By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports activities MLB Author
Earlier than his ACL gave out on July 10, 2021, Ronald Acuña Jr. was on tempo for probably the greatest offensive campaigns of the twenty first century. By means of 82 video games, Atlanta‘s famous person outfielder was hitting .283 / .394 / .596 with 24 homers and 17 steals. Solely three different gamers have ever put collectively comparable energy, steal and on-base numbers via the first-half of a season: Eric Davis in 1987, Larry Walker in ’97 and Christian Yelich in 2019.
Had Acuña not landed limply on that fateful day at Marlins Park and continued his torrid tempo over the season’s final half, he would have been the runaway favourite for NL MVP. Alas, we reside within the worst timeline, and Ronald did certainly miss the rest of final season recovering from leg surgical procedure. Atlanta gained the World Collection anyway, with Acuña cheering on his teammates from the sidelines.
After taking the primary month of 2022 to totally heal, he returned to motion for the Braves in early Might. To not overtax Acuña’s reconstructed ligament, the group opted to have him DH a couple of days every week within the early going. However since June 2, the face of Atlanta’s franchise has performed each single sport in proper discipline, a sign from the group that he’s, for all intents and functions, absolutely again.
Ronald Acuña Jr.’s affect on the Braves
Ben Verlander analyzes the affect that Ronald Acuña Jr. had on Atlanta’s sizzling streak earlier this month and the way he continues to carry new viewers to MLB.
Sadly although, accidents can linger, even as soon as gamers have returned to the sphere. Former Cleveland outfielder Grady Sizemore appeared like a future Corridor of Famer earlier than knee surgical procedures restricted his explosiveness. The identical factor occurred to the aforementioned Eric Davis. Even Alex Bregman, who a couple of years in the past was a perennial MVP candidate, hasn’t appeared like the identical participant since a quadriceps pressure began bugging him final season (his dash pace dropped from the 63rd percentile in 2019 to the twenty ninth in 2022).
So with Acuña now virtually a yr faraway from his preliminary harm, let’s dive into some video and information to see if there are any noticeable lasting impacts hampering him on the diamond.
Let’s begin with the bottom stage offensive numbers. By means of his first 40 video games in 2022 (via June 21), Ronald was slashing .282 / .375 / .468, an excellent batting line, however noticeably under his traditionally superb .283 / .394 / .596 mark from final season. Whereas there are actually some injury-related components at play which have dampened his stats, a glance into his sport logs and batted ball information reveals that small pattern dimension and a extra passive strategy are the primary culprits.
On Tuesday, Acuña smacked his seventh homer of the yr, a go-ahead, two-run mega-blast off San Francisco’s Zack Littell. However earlier than that huge fly, Acuña had gone greater than every week with no single extra-base hit, a chilly stretch that diminished his OPS from .943 to .812. Batted ball information from that “droop” suggests it was nothing greater than a run of unhealthy luck. He nonetheless hit 9 balls over 95 miles per hour throughout that span (the Statcast threshold for a “laborious hit ball”), six of which unluckily become outs. In that Tuesday sport in opposition to the Giants, he ripped three balls tougher than 105 miles per hour, together with the homer.
He additionally took a couple of week to get rolling when he first got here again, going 5 for his first 25, an understandably gradual start thinking about he hadn’t seen major-league pitching in virtually a yr.
A take a look at his most exit velocity this yr (116.6) assuages any actual concern. That mark is barely a smidge under his max from final season (117.9) and nonetheless ranks within the 98th percentile league-wide, an indication that his high-end rotational energy and lower-half explosiveness are roughly again to pre-injury ranges .
The largest drop-off in Acuña’s offensive sport in comparison with 2021 is his stroll fee. From the start of the COVID-shortened 2020 season to when he obtained damage final yr, Acuña had walked at an elite 15.5% clip, the fifth-best fee in baseball behind solely Juan Soto, Yasmani Grandal, Bryce Harper and Joey Gallo. However thus far this season, his eye on the plate has returned to pre-2020 ranges, indicated by a still-good, however not elite 10.3% fee.
The trigger? Pitchers are going proper after Acuña extra typically than they’d up to now. His first pitch strike share is up by 5.8%, which is within the high 25 league-wide, however his first pitch swing share is up by lower than half that fee. To place it merely: Pitchers really feel extra inclined to assault Acuña with a strike on the primary pitch (doubtlessly as a result of he is presumably much less fearsome coming off his harm), and he has but to make the required adjustment. He is getting behind in counts extra typically, making it much less seemingly that he’ll find yourself strolling.
So whereas his harm has doubtlessly performed a job in his underwhelming energy numbers in 2022, it is extra about Acuña’s slow-to-adjust strategy than any lingering bodily concern together with his leg.
That is the place we would anticipate to see the largest affect from Acuña’s harm. You do not want a medical diploma to know why; reconstructive leg surgical procedure is not precisely the perfect factor for an elite athlete’s dash pace. The proof is within the pudding: Acuña has a mean ft per second of 27.8 this season (68th percentile), down from his blazing 29.4 f / s from final yr (97th percentile).
However whereas that distinction is a bit regarding at first look, a dig into particular person dash information paints a much less dire image.
It is tough to search out dash pace numbers for particular performs, however I used to be in a position to supply out a couple of of Acuña’s run occasions from folks inside the sport. And although his common is decrease than in 2021, his peak pace is simply nearly as good as ever.
He has eclipsed the 30 f / s mark a minimum of 5 occasions already this season, thought-about an elite run time, together with this play from his first week again in opposition to the Mets, when he clocked 30.5 f / s.
The info reveals us that Acuña is just being extra selective about when to push it down the road on his newly repaired leg, however he can nonetheless activate the afterburners when he needs to.
The rub on Acuña’s protection this season is analogous: He can push it if he needs, however he has understandably been hesitant about going all-out for balls. Earlier than the harm, Acuña was thought-about a fairly common outfielder, an excellent athlete able to the occasional jaw-dropping play, however not somebody who’s normally within the combine for a Gold Glove.
Thus far in 2022, he has but to dive for a fly ball and has left his ft to leap for a ball solely twice. The primary was a liner off the Arizona’s Christian Walker bat, which Acuña misplayed, clearly unwilling to slam full pace into the fence.
However a couple of weeks later, on June 10 in opposition to Pittsburgh, Acuña made a leaping seize to rob Michael Perez of successful.
The one different notable information level to evaluate the place he is at defensively is a play from Might 18 in opposition to Milwaukee, through which Acuña obtained a horrendous leap on a ball within the hole after which did not have the closing pace to make up for it. The catch likelihood on this play was solely 45%, however Acuña didn’t come wherever near it.
It is encouraging that, primarily based on this small pattern dimension of three performs, Acuña appears to be transferring in the precise course.
Acuña continues to be … properly … Ronald Acuña. He is an outstanding hitter with elite athleticism that shines on the basepaths and emerges occasionally on protection. The additional away he will get from his harm, the extra prepared he’ll seemingly be to dash full pace and put his physique on the road to make performs on protection.
Till then, there is not any actual motive to fret. Acuña continues to be a drive on the plate, and he’ll solely enhance because the season goes on and he adjusts to how pitchers try to assault him.
Jake Mintz is the louder half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball author for FOX Sports activities. He is an Orioles fan residing in New York Metropolis, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he isn’t watching baseball, he is virtually actually using his bike. You may observe him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.
Get extra from Main League Baseball Comply with your favorites to get details about video games, information and extra.