There’s no secret that Ronald Acuna Jr. is one of the best players in all of baseball, but staying healthy for the Atlanta Braves will always be a concern.
He’s been hit by 22 pitches in his career — it seems like at least half of those have come against the Miami Marlins. That’s not really a ton — Freddie Freeman has been hit 17 times over that same span, and Dansby Swanson 14.
But it seems like every time he gets hit it’s with a 95-plus MPH pitch.
If not for his superhuman athleticism and flexibility, he’d probably lead the league in getting hit by pitches, but he’s typically able to avoid them.
We’ve all heard the excuse/reason for this by now — teams have to pitch Acuna inside — and that’s true.
That’s why we’ll continue to see teams pound him inside as it’s really the only place you can go to get him out.
The same thing is true for Freddie Freeman with his one weak spot being up-and-in, which is why he’s had some hand issues after getting hit there on several occasions.
But here’s the big problem with this — and Ken Rosenthal kind of stole my thunder with his article — but while pitchers are more dominant than ever, they’re also more volatile than ever.
As Ken mentions, we’re seeing more batters get hit by pitches this year than ever before.
I think part of that can be blamed on the short season last year and pitchers being a little rusty, but mostly it’s due to the fact that pitchers are now throwers first and pitchers second.
High velocity has become a pandemic in this game, and yes it gets a lot of strikeouts — we’re on a record pace for that as well — but it also leads to a lot of injuries for the pitchers and the hitters.
Braves: But why Acuna?
We all thought the worse when Acuan got hit on the hand by Sam Coonrod, but thankfully it was nothing serious.
I’m in the minority of those who don’t think this was intentional. If you watch the flight of that pitch, it was actually over the black of the plate most of the way but had so much movement and came in so quickly it got on Acuna’s hands and he wasn’t able to get out of the way in time.
Still, the Braves had to send a message that if you’re going to pitch our star player inside you better know how to pitch in there. And the Braves did that by plunking J.T. Realmuto right where you should if you are going to throw in a high-velocity projectile at somebody.
But that’s not going to stop teams from pitching him inside — there’s literally nowhere else to pitch him. We’ve seen what he can do to balls out over the plate and he gets his hands extended — that’s when you see those 480-foot home runs.
If you look at Ronnie’s home runs by zone on Baseball Savant for this season, he has hit one home run on pitches on the inner third. Eight of them have been on the outer third or even off the plate away.
On his batting average by zone, he’s hitting .167 on pitches middle-in.
Bottom line, as a pitcher, you can’t let him beat you on pitches away. You have to take your chances inside.
And what’s even scarier for pitchers, he’s made adjustments to that inside pitch and is starting to hit those better as well, knowing that’s where pitchers are trying to get him out.
Unfortunately for Braves fans, Acuna is always going to be at risk of being hit by the inside fastball because that’s where you have to pitch him.
I just hope pitchers start to learn how to throw inside with command. Even then, one is going to get away from them every now and then.
The only thing Ronnie can do is learn to turn away from these pitches and make sure they hit him in the back or back of the arm. But this is always going to be something he deals with and will continue to be something Braves fans have to worry about.