Ronald Acuña Jr. is having one of the best seasons in the history of the Atlanta Braves. With a week left in the 2023 MLB season, Acuña is a heavy favorite to win the NL MVP. Let’s see where Acuña’s season ranks in the annals of Braves’ history.
Ronald Acuña’s 2023 Season by the Numbers
With six team games left to play, Acuña leads the Majors in runs, hits, stolen bases, on-base percentage, and total bases. He leads the NL in OPS, OPS+, and win probability added. He became the fifth member of the vaunted 40-40 club, but he has also “invented” a slew of clubs for his power and base-running exploits. With two more steals, he would reach 70 steals on the season, capping off a 40-70 season.
Acuña has been remarkably consistent this season. By OPS, his worst month was July (.918) – a mark that would be in the NL’s top 10 over a full season. He has been a catalyst for a 100-win Braves team poised to have the best record in baseball this season. He has wreaked havoc in all three phases.
At The Plate – Ronald Acuña’s 2023 Season
Acuña has reached base safely 296 times. He’s earned 78 walks and 8 hit-by-pitches, but his 210 hits are the most by a Brave since 1974. He’s translated his 210 hits into 372 total bases. Since 2010, only Charlie Blackmon (387) and Giancarlo Stanton (377) have matched that tally in the NL. Acuña’s ability to get on base and hit for extra bases has put him in elite company. Only 25 players in MLB history before Acuña had reached base as often and tallied as many bases. The fun is only just beginning when Acuña reaches, though.
On The Bases – Ronald Acuña’s 2023 Season
Acuña has scored 143 runs, the most by a Brave since 1897. His massive tally of 68 steals has been a major boost to the Atlanta offense. Even when Acuña doesn’t steal bases, his presence forces the pitcher to alter his approach, often giving the likes of Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, and Matt Olson better opportunities to drive Acuña in. He takes the extra base more often than the average hitter, forcing potential throwing miscues and scoring more runs.
Acuña’s combination of power and speed is rare. Among players with 50 steals in a season, Acuña has the most total bases, edging out Ty Cobb’s 1911 campaign. Combining his total bases and steals, Acuña has accounted for 440 bases, tied for the ninth most in MLB history.
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In The Field – Ronald Acuña’s 2023 Season
Defensive metrics are largely split on Acuña, but whatever value he loses with his range, he largely makes up with his arm. He is fifth in the NL in outfield assists. According to Statcast, Acuña has prevented five runs with his arm, one of the top tallies among outfielders.
With Acuña’s excellence outlined, let’s take a look at the best seasons in Braves history to see where Acuña ranks.
Historic Competition for Ronald Acuña’s 2023 Season
1894 Hugh Duffy
The Hall of Famer posted ludicrous numbers in his best season. He set franchise records in batting average (.440), on-base percentage (.502), slugging percentage (.694), OPS (1.196), runs (160), hits (237), doubles (51), and RBI (145). He also notched 16 triples and led the Majors in home runs (18) and total bases (374).
Duffy’s records are ludicrous, but the run environment is a far cry from the modern era. Teams scored an average of 7.4 runs per game, and the average hitter slashed .309/.379/.435. Duffy was one of five qualified hitters to hit .400, a mark that has not been hit since 1941. The baseball of the late 19th century is not as comparable to Acuña’s season as the rest of MLB history.
1928 Rogers Hornsby
Hornsby spent just one season with the Braves, but he laid waste to the National League. He led the league in walks, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS, and OPS+, and WAR. He set Braves franchise records in offensive WAR (10.1) and OPS+ (202). Hornsby’s production went to waste as the Braves finished 53 games below .500 and in seventh out of eight NL teams.
1971 Henry Aaron
Aaron has several viable seasons. He led the NL in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, batting average, and OPS multiple times each. He holds the single-season franchise record for WAR (9.4 in 1961), total bases (400 in 1959), extra-base hits (92 in 1959), and win probability added (7.9 in 1967), but his career-highs in home runs (47), on-base percentage (.410), slugging percentage (.669), OPS (1.079), and OPS+ (194) came in 1971.
1999 Chipper Jones
Jones broke through to win the 1999 NL MVP after a fabulous season for the World Series-bound Braves. Jones slashed .319/.441/.633, setting career-bests in slugging, OPS, home runs, walks, steals, and total bases. He reached base a Braves record 309 times, and he led the NL with 8.0 offensive WAR.
Jones dominated from 2007 to 2008, slashing .350/.446/.590 for a 170 OPS+, but he missed 62 total games, so he did not quite have the volume that he had in his MVP season.
2023 Matt Olson
Olson, unlike Acuña, has set a franchise record in 2023 with his 53 home runs topping Andruw Jones’ 51 from 2005. Olson is slashing .281/.388/.606, leading the NL in slugging and leading the Majors in home runs and RBI. He is 10th in Braves history with 358 total bases and third in RBI. His 83 extra-base hits are fifth in franchise history. The rate stats might not compare favorably, but Olson’s volume is historic.
In totality, Ronald Acuña’s 2023 season is at the top of the list. He combined elite hitting production, elite hitting volume, and elite base-running to produce the cream of the crop. Unlike Hornsby’s and Aaron’s entries, Acuña is pacing baseball’s best team and one of the most productive offenses in MLB history.Main image credit Embed from Getty Images