It was pretty obvious last season that Acuña was still dealing with his injury and was not playing one-hundred percent. That being said, with this season drawing to a close, it could be fun to break down what Acuña has improved on the most at a granular level.
As most of us know, Acuña is a Statcast monster, leading the league in numerous categories. So, it will make it that much more fun to see which areas we can see the biggest jumps in productivity.
Currently, Acuña leads MLB in xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, and average exit velocity. On every other hitting section on the Statcast MLB Percentile Rankings other than Sweet-Spot percentage, he is in the top 20.0 percent or better.
This has resulted in a slash line of .336/.415/.595 and his OPS of 1.010 leads the league. His 169 wRC+ is the best of his career. Prior to this season, his best was 158 in both 2020 and 2021.
His slash line this year is far better than his .266/.351/.413 from last year, obviously. So, let’s take a look and see what has changed the most.
What has changed for Acuña to elevate him even higher than he already was?
The old adage of “just put the ball in play”, is not always as effective as many think it is, but when a player has an xBA of .358 and xSLG of .666 like Acuña has, it holds quite a bit of weight. This season, Acuña has been striking out at the lowest rate of his career, and it is not remotely close.
This season, he has a strikeout rate of 11.3 percent. Before this season, he never had a rate better than 23.6 percent. The chart below hopefully puts this in perspective.
Acuña has traded many of his strikeouts for batted ball events. This season, he is averaging a batted ball event every 1.3 plate appearances. Prior to this season he never had a rate lower than every 1.53.
Again, when a player has as much quality contact as Acuña has, this is absolutely a plus.
One of the main reasons Acuña has been able to start putting the ball in play more at a success rate is because he is hitting the 4-seamer better than he ever has. It may come as a shock, but Acuña has been just slightly above average at hitting 4-seemer or worse for most of his career.
Before this season, since 2019, Acuña had a Statcast’s Run Value on the 4-seamer between -1.0 and 5.0 every season. This season? 18.0. Yes, that it an increase in effectiveness of 360.0 percent on his best season from 2019-2022. Only seven players have more Run Value added on 4-seamers in MLB. Interestedly, Matt Olson is one of them with a 21.0.
When we look at the chart below depicting expected weighted On Base Average (xwOBA) by season, it puts in perspective how much better Acuña is doing against the pitch this year than he has in the past few seasons.
As we can see, he was on pace to have almost as good of a season against 4-seamers in 2021 when he was on what appeared to be a MVP caliber season before he got injured. In 2021 he had an xwOBA of .453. This season he has a .455. In 2021 he only saw the pitch 536 times, in comparison to seeing it 826 times.
If look at more standards stats, we see he has a batting average of .306 and a slugging percentage of .606 on the pitch. What is crazy, is also though he has an 18.0 Run Value on the 4-seamer, it is not the only pitch he has been elite at hitting.
He has a 14.0 Run Value on the Slider, which ranks him third in MLB with a .336 batting average and .655 slugging (the Run Value is lower than the 4-seamer because he has seen fewer thrown to him), and it does not stop there.
He has a Run Value of 10.0 against a Sinker which is fourth best in MLB with a .338 batting average and a .506 slugging. But wait, there is more!
He has a Run Value added of 8.0 against the Curve, which is seventh in MLB with a .348 batting average and a .674 slugging percentage (interestingly, Orlando Arcia is one rank ahead of his with a RV of 9.0).
His Run Value against the slider is the best of his career, against the sinker is the second best (11.0 in 2019), and curve is second best of his career (11.0 in 2019).
Obviously, when you are a top ten hitter on four different pitch types and reach career bests along the way, it is going to translate into good overall results. There is no exception with Acuña.
Acuña has almost been an anomaly in a sense that he simply has gotten better in so many areas this season that it makes it difficult to pinpoint one area that he has improved on that transcended him to the MVP level play he has had with the bat, and that does not even include the steals.
We have talked about replacing strikeouts with hits, but he has also had better quality of contact too. He essentially never hits pop ups with his 2.7 percent rate being far lower than his 5.3 percent career mark, which is in part due to getting under the ball at a career low under percentage of 15.4 percent (20.4 career average). He has also spread the ball across the field better than he ever has in terms of pull, straight, and opposite percentages, and his weak contact percentage of 2.4 percent is almost half of his career average (4.1 percent).
One area that sticks out beyond just his hitting profile is that he is hitting the ball hard across the board. His 94.9 MPH average exit velocity is by far the hardest he has hit breaking pitches. His second closest season is 92.9 in 2020. His 94.7 MPH against fastballs is his second highest with his best being 95.1 MPH in 2021, and his 94.4 MPH against off-speed is the second highest of his career (95.2 in 2022).
Combine all of this together, we can see that overall he is hitting the ball the hardest he ever has, and it is by a large margin.
In is almost crazy to say that Ronald Acuña Jr. is having a breakout season, since he has been an elite talent since he was called up to MLB, but it almost could be argued that he has. He has transcended his performance almost across the board in terms of his bat.
Combine hitting the ball hard at an elite level against essentially every pitch type (and a career best), replacing strikeouts with batted ball events, and spreading the ball across the field while lowering negative batted ball events like pop ups and weak contact, and it points to what we are seeing now. Not to mention, he was already well above average as a hitter before this season.
Ronald Acuña Jr. is having one of the best offensive seasons in Atlanta Braves history, oh and that is even without including his steals!