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The Scary Part of Ronald Acuña Jr in that he can get even better

The likely NL MVP has another level he can ascend to.

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images

Ronald Acuña Jr just authored one of the best seasons by any player wearing a Braves uniform ever and really, by any player wearing any uniform. His final stat line: .337/.416/.596 for a 1.012 OPS, a 170 wRC+, 41 HRs, 73 SBs, 149 runs scored and 106 RBI, and an 8.3 fWAR, all while cutting his strikeout rate in half. I could write entire articles on each and every one of those numbers, a truly historic season, and one that is likely to win him the National League MVP award.

And what’s terrifying is, there’s a whole another level he can get to.

One of the more absurd parts of Acuña’s season was the remarkable consistency in which it was played. The worst month he had was May, where he still put up an All-Star level 146 wRC+ and his two best months were June and September, where he posted a 194 and 192 wRC+, respectively. Those are the month we’re going to focus on for our purposes.

Heres a graph of Ronald’s ground ball rate by month this season and you’ll notice to low points:

Acuña Jr Groundball rate
Statcast

Those two low points are June and September, correlating with Acuña’s best two month offensively. In June and September, Ronald ran a 44% ground-ball rate, much closer to league average than his other four months of work, where he was north of a 50% ground-ball rate. Not only did Ronald run his highest wRC+ in those two months, but 20 of his 41 home runs came in those two months. Almost half of his homers came in 33% of the season. If I’m a pitcher, that’s terrifying.

What if Acuña gets his full season ground-ball rate back down to league average? He’s done it before. In fact, before he tore his ACL right before the All-Star break in 2021, his career ground-ball rate was 43%, right at league average. What if he gets back there for a full season? Imagine a full season like June and September. We’re not talking a 170 wRC+, we’re talking a 190 wRC+ or higher. We’re not talking 40 homers, we’re talking 60+ homers and not an 8 WAR season but a 10 WAR season.

Even with the ground-ball rate he had in 2023, there’s another level he can get too. Acuña expected wOBA was 40 points higher than his actual wOBA, in part because he led the league in barreled outs with 29. What if he has better luck on those? Even at a 50+% ground-ball rate, you can argue Acuña should’ve had 50+ homers this season. What if the ground-ball rate improves AND the barrel luck improves? What couldn’t he accomplish? If you don’t think a 50/50 season is possible, you’re crazy and what’s even crazier than that is how possible a 60/60 season is. Or more.

And on top of all that, what if Acuña cleans up some of the defensive mistakes in RF? His jumps on fly balls this year weren’t the best but there were some misplays that can easily be corrected. What if his defensive metrics weren’t dragging down his WAR numbers?

Acuña just posted one of the best seasons I’ve ever seen and we need to fully recognize, over the next couple of years, how easily he could top the season he just had. He finished the year at 8.3 fWAR and don’t be surprised at all if next year he’s closer to 10.0. Or 11.0. Or 12.0

Thats the point. We saw a level from Acuña we have never seen before this season, but there’s a decent chance we haven’t seen the very best version of him yet. That could still be coming. And that’s terrifying.

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