Could the Home Run Derby Spark Ronald Acuña Jr.’s Hitting?

CLEVELAND, OHIO - JULY 08: Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Atlanta Braves competes in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby at Progressive Field on July 08, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - JULY 08: Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Atlanta Braves competes in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby at Progressive Field on July 08, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Ronald Acuña Jr.’s return from injury in the 2022 season has not been as satisfactory as many had hoped, could the home run derby be the spark that gets his bat going?
Since returning from a torn ACL suffered in 2021, the Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr has not had the season he and many Braves fans had hoped for.

Through 59 games in the 2022 season, Acuña has posted a .779 OPS and 119 WRC+. While those stats aren’t bad at all and place him as a well above-average this season — at least for mere mortals — he’s not hitting anywhere close to what we usually expect from him.

ACL tears are extremely hard to overcome both physically and mentally, so there is always a possibility he might not be 100% physically or the injury might still be in the back of his head whenever he steps onto the field, but his 20 stolen bases since returning in mid-may indicate he is healthy, or at least healthy enough to play with the athleticism he utilized in seasons prior.

There could be a multitude of reasons why he is not having the 2022 season we would expect from a superstar like him, but one of the main stats that jumps out to me that could be an indicator of his worsened hitting this season is his ground ball rate in 2022. Acuña’s ground ball rate this year on batted balls is 46.3%, the highest of his career.

That fact can be slightly alarming considering in his brilliant 2021 season (before he suffered his ACL tear) in which he posted a .990 OPS and a WRC+ of 157, his groundball rate was only 31.3%.

The 15% increase is even more concerning considering each season Acuña has been steadily lowering his ground ball rate, not raising it.

Although it may seem like a somewhat difficult fix considering how deep we are in the season, Monday night’s home run derby could be exactly what Ronald Acuña needed to get more elevation into the balls he hits and get back to mashing like he is used to.

Smashing home runs on national television at Dodger Stadium might also have given Acuña the feel and confidence in his swing he might be lacking… regardless of his 1st-round exit last night.

For many Braves fans, I’m sure it was disappointing to see him lose, especially against division rival Pete Alonso in the first round, but we got to see some swings from Acuña that were very reminiscent of his past seasons. Acuña hit 19 home runs in the home run derby, including one ball that traveled 472 feet, one of the farthest hit balls in the whole contest.

Ronald was hitting his traditional line drive home runs and spraying the ball all over the field, including a few opposite field home runs, something I’m sure Braves fans have missed. His ability to hit for power to both left and right fields is something that sets him apart from many hitters.

Despite the loss, it was a great reminder to many Braves fans of Ronald’s ability at the plate and the power he possesses. Hopefully, the derby can serve as a reminder to Ronald himself about what he is capable of and get him back on track

An increase in production after the home run derby is also not completely unprecedented. Juan Soto saw a significant jump in his pre-all-star break OPS, .852, to an astounding 1.164 OPS in post-all-star-break games.

An .852 OPS is not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but that increase was incredible, and Soto and his hitting coach attributed Soto’s post-all-star break production to the preparation and participation in the home run derby.

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Speculating on an increase in production after the all-star break due to the home run derby will always seem like a long shot, but a player like Acuña who has been struggling with rolling over on the ball might benefit greatly from having fun blasting baseballs out of Dodger Stadium.