The NL MVP Case for Ronald Acuña Jr.

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 14: Ronald Acuna Jr. #13 of the Atlanta Braves bats during the game against the New York Mets at SunTrust Park on August 14, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Throughout the 2019 MLB season, one hot topic that has received plenty of hype has been the exciting National League MVP race. Even Major League Baseball themselves have been promoting this thrilling race between Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich on social media. But before the award is handed out to either of these superstars, Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. has something to say about it.

Acuña has been on a tear since the All-Star break. Whether it’s been his stellar defense, illustrious swing, swiftness on the basepaths, or the energy he brings on the field, he has entered his name into the MVP discussion. So, let’s compare Acuña’s numbers with the other NL MVP candidates — Yelich and Bellinger.

The NL MVP Case for Ronald Acuña Jr.

Ronald Acuña Jr. vs. Cody Bellinger

Cody Bellinger 2019 stats: .320 BA, 42 HR, 100 RBI, 100 R, 10 SB, .418 OBP, .673 SLG, 1.091 OPS

Ronald Acuña Jr. 2019 stats: .296 BA, 35 HR, 85 RBI, 104 R, 29 SB, .376 OBP, .537 SLG, .913 OPS

After Bellinger’s incredible run through March/April, he has come back to earth. At the end of April, Bellinger was batting a ridiculous .431 with 14 HR and 37 RBI. He also posted an absurd 1.397 OPS during this time. But since April, Bellinger has cooled down to a .283 average. For Acuña, it has been the opposite. After starting the season batting fourth, Acuña started slow, but once he was moved back to the leadoff spot, he has thrived. Since April/May, Acuña is batting .301 with 29 home runs. There’s definitely something to be said about heating up when the pressure is high.

Looking at the numbers, Bellinger’s OBP, SLG, and OPS are considerably better than Acuña’s. One reason for the big difference in OBP is their disparity in the lineup. Bellinger has batted cleanup for the majority of the season, while Acuña has batted leadoff. As a result, Acuña does not receive the free passes that Bellinger does. Bellinger has not batted leadoff once this season and has only batted in the two-hole four games. The difference in SLG and OPS can be accredited to Bellinger’s extra-base hits. The Dodgers star has nine more doubles, one triple, and seven more home runs than Acuña.

One area of Acuña’s game that is more dynamic than Bellinger’s is his speed. Having the knack of getting on base and then using his speed to get into scoring position is the reason Acuña has his name in the MVP discussion. As noted in the stats above, Acuña has 29 steals to Bellinger’s 10. Also, both Acuña and Bellinger are exceptional outfielders and can play in either of the three outfield spots.

Ronald Acuña Jr. vs. Christian Yelich

Christian Yelich 2019 stats: .333 BA, 41 HR, 89 RBI, 87 R, 24 SB, .424 OBP, .693 SLG, 1.117 OPS

Ronald Acuña Jr. 2019 stats: .296 BA, 35 HR, 85 RBI, 104 R, 29 SB, .376 OBP, .537 SLG, .913 OPS

Much like Bellinger, Yelich also has a big lead on Acuña in OBP, SLG, and OPS. Yelich’s .333 average also gives him a boost in the race. Yelich tops Acuña in home runs and runs batted in, but if he catches another hot streak, Acuña could catch the 2018 NL MVP and make this a two-horse race with Bellinger.

Yelich, much like Acuña, has been heating up in the second half of the season. After the All-Star break, Yelich is batting .344 with 10 home runs and 22 runs batted in. Acuña’s average in the second half (.307) isn’t as impressive as Yelich’s, but the Braves outfielder has hit four more home runs, 10 RBI, and stolen 11 more bases. Unquestionably both players have been hot when the games matter more.

40/40?

Only being one steal away from a 30/30 season (30 HR and 30 SB), Acuña is not far off from a 40/40 campaign. If Acuña is able to accomplish this feat, would that make him an automatic lock for the NL MVP award? That would certainly seem to be the case. Only four players have achieved this accomplishment in MLB history — Jose Canseco (1988), Barry Bonds (1996), Alex Rodriguez (1998), and Alfonso Soriano (2006). If the Braves phenom becomes the first player in 13 years with a 40/40 season, expect the outfielder to become the NL MVP favorite.

In a day and age where baseball is locked in on analytics and launch angle, stolen bases have gone by the wayside. So that makes Acuña’s work on the bases that much more impressive. If Acuña joins this exclusive club, there’s no doubt that he would become a potential favorite to take home the distinguished MVP award.

The Last Word

Whether or not Acuña takes home this prestigious award in 2019, baseball fans should enjoy watching the superstar every time he takes the field. The same also goes for both Yelich and Bellinger. After all, talent like this doesn’t come around all that often.

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