Braves 2021 Player Review: Ronald Acuña, Jr.

I will write a lot more than this, because engaging in logorrhea over Ronald Acuña’s accomplishments is one of the purest pleasures of the internet, but I could basically just leave this profile at one sentence:

Ronald Acuña finally lived up to his promise and spent about half the season as the best player in the National League, then he got hurt.

Acuña put up 4.2 WAR in 82 games. That put him right near the other three team leaders, Freeman with 4.5 in 159 games, and Riley and Albies with 4.2 in 160 and 156 games, respectively. He was 16th in the league in WAR despite playing half a season and failing to qualify for the batting title. He was awesome.

And then he got hurt, and the guys we brought in to replace him won us the World Series. It wasn’t exactly the Ewing Theory, and it wasn’t exactly even bittersweet — we won the damn World Series! — but it was just a tiny bit strange, especially because he really did seem to be the whole entire point of the rebuild, at least as much as any notional championship. And then we won without him.

Four painful years ago, just after the nadir of the teardown, I wrote this:

It basically comes to this: if Ronald Acuna comes to the major leagues and lives up to the hype, I’ll follow every minute of it. But if he doesn’t, and the rebuild falls apart, and the Braves are mired in another half-decade of mediocrity, I’m going to have a lot of trouble finding time to watch baseball.

After selling off nearly everyone other than Freeman and Teheran, we had a boatload of prospects and a truly dreadful major league team. And after a few years of watching that dreck, it became utterly clear: no matter what happened with all of the other prospects, for our team to have any hopes whatsoever of being any fun again, it would be entirely up to a teenager named Ronald Acuña, Jr.

Ronald was a month from his 20th birthday at the time, and he had just been named Minor League Player of the Year, so he was not exactly an unknown by then. But it’s not possible to overstate how much we needed him.

He signed as a 16-year-old in 2013 for just $100,000, which tells you that he had nowhere near the kind of prospect hype of blockbuster signings like Julio Teheran and Kevin Maitan.

But pretty quickly, whispers of his potential began to spread.

Less than three years after that tweet, he was in the majors for good and he’s really never been less than great. He turned 24 a month ago, and he’s already got 105 homers and 15.8 Wins Above Replacement.

If you wanted to nitpick, you could say that his defense is more adequate than spectacular, but you would would be nitpicking a six- to eight-win player and asking why he is not a ten-win player, and you would want to take a long look at yourself in the mirror, and maybe go take the dog for a walk and think about not writing any more blog comments for a while.

Personally, I think Braves fans deserve a modicum of congratulations for generally not doing that, because that’s exactly what a lot of us did to Andruw Jones, a six- to eight-win player whose OBP kept him from being a ten-win player, and prevented him from being Willie Mays, which was how he was hyped as he tore through the minors. Things are terrible on the internet in very many ways, but in this one respect, I think we’ve gotten better.

Ronald’s limitless potential and extraordinary track record leave me giddy with anticipation and just mildly overwhelmed with dread. “We just won the World Series and got our best player back from injury! What could go wrong?”

But here’s the thing: the oldest continually-operating franchise in Major League Baseball is also the newest World Series winner, and Ronald Acuna’s 24 years old, and he’s on my team.

There’s no predicting what the future may hold, but I wouldn’t want to change a single thing about the past or the present.

We already won the last game we played. Let’s win the next one!

11 thoughts on “Braves 2021 Player Review: Ronald Acuña, Jr.”

  1. Baseball is an interesting game. Baseball’s best player, Mike Trout, can’t sniff the playoffs with a team that also includes the phenom of the 21st century. And the Braves, with a player just about as good, finish 44-44 with him and 44-29 without him. Astonishing.

    There are plenty of ways to make sense of these numbers, of course, but suppose the numbers had been reversed: 44-29 with RAJ and 44-44 after his injury (and that doesn’t even count the postseason crapshoot of 11-5.) Is there anyone who wouldn’t bring that statistic out in an argument about his greatness and about how his “numbers only tell part of the story?” The lesson here is that great players are a joy to watch, but teams win. Our tools for measuring RAJ’s contributions to the team are pretty good — this isn’t a knock on the tools. Acuna really did win about 4.2 games. He had a WPA of 2.6 as well (which obviously doesn’t count defense.)

    Come back healthy, young fella… we’re all waiting to see it.

  2. Thanks, Alex. Given the awesome August through early November we experienced, it is easy to overlook Ronald. But you have reminded us how special he is, and how fortunate we are that we will witness our young superstar for several seasons to come.

    The most exciting thing to me is that he’s still learning and growing as a player. The best example is his walk rate and OBP. Over the past two shortened seasons combined his walk rate has been over 15%, and although it was slightly lower in 2021 his K rate went down also. If he can keep his OBP around .400 with the power he obviously has, he is the best player in baseball for several years to come. Trout is probably starting the downhill side of the aging curve. Soto is the only contemporary who compares, and Ronald’s defense and baserunning give him the edge there.

  3. Those worthies who long since have lived and died by the numbers in evaluating comparable baseball worth, have most kindly if not intentionally reminded the rest of us of a perfect sine qua non that sinks their own ship in resounding fashion.

    44-29 without him after 44-44 with.

    Happily defies any explanation other than it’s that’s why it excites, its total unpredictability. Which gives it its charm, a priceless dimension none of you, sadly, can share in,

    Those of us who, today, must plow a somewhat lonely alternate furrow, contain all they need internally. So handy, no books of figures, no breathless anticipated conclusion based on what?
    For the purist there are only those beautiful two eyes that in turn feed the particular brain which brooks no subjugated influences. Our assessment of any baseball game, or individual, compared to any other is unsullied.

    What fun. And season’s end is not a crapshoot either, a Bobby Cox invention he used all the time to hide his woeful October record. 3-1 up in these last two World Series, we lost the one we choked on, won this time when we didn’t. Human behavior in extremis which can not be predicted in advance, or justified afterwards by studying a myriad of dusty numbers.

    The eyes have it – may they always.

  4. Well written, blazon. If only your reading skills were up to your writing skills… you’d be my hero.

  5. Soto and Acuña are a bit like Ted Williams and Henry Aaron: Soto the greatest hitter since Bonds, but a bit more one-dimensional in his game; Acuna excellent at everything, but a lower OBP than Soto and not quite the otherworldly brilliance of Trout, the Mays of his generation.

    These are the kind of players I grew up hoping and imagining I’d get to see. A lot is wrong with baseball right now, but the players and our team have never been better.

  6. @4

    As you would be mine Jonathan…battling the enormity of your data bases, still trying to make sense of it all. But may I thank both Alex and yourself for doing such a splendid job in keeping the doors open on these pages – there are few substitutes it would appear as we grind our way through another Covid winter, another labor farce. God rest us Merry Gentlemen.

  7. Keith Law ranks our system 17th out of 30, which tracks with how our guys did on his top 100 prospect list. Middle of the pack isn’t bad, especially given that the penalties on Latin American signings are the biggest reason we fell as far as we did. Now that those penalties have finally ended, I’m very hopeful that we’ll be able to climb back.

    https://theathletic.com/3112765/2022/02/07/mlb-2022-farm-system-rankings-keith-law-grades-all-30-teams-on-prospects-with-the-dodgers-at-no-1/

  8. Typically stellar writing. I love Ronald, and I love Alex. Life is good.

    AAR, a major north-south cow path in my south Georgia town of Thomasville is named Remington. I pretend it’s named in your honor. Were you hanging out just north of Tallahassee around the time of the Civil War?

  9. There are a lot of towns named Remington, for some reason! There’s one in Virginia I’ve passed near in Google Maps. Some of my forebears must’ve had some pretty fancy friends, but they didn’t leave me any advice in the will on how to get a pooh-bah to name a city after you. I’m just going to have to hope my adoring public comes up with the idea on their own.

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