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the NLDS offensive key could be Ronald Acuna

There have been times he’s looked MVP-worthy.  There have been times in which he’s been schooled by pitchers.  His response to Dodger pitching could be vital.

In his brief MLB career, Atlanta Braves‘ phenom Ronald Acuña has faced off against 192 different pitchers.  Clearly, the results have been better against some over others.  The Dodgers have… let’s say ‘well above average’ pitching… while Acuña is still learning the league.

Overall, Acuña hit .293 in 433 AB while slugging .552 for an OPS of 917 (OPS+ 144).  That’s an exciting set of figures.

But how has he fared against upper-tier pitching?  The kind he might see this weekend?

As an experiment, I compiled a spreadsheet of these 192 pitchers from information harvested at baseball-reference.com.  From this, I not-so-randomly chose 28 of the best pitchers he has faced thus far.

Those pitchers are:

Jose Urena (yeah – him), Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Greinke, Miles Mikolas, Aaron Nola, Chris Archer, Jake Arrieta, Clayton Kershaw, German Marquez, Jhoulys Chacin, Kyle Freeland, Jon Gray, Rich Hill, Chris Sale, Blake Snell, Stephen Strasburg, Ross Stripling, Zack Wheeler, Alex Wood, Yu Darvish, Craig Kimbrel, Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, Josh Hader, Corey Knebel.

This is not a fair list.  It’s not intended to be.

You may argue with the inclusion – or exclusion – of some name or another, but I expect many will agree that these pitchers have been tough on all of their opponents in 2018 (there was some leaning toward possible playoff opponents in this list’s construction – that was intentional).

What I wanted to know, however, was this:  how did Acuña fare against the best pitching and could this information be a predictor for his performance this week in the NLDS?

 

The Numbers

Acuña had 111 plate appearances against these pitchers – 99 official ‘at bats’.  Overall, there’s really not a lot of surprises here:  there’s a reason these pitchers are considered among the best.

  • He has 23 hits (.232 batting average) against this list.
  • There were 6 doubles, 1 triple, and 2 homers among those hits.  I believe that computes to a .374 slugging rate.
  • He walked 9 times.  This is merely 1 walk short of his full-season walk rate of 9.2%.
  • He struck out 39 times for a 35% rate… 10% above his 25% seasonal rate.
  • He was hit 3 times.  Overall, this nets an OBP of .315… that’s actually pretty good.

No – a .232 average isn’t going to set the world on fire, but for a first year effort, it’s solid against this group.  But let’s look deeper… with the knowledge that everything here is in the ‘small sample size’ statistical range (that’s why I cobbled together a larger group):

Acuña actually has just 1 hit in 17AB vs. any and all Dodger pitching.  He managed to get one lone safety against Ryan Madson, but that’s been it:  9 K in 17AB, 1 BB.

This is why Acuña is the key:  if he can break through even just a bit in this second time around against Dodger pitchers, then the Braves will start having run-scoring chances.

It’s because of these numbers that he has the most room for improvement of the Braves’ regular starters and I will be very interested to see if Kevin Seitzer and his associates has something planned for getting this kid some better plate appearances this weekend.

Next: More Notes on the Upcoming Series

If that happens, the Braves could be in business.

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