2020 Atlanta Braves Season Review: Ronald Acuna Jr.

If you are looking for much of a critique of Ronald Acuna Jr., you won’t find it here. If you could get in a lab and engineer the perfect player for modern-day baseball, it would be Ronald Acuna Jr. He’s not a perfect player, and I suppose I’ll be a little constructive later on. But in terms of what the game needs right now — an elite, 5-tool player who the game can actually market — then he’s one of your guys. Listen, I like Mike Trout, but I don’t think he’s the star of the league. In fact, and I’m sure you might take offense, but I didn’t hate the comments Manfred made about Trout not wanting to be the star of the show. Bryce Harper is unlikeable. Ronald Acuna Jr., at some point, probably joins Mookie Betts as being the most exciting players in baseball.

First things first, let me tell you about Acuna’s season. Acuna just missed his first 1.000 OPS season, and it may not have been his fault. His final line was impressive: .250/.406/.581 in 202 PAs. You have to love the walk rate and slugging. And you might be turned off by the low batting average. But 202 PAs is enough of a sample size to see that he got a little unlucky. In his first two seasons, he hit .343 on balls in play. This past year, he only hit .302 on balls in play. Maybe there’s some launch angle stuff going on there, but if a few more hits fall in, the batting average looks a little shinier, and he clears that 1.000 OPS.

He didn’t lead the league in stolen bases again (his 37 steals led the league in 2019), but 8 stolen bases in 9 attempts in the shortened season is plenty good for our man Acuna. And how about this for a fun number: if Acuna got the same amount of PAs as he did in 2019, he would have been on pace for 49 home runs based on his 2020 power performance. His strike out rate ticked up a little (29% compared to 26% in 2019), but his walk rate almost doubled (from 10% in 2019 to almost 19% this year). I see no reason why someone who clearly loves the game as much as Acuna does won’t continue to get better.

And this is what leads me to thinking there is a next step for him. He will begin to become the face of Major League Baseball when he starts bankrupting hearts the way Mookie Betts and Mike Trout do in the outfield. I don’t want to be a victim of the moment, but Betts’ Gold Glove plays throughout the playoffs provides the highlights that make jaws drop. When that happens, you’re in the inner circle. I think Acuna gets there. He’s plenty athletic, and my gut tells me that Acuna wants to be the best player in baseball. He’s close.

26 thoughts on “2020 Atlanta Braves Season Review: Ronald Acuna Jr.”

  1. HEY! Riley Unroe, who would’ve been a MILB free agent, was just re-signed by the Braves as an MILB free agent! My dream stays alive, snowshine!

  2. If you’re saying Bryce Harper is unlikable, I am expecting many people outside of Braves Country to feel the same about RAJ. I like Harper by the way but agree with you, Acuna is the better player.

    I can’t believe how lucky we are to have him for so many years to come.

  3. He’s incredibly close. I think everything you said there is right, Rob — except that I would probably have thrown in more invective about what a nincompoop Manfred is.

    What impresses me most about Ronald Acuna is the speed with which he seems able to make adjustments and improvements. The jump we saw in his pitch selectivity and plate discipline was extraordinary. And he did it while improving his power numbers. He’s clearly not a finished product; he’s clearly not done getting better.

    I agree — I think he absolutely has both the ability and the desire to be the best player in baseball. It’s going to be fun as hell to watch him try to get there.

  4. Love Ronald, but I wonder about his durability and frequency of minor injuries so far. His BRef most similar players through age 22 include a bunch of great hitters, but only one HOFer, Frank Robinson. Stanton, who I believe has had injury trouble, is most similar, and the even-more-often-injured Bob Horner is second. Tony Conigliario, an extreme injury case, is 10th.

  5. IMO, Ronald Acuña Jr. is a permanent move to RF away from being the most complete player in Majors. That should happen in 2021.

  6. @4
    IMO, he’s got to become less reckless in his approach to the bases, especially running to first. It is possible to hustle AND be in control of your legs. Ronnie doesn’t seem like he’s mastered that quite yet.

  7. Jr. may need to get Hank Aaron’s speech to Dusty Baker.

    (paraphrasing) “Kid, you can’t do all of that hustling stuff. There are 162 games a year. When you can make a play, go for it. But don’t just run hard to make people think you try hard. That will destroy your game.”

  8. Mr. Copenhaver,

    I suppose I will be sittin in the rain in Jacksonville Saturday.

    I have a friend who says this poem:

    If I survive (and I hope I will), I shall return to Jacksonville.

    Good article.

  9. No doubt! I was terribly impressed with his increased plate discipline. And let’s not forget with his numbers this year, he lost about 2 weeks on the injured list (and was clearly injured during the post season.) Is he Trout? I don’t know. Is he Trout-like? Most definitely! We are lucky to have him.

  10. I’ve written a bad contract swap piece for Ender.
    I’ve now scrapped a bad contract swap piece for Ender.
    There are no matches. I have no hope. Braves will either carry him or eat the money.

  11. @7

    Yeah, except Acuna doesn’t really seem to have the calibration down on the “hustle to make plays you can make, take it easy when there’s no way” thing. He tends to hustle on plays he can’t make (like with the running thing Ryan referenced @6) to try and turn the seemingly impossible into the possible, I guess; and then not hustle on plays that he can/should make.

    Look, I love Ronald…obviously. When I get frustrated that he turns a double into a single by walking out of the box or a double into a triple for the other team by not jogging over to back up on a play where the ball could bounce off the high brick wall in right field (to highlight the two most common examples, I think), I’m not trying to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But those plays are not nothing. There’s an alternate universe in which we win the NLDS in 2019 if he hustles out of the box (and no, he’s not atop the list of reasons why we didn’t win that series…or that game, for that matter). I don’t think we should be required to let these instances pass without comment when they happen.

    That having been said, him moving to right field will probably cut down on the defensive example a great deal, and would I think be a positive move in general. And he honestly is getting better with the watching fly balls off the bat thing, as the only sort-of instance that pops to mind this year is when he slammed his bat down and slowly trudged out of the batter’s box on what he thought was a flyout, only for the wind to carry it over the wall. So no harm, no foul on that one.

    And to be clear, I’m not even advocating that he stop gawking/bat-flipping on no-doubt homers. I think that falls into the category that Ryan was talking about, at least somewhat (you don’t need to bust it to first base on a ball that’s gonna sail 20 rows deep into the seats). And I don’t care that the bat-flipping antics might piss off the opposing team, either. Screw ’em, is what I say to that. He just has to continue to make sure that’s he’s hustling on the plays that can be made.

  12. @8

    I’m seeing it’s only a 40% chance of rain, or did I miss a joke?

    Either way, quite jealous that you’ll be there. I said this a couple months ago and I feel more strongly now: this is the closest the teams have been in quality since Dan took over. Really, that means Georgia has stayed a juggernaut and Florida has finally gotten their talent back to where it needs to be. It should be fun.

    @3

    A broken clock can be right twice a day. Manfred is a nincompoop, and I still think he’s a bad commissioner and should be replaced, but he wasn’t wrong that he’s not getting much help from the game’s best player in the marketing problem. Of course, it’s not Trout’s job to grow the game any more than he already has. But guys like Betts and Acuna are so much fun and Manfred is right to wish that Trout would play with a little more flair and be in a few more commercials.

    @2

    The problem with Harper is that he’s just a jerk. If you don’t Acuna, then it’s because you just don’t like that brand of baseball. I disagree, but I guess I get it.

    Agreed with all that Acuna should be a RF to expand his game, and he will probably be one exclusively in 2021.

  13. Twitter last night had a good time dunking on this, but if you want a window into the combined miasma that is MLB’s ability to self-own and ESPN’s handling of its MLB content with all the excitement of a goth teenager, there’s no better example than broadcasting the Gold Glove awards show at 8 p.m. on Election Night. Like, I know the Gold Glove awards show isn’t exactly the crown jewel of ESPN’s or MLB’s media portfolio, but come on man… . You might as well not even have an awards show if you’re gonna do that.

  14. @ 16,

    probability by the hour was over 40% for each individual hour from 12 noon Friday until 12 noon Sunday. Overall daily probability on Saturday was more like 80%.

    Agreed that this is Florida’s best chance for a win in several years. Overall talent is closer, Florida has an edge in the most important position (quarterback) and Georgia’s defense has multiple injured players that are either limited or can’t play at all.

  15. @16, yeah, I don’t think you and I are really disagreeing here. Trout’s a little bland, but frankly, lots of athletes are bland. It’s not their job to figure out how to market the business. It is literally Manfred’s job to figure out how to market the business. Rob Manfred is the kind of genius who spends his time blaming the product instead of marketing the product. He’s an idiot and deserves to be fired for numerous sins, this is just an egregious example of one of the more insipidly obvious things he’s gotten wrong.

  16. Manfred is indeed an idiot. And Trout remains the best player in the game, flair or no (can we please get him on our team??) Why are we even discussing that?

  17. Tim Tebow became eligible for the Rule 5 Draft today, so if we need an left-handed hitting corner outfielder against RHP…

  18. In my opinion, the Rule 5 draft shouldn’t be about Tim Tebow. It’s about eating chicken wings, listening to metallica, drinking Keystone Light, and wanting to get into the stadium to scream as loud as you can.

  19. @23 – That never gets old, AAR. Makes me laugh every time!

    To return to the Riley thread/discussion, would it be prudent to amp back up the Nolan Arenado trade suggestions?

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