Breaking down the numbers behind the Braves' booming start

April 19th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ATLANTA -- Marcell Ozuna is on pace to hit 76 home runs and Ronald Acuña Jr. is on pace for 23.

Three weeks into the season, we’re nowhere near the point where numbers don’t lie. But it’s not too early for these small-sample-size products to generate interesting conversation.

Here are some of the most interesting numbers around the Braves as they enter Friday's series-opener against the Rangers with an MLB-best 12-5 record.

.484: The Braves easily lead the Majors with this mark in slugging percentage. They became the first AL/NL club to ever produce a .500 slugging percentage last year, so this might not be too surprising. But it’s pretty impressive when you account for the fact that Acuña -- last year’s National League MVP -- has just one homer and a total of five extra-base hits. This is a very deep and talented lineup.

Eight and 1.135: Ozuna is tied for the MLB lead with eight homers and leads the Majors with 23 RBIs. He ranks second with a 1.135 OPS, trailing only Jose Altuve and Mookie Betts (both tied with 1.137). Can the veteran DH win the home run title? Sure. This early-season power surge certainly isn’t a fluke.

Here are the top three HR totals since May 1 of last season:

49 -- Matt Olson
46 -- Ozuna
46 -- Kyle Schwarber
42 -- Pete Alonso
41 -- Betts and Shohei Ohtani

If Ozuna maintains this level of production over the next five months, the more interesting question will be: should a DH be considered a legit MVP candidate? Ohtani might also make this debate more interesting this year.

40/40? Nobody has ever produced a pair of 40/40 seasons. So it’s understandable if you’re predicting Acuña won’t add another one to his résumé this year. But don’t base your prediction on the limited power he has shown thus far.

Through 17 games:
2023: Three homers, eight extra-base hits, seven steals
2024: One homer, five extra-base hits, eight steals

Acuña’s strikeout rate is up and his barrel rate is down, meaning he hasn’t been squaring as frequently as he did last year. But these numbers could look much different over the next few weeks.

Maybe somebody can mention Betts as the MVP favorite. That certainly worked late last year.

7.71: This isn’t the ERA you would have expected Max Fried to produce through his first four starts, but it’s not like he hasn’t been here before. Fried’s mechanics were a mess when he posted an 11.45 ERA through his first three starts of the 2021 season. He went on the injured list with a hamstring strain and then posted a 2.44 ERA over the rest of that regular season. He also threw six scoreless innings in that year’s World Series clincher.

How can Fried turn things around this year without being sidelined for a few weeks? Well, he pitched effectively on Friday in Miami and he felt pretty good despite allowing seven hits and issuing four walks over just five innings against the Astros on Wednesday.

“If you were to ask me if I would rather be clicking now or at the end of the year, I’d say at the end of the year,” Fried said. “It’s important to keep learning from your last start and to continually get better.”

100? Spencer Strider made one healthy start before suffering a season-ending elbow injury, and Sean Murphy has been on the injured list since straining his oblique on Opening Day. Fried has struggled and Acuña hasn’t yet gotten on a roll. But it still feels like the Braves could produce a third straight 100-win season.

Their 12-5 record is just one game behind where they were at this point last year. They were 7-10 through the first 17 games of 2022. A baseball season has more drama and plot twists than the Kardashians.