How Ronald Acuña Jr. Will Win MVP in 2023
After a 2022 where the superstar struggled with lingering knee pain, Ronald Acuña Jr. has opened the 2023 season on fire. He took home NL Player of the Month in April and hasn't let off the gas in May.
But Ronald Acuña Jr. isn't just looking like the Ronnie of old, he's looking like the eventual 2023 NL MVP. In fact, despite not even being on pace for 30 homers, he could accomplish something that has only been done five times in major league history.
With a little over 20% of the season in the books, what will the Braves RF need to do to take home his first MVP in November (other than outpace teammate Sean Murphy, of course)?
What Ronald Acuña Jr. has done so far
Coming into Tuesday's game against Boston, there is only one player in the National League who has been more valuable to his team than Ronald Acuña Jr. (hint: that player is also on the Braves). At 1.9 fWAR, Acuña has not only been worth 0.2 fWAR more than the third-best player in the NL, he's also on pace to put up over 8 fWAR. In 2022, no NL player had more than 7.4 fWAR, and the MVP, Paul Goldschmidt, was worth 7.1 fWAR.
Of course, maybe fWAR isn't your thing. It's not for everything. So let's break down some of Ronnie's more traditional stats. His .338 AVG is third-best in the NL right now, behind just Luis Arraez, who's batting .414, and Thairo Estrada, who's batting .344.
Although Arraez has the highest wRC+ of the three, Acuña has the highest OPS at .983. However, Arraez is one of only four National League players with a higher wRC+.
But while the four NL players with a higher wRC+ are just slightly better than the RF with the bat, none are coming even close to what the Braves slugger can do on the basepaths. In fact, if you combined stolen bases of the top 11 players in MLB by wRC+ not named Ronald Acuña Jr., they would still not have as many steals as the Braves RF (RAJ has 15 steals while the top 11 sans Acuña have 13 steals).
Ronnie has been such a menace on the basepaths that he actually stole the base against San Diego. His 15 steals puts him on pace for nearly 70 steals over 162 games.
Of course, Ronald's steals are reliant on getting on base, so getting to 60 steals depends on the Braves' superstar keeping up with his pace with the bat. But there's no reason to think he won't. In fact, so far, if anything, Acuña has been unlucky.
Despite running a .370 BABIP, well over the league average of .298, Acuña has underperformed his xwOBA by 0.035. Both his xBA and xSLG are higher than his actual AVG and SLG (.338/.551 AVG/SLG vs. .345/.639 xBA/xSLG).
That is because Ronnie is absolutely crushing balls. Even though he's still hitting grounders at a higher rate than last season (53.5% of the time), his average EV is 3.6 MPH harder.
He's also only striking out 14.4% of the time. His previous career best was 23.6%, which he did in both 2021 and 2022. In addition to hitting the ball hard and not striking out, Acuña is also walking 13.1% of the time, putting him in the 86th percentile league-wide.
How Ronald Acuña Jr. wins 2023 MVP
The easy answer is that Acuña Jr. keeps doing what he has been. Even without the homers, his high OBP, high SLG, and his speed on the base paths are rare. There have only been 13 players to steal 50 or more bases with a SLG over .550. Three of the most recent five players to surpass this arbitrary threshold won MVP.
But if every player in the NL kept doing what they were doing, Ronnie would likely lose out on the award to his own teammate. For Ronald Acuña Jr. to take home the 2023 MVP. If he wants to win MVP, he's going to need to do something that's never been done before.
And at Ronnie's pace, that's very achievable. Acuña Jr. is currently on pace for roughly 27 homers if he were to play in every single game. If he's able to hit at least 25 homers and steal at least 60 bases, he'll join Rickey Henderson, Eric Davis, and Joe Morgan as the only players in MLB history to have a 25/60 season (Henderson and Morgan both did it twice).
However, if Ronald is able to surpass the 30-homer threshold, he enters uncharted territory. Ronald, with one homer streak we know he's capable of doing, could be the first player in history to hit 30 homers and steal 60 bases.
So what will the 25-year-old have to do to take home his first MVP? Only slightly increasing his pace with homers while maintaining his OBP and hard contact. It might just be that easy.