Ronald Acuña Jr. Is A Baseball God
11:09 AM EDT on July 6, 2023
To date, just four players in MLB history have ever recorded 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases in a single regular season. Barring injury, Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Atlanta Braves is going to join that very exclusive club this season. Acuña socked his 21st dinger of the season Saturday, in Atlanta's 82nd game of the season. He will need to stay healthy and play a lot down the stretch in order to top 40 for the year, but it should be noted here that the last time Acuña played anything close to a full season, back in 2019, he hit 41 dingers in 156 games. He's got the juice for it. That year Acuña hit .280 and slugged .519; this year he's hitting .337 and slugging .594. His power production in 2023 is, to use a technical term, fucking nuts: He's already got more doubles this season (24) than he hit in all of 2019 (21); he leads the National League in slugging; he leads the whole entire MLB—the one that includes Shohei Ohtani—in offensive WAR.
It is in fact a fluke that Acuña does not lead the National League in dingers. His average exit velocity on the year is second only to crude brute Aaron Judge of the Yankees, per MLB's Statcast service. His average home run distance is second only to scowling neanderthal Bryce Harper. Acuña has more total hard-hit balls this season than anyone else in baseball. Bad luck with launch angles—Acuña's average batted ball has just eight degrees of lift, making everything he puts into play a potentially deadly projectile for opposing infielders—accounts entirely for why Acuña has not already socked 30 home runs. Puny slap-hitting pipsqueak Luis Arráez—incidentally, the only person in baseball with a higher batting average today than Acuña—gets more lift on his average ball in play. Arráez has 18 doubles and three measly dingers on the year. A more honorable player would cede the batting title on principle.
We haven't even talked yet about Acuña's base-running. Acuña leads the National League and is second in the majors in stolen bases, with an impossible-seeming 41 through 86 games. Only the delightful Esteury Ruiz of the horrendous Oakland Athletics (43) has more. Ruiz is the kind of drag-bunting pinch-runner type you might imagine stealing approximately half a base per game. The league's prolific base-stealers tend to be that way, even in this era of pizza-box bases. Only Ruiz and Acuña in all of baseball have as many as 30 stolen bases; only one player who is within 20 stolen bases of Acuña is slugging within 130 points of his league-leading figure. These are skittering little waterbug types. Acuña, as we have established, is one of the two or three mightiest sluggers in the entire sport.
Acuña is on an all-timer of a tear right now. His production is increasing by the month, and is now beginning to look like the sort of silly shit that would make you turn up the difficulty if you pulled it off in a video game. In the month of June, he notched 16 extra-base hits, including nine dingers, and he swiped 14 bases, and he struck out a grand total of 13 times, in 119 plate appearances. In a stretch that ran from June 20 to July 5, Acuña had either homered or stolen a base (or both) in 13 consecutive games, which had not been done since at least 1969. He has eight more stolen bases on the year than the entire Colorado Rockies team. He's had more games with at least one home run and at least one stolen base this season (five) than Arráez has total home runs and stolen bases (four). Acuña's not just going to join the 40–40 club; he's going to found the 40–80 club, and he's going to do it while batting .330 and leading the majors in OPS.
Acuña's swipe of his 40th bag Monday made him the first player ever to hit 20 homers and steal 40 bases before the All Star break. Baseball is old as hell and lots of people have played it, and entire eras go by without anyone notching a first-in-history accomplishment. Modern baseball fans are a little bit spoiled, enjoying now a sixth year of Ohtani doing ridiculous two-way stuff not seen since before there were televisions, and never remotely imagined by the well-meaning plumbers and auto-mechanics doing all the record-establishing of baseball's professional infancy. New rules about pitcher disengagements and new base dimensions were meant to increase the action on the bases, but it means something that no one else in the modern game is really anywhere close at all to Acuña as a dual power and speed threat.
Also Acuña can throw the dick off of a baseball:
That is the hardest-thrown ball of the season by nearly two miles-per-hour. Let him pitch! There may be nothing this man cannot do on a baseball field.