Ronald Acuna Jr.’s most glaring flaw in 2024 doesn’t have an easy solution

The Braves have found a way to succeed without much from Ronald Acuña Jr., but he has to fix this one problem if the team is going to get where they want to go.
Atlanta Braves v Seattle Mariners
Atlanta Braves v Seattle Mariners / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

Coming off one of the best seasons in baseball history in 2023, expectations for the Atlanta Braves' Ronald Acuña Jr. were sky high for 2024. At this point, everyone knows what he is capable of when he gets going as Acuña Jr. can basically do anything on the field, but he has looked not like himself so far this season. So far, his .252/.368/.322 line has been down right pedestrian and many have been trying to figure out the exact cause of his prolonged slump.

Our own Fred Owens pointed out some other troubling trends with Acuña Jr. here recently. His ground ball rate is the highest of his career and his strikeout rate has reverted back to the numbers he was posting early in his career. While the obscene 11.4% strikeout rate he posted last year wasn't ever going to be sustainable and the ground ball rate could be explained as small sample weirdness and early season rust, the rest of his batted ball profile has regressed enough this season to raise some concern for Braves fans.

However, a lot of those things are symptoms with multiple potential causes. Underlying all of those issues for Acuña Jr. is one fundamental problem and it is one that is hard to fix: he is getting owned by fastballs at a rate higher than we have ever seen out of him.

Ronald Acuña Jr.'s issues with fastballs is a very serious problem for the Braves

The book on Acuña Jr. has always been to throw him heat inside or up if you want to try to get him out and during his career thus far, that plan has had varying degrees of success. However, that has been more a way to contain him a bit, not to shut him down completely. What we are seeing in 2024 has been far, far worse than that.

Against the 352 heaters Acuña Jr. has seen so far this season, he is hitting just .210 against them this year (easily a career-worst mark) while slugging .242 and having an xBA of just .221 against the hard stuff in 2024. Even throwing out his otherworldly season last year, Acuña Jr. usually hits about 40-50 points higher than that against fastballs and slugs about double that against them usually. His numbers against fastballs are markedly worse than those against breaking and offspeed stuff against him as well, so the hard stuff is clearly his biggest weakness at the moment.

Given that the Braves will absolutely need him to get going if they want to repeat as division champs in 2024, he simply has to be better against fastballs. The numbers actually get worse once you break things down by fastball type as four-seamers in particular have been nightmare fuel for him as he is hitting just .100 against them in 2024. In order for him to start seeing other types of pitches that he can do more damage on, Ronald has to figure out how not make opposing pitcher's decisions more difficult than just to try to blow the ball by him.

It is early in the season and we are still talking about a relatively small sample of games. Every player goes through rough patches and a bit of a downturn/hangover from his landmark 2023 season had to be expected especially when we consider that opposing teams are throwing the kitchen sink at him every game. However, he has to be able to impact the ball when he plays to realize his full value and that isn't going to come back unless he can start timing up some of these heaters.

That is easier said than done. What we are seeing isn't a pitch recognition problem as his strike zone judgment has been good this year and he seems to be swinging at fastballs as if they are, in fact, fastballs but still can't seem to do anything about it right now. He is way too talented to be held down for too long and the Braves are certainly hard at work to get his swing and timing back in shape. However, being able to do damage against big league fastballs isn't an easy fix and with each passing day, one wonders when Acuña Jr. will look like himself again.

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