones

Chipper Jones - 21 Home Runs, 111 RBI, 20 Stolen Bases, 100 Runs, .295/.371/.479, .850 OPS, 119 OPS+, 3.9 bWAR

Andruw Jones - 18 Home Runs, 70 RBI, 20 Stolen Bases, 60 Runs, .231/.329/.416, .747 OPS, 93 OPS+, 3.3 bWAR

As a disclaimer, Chipper was by far the oldest (25) and most established big leaguer in terms of the individual seasons in this scenario. Andruw was a phenom in his own right coming off one of the most memorable big league debuts in the 1996 World Series. In 1997, the Jones boys helped the Braves win 101 games. They combined for 7.2 bWAR, with Chipper getting his second All-Star nod and Andruw finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting. It certainly was a successful debut for the duo that would anchor the Braves offense for the next decade.

Atlanta Braves v Colorado Rockies Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

2006 - Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur

Brian McCann - 24 Home Runs, 93 RBI, 61 Runs, 2 Stolen Bases, .333/.388./.572, .961 OPS, 143 OPS+, 4.3 bWAR

Jeff Francoeur - 29 Home Runs, 103 RBI. 83 Runs, 1 Stolen Base, .260/.293/.449, .742 OPS, 87 OPS+, 0.6 bWAR

Following their impressive debuts in 2005, including Francouer’s amazing second half and McCann’s “neat” playoff home run off Roger Clemens, McCann and Frenchy were looked upon as needed producers in 2006. Among these three groups, they combined for the most home runs and RBIs. Francoeur would set career highs in home runs and total bases, while McCann earned his first All-Star selection and Silver Slugger. In fact, McCann became just the fifth catcher aged 22 years or younger to produce at least a 140 OPS+ in 475 or more plate appearances in MLB history. The Georgia born and bred best friends certainly provided a successful encore to their memorable debuts.

Oakland Athletics v Atlanta Braves Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

2011 - Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward

Freddie Freeman - 21 Home Runs, 76 RBI, 67 Runs, 4 Stolen Bases, .282/.346/.448, .795 OPS, 116 OPS+, 1.5 bWAR

Jason Heyward - 14 Home Runs, 42 RBI, 50 Runs, 9 Stolen Bases .227/.319/.389, .708 OPS, 93 OPS+, 2.0 bWAR

Heyward was coming off quite the debut in 2010, but unfortunately ran into some injuries in 2011. Freddie Freeman picked up some of the slack, as he delivered his own successful rookie performance. Freeman would finish second in the Rookie of the Year voting, and the two youngsters would help the Braves win 89 games. While they did not make the playoffs in 2011, both Freeman and Heyward would contribute to multiple playoff runs over the next few years.

As can be seen, the Braves have had significant contributions from their prolific pairings from the beginning.

So how might Acuña and Albies potentially compare?

With ease, they could be the most successful duo among the ones mentioned, and it may not be close. The Jones boys led these pairings with a 7.2 combined bWAR. Acuña and Albies already have combined for 2.6 bWAR this year in 23 games. Francoeur and McCann combined for 53 home runs and 196 RBI to lead the duos. While the RBI may be hard to reach, Acuña and Albies hit 50 combined home runs last year with Acuña only playing two-thirds of the season. So far this year, they have nine through 23 games.

In total, Albies and Acuña combined for 7.9 bWAR last year. Over a full season from both, a combined measure of 10 WAR is not an unreasonable goal for the young stars. If Albies can continue his improvement at the plate and Acuña just remains Acuña, they truly could produce a historic season. You would have to go all the way back to 1954 to find two players of similar age and experience in their first full season together that arguably would come close to the season Albies and Acuna Jr are on pace to produce.

Their names are Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron.

1954 - Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron

Eddie Mathews - 40 Home Runs, 103 RBI, 96 Runs, 10 Stolen Bases .290/.423/.603, 1.026 OPS, 172 OPS+, 8.0 bWAR

Hank Aaron - 13 Home Runs, 69 RBI, 58 Runs, 2 Stolen Bases, .280/.322/.447, .769 OPS, 104 OPS+, 1.3 bWAR

The crazy thing about Eddie Mathews’ age-22 season in 1954 is it actually was a bit less spectacular than his 1953 season at age 21. Despite his gaudy numbers, Mathews finished only 19th in the MVP voting that year. Hank Aaron would finish fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting, but had an impressive debut for one of the most legendary careers in baseball history. While Aaron would eventually have the more productive career, Mathews had one of the best starts to a career ever. Mike Trout, Alex Rodriguez, and Mathews are the only three players in baseball history to have multiple seasons of 8 WAR or higher at 22 years of age or younger.

Expecting Acuña to replicate Mathews’ production may be a bit much, but his talent has shown it is not unreasonable. However, beyond their individual first full seasons together, the reality that Acuña and Ozzie Albies are being mentioned in the same breath as Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron is truly amazing. If a pair of Hall of Famers is the realistic baseline for the production Acuña and Albies are on pace to provide this year, the Braves and their fans are witnessing something special.

And the fact it is only the beginning of the story is something that should be cherished every day it is able to be witnessed.

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