Atlanta Braves: What Ronald Acuna Jr.’s 2022 Reveals About His Future

PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 05: Ronald Acuna Jr. #13 of the Atlanta Braves in action during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on July 5, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 05: Ronald Acuna Jr. #13 of the Atlanta Braves in action during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on July 5, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

Ronald Acuña Jr’s return from his ACL injury led to career-worst numbers in several areas. What does this mean for his future?

The Atlanta Braves were thrilled with how quickly Ronald Acuña Jr. was able to return to the team after tearing his right ACL in 2021. His season was up and down and while the final numbers were not what we have grown accustomed to, they weren’t so bad. In fact, Acuña made the cut in a ranking of Top 10 Braves of 2022. 

Through the first 27 games of the season, Acuña Jr. looked like he was back. He started 26 games and posted a tremendous .945 OPS with a slash line of .320/.411/.534. Over the next 40 games, Acuña Jr. slumped to the tune of a .219 average, .313 OBP, and a lowly .300 SLG.

The Effects of Acuna’s Injury Lingered in 2022

Acuña’s up-and-down season continued. Throughout the year, he often required rest due to soreness in his surgically repaired knee. He was caught stealing more than anyone in the league despite only playing in 119 games. Acuña’s slugging percentage was the lowest of his career. In fact, it’s the only season on his resume he slugged under .518. He finished over 100 points lower than his previous career low with a .413 SLG.

One of These Things is Not Like the Others!

Slugging Percentages

  • 2018: .552
  • 2019: .518
  • 2020: .581
  • 2021: .596
  • 2022: .413

The 2022 version of Acuña rated in just the eighth percentile in outs above average (OAA) and 28th percentile in outfielder jump. Acuña had never posted a negative OAA in RF in his career prior to 2022. Last season he ended with a negative six.

The knee was clearly bothering him. As late as September, Acuña was playing through what he described as “terrible” knee pain.”

While his sprint speed was respectably nestled in the 82nd percentile, it was by far the lowest of his career. Acuña had never finished lower than 95.3% among all MLB players in sprint speed prior to 2022. While his speed suffered from the torn ACL, it was still good. Even a hurting and hobbled Acuna was still among the faster players in the league.

Positives from Ronald Acuña Jr.’s 2022

  • 88th percentile in exit velocity.
  • 98th percentile in max exit velocity.
  • 92nd percentile in hard-hit percentage.
  • 95th percentile in xwOBA.
  • 85th percentile in xBA.
  • 92nd percentile in xSLG.
  • 88th percentile in barrel percentage.
  • 72nd percentile in BB%.
  • 82nd percentile in sprint speed.
  • 100th percentile in arm strength… Let’s go!

While his actual slugging percentage was much lower than typical, his xSLG projects that it should have been much higher at .486. Granted, .486 xSLG is still by far the lowest of his career. All things considered, it’s a good sign since he wasn’t at 100% this season.

How long will it take for Ronald Acuña Jr. to be 100% healthy?

Atlanta Braves superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. suffered a torn ACL on July 11 of 2021. He made his return in 2022 on April 28. That is just over nine months removed from the day he tore his ACL. According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, it takes 8-12 months for an athlete to return to his or her sport after an ACL tear.

The Arthroscopy Journal published a study of MLB players returning from ACL reconstruction. The study covered 26 players between 1999-2012. In the study, recovering players played 21.2% fewer games than the previous season. This is interesting because they played less than the incomplete season from whence they injured themselves. Acuña exceeded 2021’s games played total by 45%.

This injury isn’t terribly common among major league baseball players and typically happens while playing outfield defense. One player we can look at as an example is the Phillies’ Kyle Schwarber.

Kyle Schwarber (then with the Cubs) suffered a torn ACL in 2016 and while he played in 129 games the following season, he posted a 99 OPS+. Since 2018 he has posted a 125 OPS+.

The season following his return he improved his OPS from .782 to .823.

Considering Acuña’s performance through the knee pain last season, and the notion that he’ll get a full offseason of rest, I think Acuña Jr. will return to sustained superstar form in 2023. What do you think? Will Acuña return to full health? Will he never be the same? Let us know in the comments.

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