Yesterday, Acuña accomplished yet another milestone in his short but remarkable career. The 21-year-old became just the third player in the MLB’s lengthy history to hit 30+ home runs and steal 25+ bases before turning 22. The other two were Mike Trout, and the Atlanta Braves own, Andruw Jones.
Trout is rightfully viewed as the best player in the game today, and there shouldn’t even be a discussion about it. He’s putting together the kind of resumé that will enter him in the conversation for the best player of all-time whenever he decides to hang it up. A freshly turned 28-year-old, Trout is enclosing on 300 career home runs, 750 RBIs, and 200 stolen bases. His CAREER OPS is 1.000, and he’s one pace to lead the MLB in OPS+ for the fifth season in a row. Trout hasn’t spent a year outside the top four in MVP voting since his age 19 season when he played 40 games as a rookie.
It will be difficult to find anyone that is going to match those numbers, but through nearly two seasons, Ronald Acuña is keeping pace.
I’m giving Trout a little bit of a pass here, neglecting the first season of his career because he was 19 and struggled mightily. So it is actually his second and third seasons compared to Acuña’s first two, but the numbers still aren’t that far apart.
Mike Trout 162 Game Averages: .324,.416, .560, .976 OPS, 37 doubles, 10 triples, 32 home runs, 99 RBIs, 45 stolen bases
Ronald Acuña 162 Game Averages: .294,.370,.522, .907 OPS, 30 doubles, four triples, 40 home runs, 100 RBIs, 30 stolen bases
There are some significant advantages for Trout in his slash line, but once again this does not take into account his first 40 games in the big leagues as it does for Acuña. It is simply comparing them over their year 20 and 21 seasons. It also doesn’t factor in the fact that Acuña just began stealing at will a couple of months ago, while Trout stole a career-high 49 bases in his third season. The point is; they are on an eerily similar track.
Outside of being fabulously skilled at baseball; what makes Mike Trout better than everyone else is rather rudimentary: he’s the best athlete in the game. Few guys in the world are 240 pounds of solid muscle with the speed of a free safety, and none of them know how to swing a baseball bat like Mike Trout.
That’s why this response from Dansby Swanson on what makes Acuña so unique stands out to me, “He’s a better athlete than everyone else.”
It’s true. He may not have the body type of a middle linebacker, but he’s incredibly strong for his size with inhuman quick-twitch muscles and an arm that can throw it to home plate from the center field fence. He’s also the fastest person on the team, and according to Baseball Savant, a tenth of a second slower than Trout in terms of footspeed.
Trout: 29.3 ft/s
Acuña 29.2 ft/s
It doesn’t matter what stance you want to take, the Braves superstar from Venezuala is up there or soaring past what other legends were doing at his age. Here’s another stat that I love, which Eno Sarris of The Athletic, provided us with yesterday: “Through age 21 season, minimum 1,000 PA, over 30% league average with the stick, at least 40 stolen bases, only players EVER: Mike Trout, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Ken Griffey Jr.”
That is elite company, but now it is time for Acuña to do something neither Trout nor Griffey could accomplish over their entire careers. By the end of next week, Acuña will officially become a member of the 30/30 club. He needs four more steals for it to happen and will join Trout as the only player to do so before the age of 22. The only Braves that have ever reached the feat are Dale Murphy, Ron Gant, and the great Hank Aaron. But if you look at what Acuña has been able to do since the All-Star break, he’s on pace to enter much more rarified territory.
There are 45 games left in the season. Acuña needs ten more home runs and fourteen stolen bases to become just the fifth member in major league history of the 40/40 club. The other four were Alex Rodriguez, Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds – who were all known juicers – and Alfonso Soriano. Acuña has a chance to be the second player ever to join the 40/40 club without the use of steroids. Here are his numbers in the second half of the season:
Acuña since July 12th (26 games): .304/.370/.574, .944 OPS, four doubles, nine home runs, 22 RBIs, 13 stolen bases
If he produces at a similar rate over his next 26 games, he would be one home run and one stolen base shy of 40 bombs and 40 swipes with 19 games remaining. So not only is 30/30 a foregone conclusion, 40/40 is well within striking distance. Stats are not why Acuña plays the game, but he knows he is sniffing a territory few players will ever have a shot at, and if he can get the ten home runs, the steals will come with ease.
To the outside world, people may wonder why Braves Country is so incredibly in love with this 21-year-old bundle of joy. It’s because he is the entire package. He hits for contact, drops bombs, fields his position, guns runners down from the outfield, steals bases, hustles, and does it all with a smile on his face. The stage was never too big for him. He is a bonafide superstar, and when Mike Trout eventually wants to crown someone else the best player in baseball, Acuña will be waiting patiently at his throne – as he does for Kelsey Wingert’s pre-game reports.