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Is Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr., a year after ACL injury, fully back?


By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer

Before his ACL gave out on July 10, 2021, Ronald Acuña Jr. was on tempo for among the best offensive campaigns of the twenty first century. Through 82 video games, Atlanta‘s famous person outfielder was hitting .283/.394/.596 with 24 homers and 17 steals. Only three different gamers have ever put collectively comparable energy, steal and on-base numbers by means of 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 pace over the season’s latter half, he would have been the runaway favourite for NL MVP. Alas, we stay within the worst timeline, and Ronald did certainly miss the rest of final season recovering from leg surgical procedure. Atlanta received the World Series anyway, with Acuña cheering on his teammates from the sidelines.

After taking the primary month of 2022 to fully heal, he returned to motion for the Braves in early May. To not overtax Acuña’s reconstructed ligament, the staff opted to have him DH a few days a week within the early going. But since June 2, the face of Atlanta’s franchise has performed each single sport in proper discipline, a sign from the staff that he’s, for all intents and functions, fully 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 convey new viewers to MLB. 

Unfortunately although, accidents can linger, even as soon as gamers have returned to the sphere. Former Cleveland outfielder Grady Sizemore seemed like a future Hall of Famer earlier than knee surgical procedures restricted his explosiveness. The identical factor occurred to the aforementioned Eric Davis. Even Alex Bregman, who a few years in the past was a perennial MVP candidate, hasn’t seemed 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 year faraway from his preliminary damage, let’s dive into some video and information to see if there are any noticeable lasting impacts hampering him on the diamond.

Offense

Let’s begin with the bottom degree offensive numbers. Through his first 40 video games in 2022 (by means of June 21), Ronald was slashing .282/.375/.468, an impressive batting line, however noticeably under his traditionally superb .283/.394/.596 mark from final season. While there are definitely some injury-related components at play which have dampened his stats, a look 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 year, a go-ahead, two-run mega-blast off San Francisco’s Zack Littell. But earlier than that huge fly, Acuña had gone greater than a week with out a single extra-base hit, a chilly stretch that diminished his OPS from .943 to .812. Batted ball information from that “hunch” suggests it was nothing greater than a run of dangerous 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 changed into outs. In that Tuesday sport in opposition to the Giants, he ripped three balls more durable than 105 miles per hour, together with the homer. 

He additionally took about a week to get rolling when he first got here again, going 5 for his first 25, an understandably sluggish start thinking about he hadn’t seen major-league pitching in virtually a year.

A take a look at his most exit velocity this year (116.6) assuages any actual concern. That mark is simply a smidge under his max from final season (117.9) and nonetheless ranks within the 98th percentile league-wide, a signal that his high-end rotational energy and lower-half explosiveness are kind of 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 harm final year, 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. But to this point 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 that they had prior to now. His first pitch strike proportion is up by 5.8%, which is within the high 25 league-wide, however his first pitch swing proportion is up by lower than half that fee. To put it merely: Pitchers really feel extra inclined to assault Acuña with a strike on the primary pitch (probably as a result of he’s presumably much less fearsome coming off his damage), and he has but to make the required adjustment. He’s getting behind in counts extra typically, making it much less seemingly that he’ll find yourself strolling.

So whereas his damage has probably performed a position in his underwhelming energy numbers in 2022, it’s extra about Acuña’s slow-to-adjust strategy than any lingering bodily subject along with his leg.

Sprint Speed

This is the place we’d anticipate to see the most important affect from Acuña’s damage. You don’t want a medical diploma to grasp why; reconstructive leg surgical procedure isn’t precisely the perfect factor for an elite athlete’s dash pace. The proof is within the pudding: Acuña has a mean toes per second of 27.8 this season (68th percentile), down from his blazing 29.4 f/s from final year (97th percentile).

But whereas that distinction is a bit regarding at first look, a dig into particular person dash information paints a much less dire image.

It’s troublesome to search out dash pace numbers for particular performs, however I used to be in a position to supply out a few of Acuña’s run instances from folks inside the sport. And regardless that 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 no less than 5 instances 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 information 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 desires to.

Defense

The rub on Acuña’s protection this season is comparable: He can push it if he desires, however he has understandably been hesitant about going all-out for balls. Before the damage, Acuña was thought-about a fairly common outfielder, a excellent athlete able to the occasional jaw-dropping play, however not somebody who’s normally within the combine for a Gold Glove.

So far in 2022, he has but to dive for a fly ball and has left his toes to leap for a ball solely two instances. The first was a liner off the bat of Arizona’s Christian Walker, which Acuña misplayed, clearly unwilling to slam full pace into the fence.

But a few weeks later, on June 10 in opposition to Pittsburgh, Acuña made a leaping grab to rob Michael Perez of a hit.

The solely different notable information level to evaluate the place he’s at defensively is a play from May 18 in opposition to Milwaukee, wherein Acuña obtained a horrendous leap on a ball within the hole after which didn’t have the closing pace to make up for it. The catch likelihood on this play was solely 45%, but Acuña didn’t come anywhere close to it.

It’s encouraging that, based mostly on this small pattern dimension of three performs, Acuña appears to be transferring in the correct route.

The Verdict

Acuña continues to be … nicely … Ronald Acuña. He’s a phenomenal hitter with elite athleticism that shines on the basepaths and emerges once in a while on protection. The additional away he will get from his damage, the extra prepared he’ll seemingly be to dash full pace and put his physique on the road to make performs on protection. 

Until then, there’s no actual purpose to fret. Acuña continues to be a pressure 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. He’s an Orioles fan residing in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s virtually definitely driving his bike. You can observe him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.


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