Braves: Is Ronald Acuna Jr. an MVP candidate in a normal 2020 season?

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Just a day after tying a franchise record for most career lead-off home runs, star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. was at it again on Saturday against the Nationals when he belted his record-breaking 18th longball to lead off a Braves game.

It took outfielder Felipe Alou 633 games as a no. 1 hitter to achieve the feat, when he tallied his 17th career lead-off homer during a stint with the Braves from 1964-69 as a 33-year-old veteran (already with ten big league seasons under his belt). However, Acuna — still playing in his age-22 campaign — needed just 210 games to surpass Alou’s mark. 

As Fox Sports South commentator Chip Caray stated during Saturday’s broadcast at Truist Park, just seconds after Acuna completed his home run trot and returned to the Braves’ dugout… “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him this hot.”

Entering Monday, Acuna has surpassed Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna for the best OPS on the team:

  1. Ronald Acuna — 1.073 OPS / 9 HR / 6 2B
  2. Marcell Ozuna — 1.062 OPS / 13 HR / 10 2B
  3. Freddie Freeman — 1.000 OPS / 7 HR / 12 2B


Despite already missing 12 games altogether this season, due to a wrist ailment, Acuna is still right in line to hit his 2020 ZiPS projection of 14 home runs (given he’s currently on pace to finish with 14.85 with 20 games remaining on the schedule). 

In terms of taking the next step forward as a superstar player, on Saturday, Dayn Perry at CBS Sports did a great job of breaking down Acuna’s growth at the plate this season, which has resulted in some very scared opposing pitchers. Consider the following straight from Perry’s piece…

The percentage of straight four-seam fastballs he’s seen has fallen from 38.8 percent last season to 34.4 percent in 2020. 

The percentage of first-pitch strikes he’s seen has fallen from 61.4 percent last season to 54.4 percent in 2020. 

The percentage of pitches in the strike zone has fallen from 48.2 percent last season to 46.0 percent in 2020.


While Acuna — who is roughly 70-75 plate appearances behind hitters who’ve managed to stay healthy all season — may not have the counting stats of guys like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Mike Yastrzemski (nos. 1 and 2, respectively, on FanGraphs NL WAR leaderboard), his strides regarding  plate discipline illustrates a player that, given enough time, could very well end the year as one of the game’s most productive hitters. 

However, time is not on Acuna’s side. As shown above, the Braves have just 20 games remaining on the 2020 regular season docket. Unless he keeps this up for the remainder of the schedule (something he very well could do), and players like Tatis and Yastrzemski quickly regress (something not as likely), the odds of him being included in the NL MVP discussion are probably slim. Fair or not, though, the shortened 60-game season is stacking the deck against the Braves’ hottest hitter. Just imagine if he hadn’t hurt his wrist last month. 

Unfortunately, at season’s end, we may be forced to simply wonder what if… because, during a campaign heavily altered and slashed by a whopping 67%, Acuna’s extraordinary performance will most likely be overlooked from a lack of playing time. Any other season — 12 games missed is immaterial — however, in 2020, it could suddenly disqualify a hitter from even being discussed.

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