How Ronald Acuna Jr.'s strikeout rate has been key so far to his monster 2023 season

Atlanta Braves v Texas Rangers
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2023 has seen Ronald Acuna Jr.'s strikeout rate plummet

It is still early and things may start approaching his career norms as the season goes on, but one thing that has gone under-appreciated this season is just how much Ronald has cut down on this strikeouts. Remember those 25%-ish percent strikeout rates earlier in his career. Yeah, he is down to striking out at just 13.2% of the time. That is a big difference, so what changed?

The obvious thing to point to is the health thing again. Ronnie was getting beat a good bit last year on fastballs 1) because he was rusty from all the downtime and 2) because his back leg wasn't fully healthy yet thereby impacting his swing.

A deeper look at his Statcast profile (which everyone should look at because it is beautiful) actually gives us some really interesting information here. Ronnie's whiff rates on all types of pitches (fastballs, breaking balls, and offspeed stuff) have all historically been mostly between 20% and 30% in his career with breaking balls being a touch better than that over the years.

On fastballs specifically, we are talking about whiff rates more in the range of 23-26% from 2018-2022. This makes some sense in how we remember teams pitching to Ronald as one of the ways to beat him was velocity in on his hands (or in the case of the Marlins under Don Mattingly, fastballs at his body on the regular).

How does that compare to 2023? Well, instead of a whiff rate of 23-26% on heaters, Ronald is only whiffing 13.7% on the hard stuff. While it looks like he can still get beat on offspeed stuff this year, if he swings at a fastball, he isn't missing it. When you factor that along with the fact that he is hitting the ball harder than he ever has (95 mph average exit velocity is a career high) and is hitting the ball hard very, very often (54.6% hard hit percentage is just nutty), are seeing what happens.