5 surprises from the Atlanta Braves early in the 2023 season
By Eric Cole
Austin Riley and Michael Harris II have struggled
Austin Riley has made runs at real MVP consideration and Michael Harris II is coming off a very impressive rookie season that saw him take home National League Rookie of the Year. The Braves' offense is also second in the league in wRC+ at 116 and they are sixth in the fWAR in 2023. Surely both Riley and Harris would be big parts of that, right?
Nope. Before the Braves' second game against the Rangers, Austin Riley's wRC+ sat a 101 after 182 plate appearances which is decidedly average and definitely lower than you would hope from a guy that you gave a 10 year, $212 million contract extension to last August. Harris has been even worse at a 79 wRC+ with an injury to his back likely not helping his cause much. Both of these guys are talented enough that they will probably be fine, but we certainly didn't think they would have this rough of a start.
Ronald Acuna Jr. is on another planet right now
Okay look, we all know that Ronald Acuna Jr. is capable of a level of greatness on the field that few have ever been. He is as tooled up as any player in the league and we have seen what he can do when he is completely healthy and locked in. He is going to be on MVP watchlists for a long time...no arguments there.
However, seeing him do THIS to the league is something else. Every home run he hits is an absolute no doubter. He is stealing bases at a clip we haven't seen in a long, long time. He cut has cut his strikeout rate almost in half from his career norms. He is gunning runners out with his arm on a regular basis. When he plays, he makes things happen night in, night out. We shouldn't be surprised by what he is capable of, but there isn't a Braves player that makes our eyes go wide and say "wow" as much as he does.
Sean Murphy: MVP candidate?
The wildest part of RAJ's season is that there is a real debate as to whether or not he has been the most valuable player on his own TEAM through the middle of May. When the Braves acquired Sean Murphy in a trade with the Athletics and, for some reason, the Brewers, he was considered to be a pretty strong offensive player and arguably the best defensive catcher in the game. That alone is worth a lot.
However, Murphy has been amazing on BOTH sides of the ball. In addition to being as advertised defensively, Murph has slashed .268/.404/.561 in 151 plate appearances and that with a couple less than great games lately. He's tied with Ronnie with 10 home runs and currently sports a 161 wRC+. One thing that he has going for him that Ronnie doesn't necessarily have when it comes to an MVP case? Being arguably the best defender at his position boosting his numbers through slumps plus the bar for catchers hitting being much lower. He's been a stud and much better than we thought he would be.