The Braves didn’t make many moves this offseason, which is going to become an annual occurrence for a club that has the core of the roster under contract long-term. Atlanta did acquire Sean Murphy via trade in what was considered the big move of the Winter, but I argued Ronald Acuna Jr.‘s health would trump any acquisition.
Acuna is sensational, but that level of play was put on hold in 2021. Amid an MVP year, recording a .990 OPS, 52 RBIs, 24 home runs, and over 4 WAR in about half a season, he suffered a season-ending knee injury.
In his first season back, Acuna was a shell of himself, posting career-worst metrics across the board, and it wasn’t particularly close. However, the anticipation for his return fully healthy was palpable in and around the clubhouse.
Acuna, Brian Snitker, Alex Anthopoulos, analysts, reporters, and everyone in Braves Country were expecting big things. Ozzie Albies even went as far as to say he’ll be better than he was in 2019, when he established himself as one of the best players on the planet, flirting with 40 home runs and 40 stolen bags.
So far, Albies is right. His best friend looks like the pre-injury version of himself, running all over the yard, pounding his chest with an ear to ear grin. He’s slashing .368/.448/.553 with three homers, good for a 1.001 OPS. He leads the MLB in runs to go along with 11 RBIs and seven stolen bags, all while playing elite defense.
If he can stay healthy, Ronald Acuna is well on his way to being the 9th MVP winner in franchise history. It’s not particularly close either. Vegas sees the Braves right fielder as the overwhelming favorite:
Ronald Acuna is the HEAVY favorite to take home the NL MVP
Pete Alonso +900
Trea Turner +950
Matt Olson +1200
Juan Soto +1500
Mookie Betts +1500
Austin Riley +1500
3 Braves in the top 7 odds too
— SportsTalkATL Alex (@GeauxSportsTalk) April 18, 2023
Acuna’s Baseball Savant page paints a very red picture:
- Avg. Exit Velo. — 91st percentile
- Max. Exit Velo. — 98th percentile
- HardHit% — 90th percentile
- xwOBA — 95th percentile
- xBA — 97th percentile
- xSLG — 91st percentile
- Barrel% — 81st perecetile
- K% — 84th percentile
- Sprint Speed — 88th percentile
- Arm Strength — 100th percentile
The arm strength is absolutely unbelievable. That means there is literally nobody in baseball that qualifies with a stronger arm. Ronald Acuna is fully back, and he’s a joy to watch play the game. If he can remain healthy, expect the Braves superstar to be named the 2023 NL MVP.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
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