FanGraphs compares Ronald Acuña Jr. to the game’s greats

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FanGraphs ZiPS projects for the 2024 Atlanta Braves have been released, and there is a ton of stuff in it worth diving into extensively. You you haven’t read it year, check it out, but I wanted to start with the face of the franchise, Ronald Acuña Jr.

Acuña is projected by FanGraphs to earn 7.1 fWAR, the most of any player this season, but it’s more than that. They believe a 50/50 season is certainly attainable and another 40/40 campaign is expected. Even at his 20th percentile projection, they have Ronald Acuña Jr. recording a 143 OPS+ (43% above league average) and 5.4 fWAR. At the 80th? He’s projected to have a 187 OPS+ (87% above league average) and 9.3 fWAR. Just imagine what 90 or 100 might look like.

However, this is my favorite part of the piece pertaining to Ronald Acuña Jr.

ZiPS puts a 50/50 season in reach for Acuña, and his projected WAR is more than a win better than anyone else in baseball. Eight of his top 10 comps ought to be Hall of Famers (Betts is still playing), and ZiPS now has him finishing with a mean career projection in excess of 650 homers, with nearly 600 stolen bases and more than 3,000 hits. And he’s locked up for the next five years, so there’s no chance of him taking a mystery plane ride to a sushi restaurant in Toronto.

Those are some absolutely absurd projections from a career standpoint, showing that FanGraphs doesn’t believe 2023 was a fluke at all. In fact, they even suggest it might just be the tip of the iceberg.

What we saw from Ronald Acuña Jr. this year was sensational. He won the NL MVP while becoming the first person in league history to have a 40/70 season, but I’m not even sure that was the most impressive part about the entire season.

Prior to 2023, Acuña’s season-best strikeout rate was 23.6%, which he posted in 2021 and 2022. This year, he cut that by more than half all the way down to 11.4%, and he did that without any drop-off in his batted ball profile. In fact, it was even better than it ever had been before.

Acuña came up as a five-tool player, one of the rarest athletes in the game, but what we saw in 2023 was the addition of a sixth tool — his mind. His understanding of the game is miles ahead of where it was just last year. He’ll bait pitchers into throwing something that he wants and is more willing than ever to take a free base, knowing that he can get to second base without the next batter even making contact.

Shohei Ohtani is a unicorn, something the world has never seen before and may never see again. However, when it comes to purely position players, nobody holds a candle to what Ronald Acuña Jr. can do in every phase of the game, and it’s crazy to think he could be even better in 2024 and beyond.

Photo: Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire

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