How Acuña stacks up through age-21 season

May 18th, 2020

ATLANTA -- To gain a better appreciation of what has done, here’s a look at how the Braves outfielder’s accomplishments stack up against others who were talented enough to create a decent sample size at 21 or younger.

According to Baseball Reference’s Play Index, Acuña is one of 52 players in MLB history to have collected 1,200-plus plate appearances while playing in at least 265 games through his 21-year-old season.

The only other Braves who have done this are Sibby Sisti (1939-42), Andruw Jones (1996-98) and Eddie Mathews (1952-53). Hank Aaron just missed being included within this group. He played 275 games, but totaled just 1,174 plate appearances before completing his 21-year-old season in 1955.

Before moving forward, it’s likely best to mention some of Sisti’s prime years were spent serving in World War II. But he was one of the most popular players in Boston Braves history, and there’s a good chance you’ve seen him serving as Pittsburgh’s manager in the movie "The Natural."

Now back to Acuña, who stands with Elvis Andrus, Starlin Castro, Mike Trout, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper as the only players during this century to log 1,200-plus plate appearances and 265 games at 21 or younger.

With the sample size better understood, let’s look at where Acuña ranks in some of these statistical categories:

Home runs hit through 21-year-old season

  1. Mel Ott, 86
  2. Tony Conigliario, 84
  3. Eddie Mathews, 72
  4. Ronald Acuña Jr. and Frank Robinson, 67

Though Ott and Conigliaro both produced a significantly higher total than the others, Mathews is the only member of this quintet to homer more frequently than Acuña before their respective 22-year-old seasons. Through their respective 21-year-old seasons, Mathews homered once every 15.4 at-bats and Acuña had a 15.8 AB/HR ratio.

Most HRs hit in a season at 21 or younger

  1. Eddie Mathews, 47 (1953)
  2. Mel Ott, 42 (1929)
  3. Ronald Acuña Jr., 41 (2019)
  4. Cody Bellinger, 39 (2017)
  5. Frank Robinson, 38 (1956)

How rare has it been to see a Braves player 21 or younger hit at least 25 homers in a season? Extremely, especially if you exclude Mathews and Acuña.

Mathews (47 in 1953 and 25 in '52) and Acuña (41 in 2019 and 26 in '18) account for four of the seven times a Braves player has hit 25-plus homers before their 22-year-old season. The other three to do so are Bob Horner (33 in 1979), Jones (31 in 1998) and Aaron (27 in 1955).

Having finished three stolen bases shy of recording what would have been the fifth 40-40 season in MLB history, Acuña came to camp this year and told good friend Ozzie Albies that his new goal was to become the first player to produce a 50-50 season.

Acuña already stands as one of just five players in MLB history to total 50 homers and 50 stolen bases at 21 or younger. The other members of this group are Alex Rodriguez, Mike Trout, Ken Griffey Jr. and Jones.

To get a better feel for how Acuña has compared to some of the game’s more modern stars through their first couple of seasons, here’s a list of the best OPS+ figures produced by players 21 or younger since 1980:

  1. Mike Trout, 166
  2. Juan Soto, 140
  3. Ken Griffey Jr., 135
  4. Giancarlo Stanton, 132
  5. Ronald Acuña Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, 130

If these same lists were completed at this time next year, there’s a chance Soto could rank near the top of every one of them. The Nationals' young outfielder debuted at 19 years old and has spent the past two years producing power numbers similar to those of Acuña, who undoubtedly has the edge in the speed and baserunning departments.