Atlanta Braves 2024 season preview: More records for Ronald Acuña Jr.?

Ronald Acuña Jr. had a historic 2023 season in more ways than one, making him the obvious choice for NL MVP. Now he's faced with nearly insurmountable expectations going into 2024.

Division Series - Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies - Game Three
Division Series - Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies - Game Three / Rich Schultz/GettyImages

Ronald Acuña Jr. is an otherworldly type of talent. That much is obvious. It was clear to Braves fans and most baseball fans as soon as he came up in 2018. And while he showed what he could be leading up to 2023, he probably reached his peak. Or did he?

What worked well for the Braves outfielder in 2023?

Quite literally everything. It's actually hard to quantify what worked for Ronald Acuña Jr. in 2023 because simply put, he posted one of the greatest offensive seasons in MLB history. It's pretty difficult for anyone, even non-Braves fans, to deny that.

The biggest factor that led to the offensive explosion was his health. He finally looked like himself after suffering the ACL injury in 2021 and believe it or not, everyone knew he had this type of potential as he was heading for an MVP that season.

What took him to the stratosphere was simply his ability to make contact with the ball more often. His average exit velocity in 2023 was a career-high, but only 0.9 off his 2021 season. His barrel percentage was just the third-best of his career. His whiff percentage dropped off a cliff from a then career-low 24.9 in 2022 to 18.7 in 2023.

It's not hard to figure out that putting the bat on the ball more often combined with Ronald's incredible natural talent is going to lead to gaudy numbers and it did.

He hit .337 in the leadoff spot, 44 points higher than his previous career-high of .293 in 2018. He scored an MLB-leading 149 runs, the most since Jeff Bagwell's count of 159 in 2009 and before that the most since Ted Williams' count of 150 in 1949. He drove in 107 runs, was fourth in the MLB in slugging (.596), and first in on-base percentage (.416) all whilst holding the six-lowest strikeout rate of any qualifying player. Oh, and he did that 40-70 thing that was pretty cool too.

He lit up the advanced metrics as well, posting career-highs in fWAR (8.4), wRC+ (170), wOBA (.428), all second in the MLB behind Shohei Ohtani. He even led the league in xwOBA (.460).

If there was one thing to complain about for Acuña in 2023, it was his fielding. Advanced fielding metrics don't love him, as he posted his worst defensive fWAR of his career at -12.8. But anyone with eyes can see that he has a rocket attached to his right arm, making him a dangerous defender just on that. But it's hard to believe that he won't continue to get better in right field, now almost three years removed from his ACL injury.

Simply put, everything went right for Acuña in 2023, which makes 2024 all the more daunting. It's hard to believe that he'll be able to live up to the astronomical standards that he's set for himself. But if anyone can do it, it's him.

What to expect from Ronald Acuña Jr. in 2024

If any Braves fans have tuned into even a handful of manager Brian Snitker's postgame comments, they've probably heard him say that the Braves lineup goes as Ronald goes.

That's not to say that can't be successful without him as the World Series just two seasons ago proved. But with him hitting at the top of the lineup, it just takes the Braves to a completely different level. And with all the talent behind him and the speed he presents on the basepaths, pitchers have no choice but to pitch to him. He's seemingly always on-base and god forbid a pitcher ever lets him come up with runners on base, he'll make them pay.

Projections for 2024 have Ronald batting .306 with 165 hits including 30 home runs, 81 RBI, and 47 stolen bases. Season projections are almost always conservative and Fangraphs specifically has him regressing to a measly 7.4 WAR, which would have placed him as the third-best in the MLB last season. You know, real peasant kind of numbers.

They have Ronald batting .306 with 165 hits including 30 home runs, 81 RBI, and 47 stolen bases.

All jokes aside though, if Acuña continues to put a premium on making contact with the ball, there's no reason not to believe he can't repeat what he did in 2023. And if there is one thing Braves fans have learned about Ronnie, it's that he won't settle for anything less. If you don't believe that, here's a quote straight from him in the fantastic Players Tribune piece on Acuña released on Wednesday.

Ronald stated, "I am who I am because I demand a lot from myself, and I believe I can do whatever I put my mind to. If I hit 40 home runs one season, the next year there will have to be 50. If it doesn't happen, then the next year I will try again, but I am not the kind of man who gives up. I am always hungry. I am grateful but never satisfied."

Pretty strong words from a guy that just made MLB history last season. Expect Acuña to do exactly what he has always done. Get one base, score, drive runs in, steal bases, and just create overall havoc on opposing defenses. There's no reason to believe he can't do 2023 all over again.

Most of all though Braves fans. Savor this time. He truly is a once-in-a-lifetime type of athlete that fans dream of being able to watch night in and night out.

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