Back in the halcyon days of spring training, Ozzie Albies engaged in an extreme bit of spring training optimism when he claimed that three members of the Atlanta Braves could nearly double Major League Baseball’s 40/40 Club by the end of the 2023 campaign. One of the most exclusive clubs in all of baseball would go from four members to seven if Ozzie Albies, Michael Harris II and Ronald Acuña Jr. all got together and decided to utilize MLB's new rules to wreak pure havoc on the basepaths.
We've now reached September in the baseball season, which is when you usually get a chance to figure out how players are going to finish their respective campaigns. That makes this a perfect time to check in on how Albies, Harris and Acuña are doing. So, going into action on September 6, Ozzie Albies himself had 29 homers and 11 stolen bases. That's a very respectable power-hitting season at the plate for Ozzie and while the stolen bases may be a bit lower than what you'd expect from him, that's still a decent amount of bags nabbed for the year considering this current era of baseball. Harris appears likely to be coming up just short of joining the way-less-exclusive 20/20 club, as he's repeated the feat of stealing 20 bases that he did last season while only hitting 13 homers. That's still part of a very solid follow-up to a spectacular rookie campaign.
Now it's time to check on Ronald Acuña Jr. Let's see what he's been up to for the 2023 regular season:
Yep. If you watched the video then you heard that right: Ronald Acuña Jr. has gone ahead and created his own club for himself. While the jury is still out on whether or not he can actually hit enough home runs by the end of this season to become only the fifth player in baseball history to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in the same season, at this point it feels like we're parsing semantics. If he comes up short with the home runs, it doesn't matter b/c he's created his own club that's arguably just as impressive. If he goes on a power surge and mashes hard enough to make it a 40/40 season, then he's basically just created his own suite inside of that club. He's already created his own wing in the less-exclusive-but-still-impressive 30/30 Club, so there's that as well. No matter how you slice it, Ronald Acuña Jr. has essentially broken the game wide open in terms of counting statistics.
As mentioned early on in the article, the rule changes that MLB put into place for this season have gone a long way towards creating an environment where this type of individual season was even possible. The rule limiting pitcher mound disengagements to just two per plate appearance and larger bases helped to make this possible. The rule changes have resulted in pickoff attempts going down, stolen base attempts going up and stolen base percentage reaching nearly 80 percent by this year's All-Star break after being at around 75 percent last season. Ronald Acuña Jr. was well aware of what he could do with these rule changes in place right from the very first inning of the season. Pay close attention to what Acuña does after getting back to first base safely following Patrick Corbin's second pickoff attempt of Matt Olson's plate appearance:
He looks right at first base coach Eric Davis Sr. and makes sure that that was the second pickoff attempt on Corbin's part. Again, Ronald Acuña Jr. is well aware of what's going on and at this point it should have been extremely obvious that he was going to try to steal second once he got a good chance to do so. It was only a matter of whether or not the Nationals could band together in order to figure out a way to stop him. Here's what happened very soon afterwards:
Those were the first steps towards what's been a game-changing season for Ronald Acuña Jr. and he's been a complete and utter terror for defenders to deal with on the basepaths ever since. Here at the tail end of this season, it's become clear that Acuña is reaching levels of offensive prowess both at the plate and on the basepaths that haven't been seen since the days of Eric Davis, Howard Johnson and of course, Rickey Henderson.
It's rare to see the type of player who can either be penciled in for a run if they reach base due to their base-stealing abilities or inked in for a run if they simply just mash a dinger to lead off the game but Ronald Acuña Jr. has become one of those rare players. The Atlanta Braves in 2023 have been the best first-inning team in all of baseball and naturally, their dynamic leadoff hitter either stealing bases or mashing homers right from the jump has been a huge factor in that particular development.
Ronald Acuña Jr.'s return to being one of the most dynamic players in MLB has been an extremely welcome turn of events — especially since there were questions after his awful knee injury in 2021 about whether or not he could even return to this level of form again. 2022 was rough at times to watch, as it was clear that Acuña was still recovering from the injury and adjusting to what was the new normal in his first season back from the ACL tear. However, it appears that having an offseason that was solely focused on just preparation instead of rehabilitation has done wonders for getting Acuña back to where he wanted to be.
As a result of this, it feels somewhat safe to assume that this might just be the new normal for Ronald Acuña Jr. as a player, himself. In his most recent full season in what feels like ages ago in 2019, Acuña just barely missed out on joining the 40/40 club as he mashed 41 dingers and stole 37 bases back then. While this season still qualifies as a breakout season for his lofty standards, it also could be a sign of things to come. Acuña is still just 25 years old and as long as he continues to stay healthy then seasons like this might just be part of the new normal instead of just an anomaly.
Ronald Acuña Jr. is a true game changer when it comes to baseball. It's been known for a while that he's had the potential and ability to reach these levels and now that he's finally attaining those levels, it's truly exhilarating to watch. There's still enough time in both this regular season and the postseason to expect to see him continue to pull some amazing tricks out of his sleeve — whether it's producing an incredible final kick to hit 40 home runs for the season or any potential heroics in this year's postseason, it's going to be very exciting to se what Acuña has in store next for what's been an awesome campaign so far.