Ronald Acuña Jr. (ATL): 3-5, 3 2B, 2 R, 3 RBI.
A torn ACL ended Ronald Acuña Jr.’s phenomenal 2021 season far too early. At the time of the injury, he was well on his way to being an MVP frontrunner by putting together a slash line of .283/.394/.596 with 24 home runs, 17 stolen bases, and had generated 4.3 fWAR over 82 games.
Although Acuña missed the rest of the campaign and the Braves’ eventual World Series run, he was able to return from the injury relatively quickly when he made his 2022 season debut on April 28th.
Last night, Acuña put up a nice 3-5, 3 2B, 2 R, 3 RBI line as the Braves walloped the Mets by a score of 13-1. Notably, Acuña also surpassed his playing time totals from last year, so let’s check in on how the two seasons compare.
Wait. Where’d the power go? The main concern when Acuña was working his way back from the ACL tear was that he’d lose a step on the basepaths and no longer reach elite stolen base totals. In reality, he’s lost some pop and, at least in 2022, isn’t going to finish among the game’s premier power threats in home run totals.
Diving below the surface level stats, a few areas stick out like sore thumbs. Acuña’s groundball rate has skyrocketed. The 24-year-old phenom had dropped his groundball rate four years in a row to 31.3% in 2021. This year he’s putting the ball on the ground 49.8% of the time! That’s the 21st highest rate among all batters with at least 350 plate appearances. As you may expect from the rise in groundballs, he’s also dropped his average launch angle from 18.2 degrees to 11 degrees.
Couple those changes with a declining barrel rate – 20.3% in 2021 to 12.6% in 2022 – and you have a recipe for a dramatic loss of home run power.
Despite the downturn in the frequency of Acuña’s highlight-worthy bat flips, there is some good news for Braves fans and fantasy managers who roster him: he’s still hitting the ball remarkably hard. His max exit velocity and hard-hit rate are both down ever so slightly, but not to a degree that suggests he’s making notably worse contact
Statcast actually thinks Acuña has vastly underperformed. His xSLG is sitting at a much nicer looking .490, 74 points higher than his actual slugging percentage.
Acuña returned very quickly from a major injury, and we can’t discount the fact that it may have caused him to change his swing, intentionally or not. The incredible raw talent is still present, it seems Acuña just needs to make the right adjustments to bring his power numbers back to what we’ve come to expect from him.
Let’s see how the other hitters did Monday:
Ian Happ (CHC): 2-3, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB.
The Cubs shocked the baseball world when they elected not to trade Happ or Willson Contreras, at the trade deadline, but nights like Monday are exactly why. Happ went deep twice in last night’s game, although the Cubs still came up short against the Nationals, falling 5-4. The Cubs’ left fielder is having the best season of his career. His .282/.360/.455 line is producing runs at a rate 26% better than league average. Happ isn’t a free agent until 2024, so he may be back on the trade block this winter, or the Cubs could… you know… actually try to sign some of their good players to extensions? It’s a wild idea, I know.
Kerry Carpenter (DET): 3-4, 2B, HR, 3 R, RBI.
Carpenter lit up Cleveland’s pitching staff in game two of yesterday’s doubleheader, notching all three of his hits against different pitchers as the Tigers went on to win 7-5. Carpenter’s sixth-inning home run was the first of his short big league career – he debuted on August 10th. Although he was never a heralded prospect, the 2019 19th-round draft pick has done nothing but hit at every minor league stop. He posted a 1.005 OPS in Double-A and a 1.064 OPS in Triple-A earlier this year.
Andrés Giménez (CLE): 4-8, 2B, 2 HR, 2 R, 5 RBI.
Two games played. Two two home runs added to Giménez’s season total yesterday. In the first game of the doubleheader, Giménez homered against Andrew Chafin as part of a three-hit performance in the Guardians’ win. Game two came with only one hit for Giménez, but it also left the yard. Giménez is enjoying a career year, hitting .312/.377/.503 with 14 home runs and 15 steals.
Dansby Swanson (ATL): 3-4, 2B, R, 3 RBI, BB, SB.
Swanson got in on the Brave’s 13-run explosion Monday night. He’s the only Atlanta infielder not locked up long-term, and he picked the best possible time to have a breakout season. The 27-year-old shortstop will be a free agent this winter, and he’s hitting .294/.349/.458 with 16 homers and 15 stolen bases. Swanson made his first All-Star game this year, and if he keeps playing like this it certainly won’t be his last.
Nelson Cruz (WSH): 2-4, 2B, HR, R, 3 RBI.
Father Time is undefeated. Cruz has hit at least 32 home runs in every full season since 2012, but that streak is going to be over soon. His game-winning eighth-inning home run off of Brandon Hughes last night was just his ninth big fly of the season. At 42 years old, it may be time for Cruz to finally hang up the cleats.
Christian Walker (ARI): 1-1, HR, R, RBI, 3 BB.
Is Walker having the quietest 30-homer season in recent memory? Yesterday’s home run was his 28th of 2022, meaning he’ll likely finish with a total in the mid-30s. Walker’s big fly was by far the furthest hit ball of the day, traveling 461 feet to centerfield. Although he reached base in all of his plate appearances last night, it wasn’t enough for the Diamondbacks to emerge victorious, as they fell 6-1 in San Francisco. Walker’s still available in over 40% of both Yahoo! and ESPN fantasy leagues if you need a power boost down the stretch.
Jesse Winker (SEA): 2-5, HR, 2 R, RBI.
Coming off of two straight years with a wRC+ of at least 140, Winker entered his first season in Seattle with sky-high expectations that he just hasn’t been able to meet. Winker got the Mariners started with a first-inning home run against Shohei Ohtani in a game they’d go on to win 6-2. Winker’s triple slash is .229/.346/.366, good for a 114 wRC+. It’s not bad, but not what the Mariners were expecting when they acquired him in a trade last offseason. Those frustrations have been amplified since he’s had to play the field so often due to injuries throughout Seattle’s roster. His -9 Outs Above Average is the worst mark among all big league left fielders.
Joey Bart (SF): 3-4, 2B, R, 2 RBI.
Since returning from a month-long stint in Triple-A in early July, Bart’s looked like a renewed hitter. He’s slashing .314/.344/.523 since rejoining the Giants, finally making good on some of that top prospect hype he carried into his big league debut. Although the results have been much better for Bart this time around, he’s still striking out a ton, albeit less than before. He dropped his strikeout rate from 45.4% in his first MLB stint this year to “just” 31.4% this time around. Bart’s available in nearly 90% of Yahoo! and ESPN fantasy leagues if you want to take a shot at him finally having figured out big league pitching.
Jeff McNeil (NYM): 4-4, 2 2B, R.
McNeil was the lone bright spot for the Mets on Monday. Of his four base knocks, three of them were hard hit (at least 95 mph exit velocity). After a down 2021, McNeil’s bounced back in a huge way; his .315/.371/.460 slash line comes out to a 139 wRC+, nearly matching his breakout 2019 season. For fantasy managers, that nice batting line comes with little power or speed upside, so it’s pretty hollow. He’s an invaluable piece in the Mets’ lineup but doesn’t carry the same value over to most fantasy baseball formats.
Miguel Rojas (MIA): 3-4, 3B, 2 R.
Rojas may have collected three hits, but it wasn’t enough to get the Marlins to snap out of their offensive drought as Monday marked their 16th straight game scoring three runs or fewer, pushing their MLB record to a new level. Despite the low scoring, Miami was still able to come out of yesterday’s action with a 3-0 win over the Padres. It seems like we may be watching the end of Rojas’ time as the Marlins’ starting shortstop. He’s a free agent at the end of the year, and posting a .620 OPS in his age 33 season sure doesn’t inspire confidence.
Ryan McKenna (BAL): 3-5, 2 2B, R, RBI.
The Orioles just refuse to cool off as they took down their division and Wild Card rival Blue Jays 7-3 last night. McKenna may have played a role in the win, but he definitely doesn’t have a role to play for your fantasy team. The 25-year-old outfielder’s .718 OPS is unremarkable, and he’s only seeing about two or three starts a week. Until that changes he’s not worth a fantasy roster spot.
Myles Straw (CLE): 1-3, 2 R, BB, 2 SB.
Straw’s value on the diamond comes from his elite speed, making him one of the game’s best defensive centerfielders and stolen base threats. Straw flashed some of that toolset in the first game of yesterday’s Cleveland/Detroit doubleheader, swiping two bags. Shockingly, those were his first stolen base attempts since July 4th. Straw’s fantasy value is tied directly to how much he’s running, so until we start seeing more consistent attempts it’s safe to leave him on the waiver wire.
Luis Rengifo (LAA): 1-4, HR, R, RBI.
Rengifo has been one of the lone bright spots in what’s turned out to be just another disappointing season for the Halos. His home run last night only happened because of an outfield collision that popped the ball out of Julio Rodríguez’s glove and over the wall, but it counts all the same. It was Rengifo’s eighth home run of the year, raising his batting line to .270/.307/.427.
Yandy Díaz (TB): 2-5, 2B, 2 RBI.
Díaz and the Rays handed the Yankees another loss last night, coming out on top 4-0 in the Bronx. This is Díaz’s sixth MLB season, but just the second in which he’s played more than 100 games. He’s up to his usual antics, showing off great on-base skill without much power. Díaz is slashing .272/.385/.385, and his 1.33 BB/K ratio is the second best in baseball, trailing only Juan Soto.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)