In MLB history, Ronald Acuna is off to one of the hottest stars. He is a bonafide superstar in just three seasons. He has been named to the All-Star Game, and he has a pair of Silver Sluggers. He has been the fourth outfielder on both the 2019 and 2020 All-MLB Teams. Among the NL MVP favorites in 2021, Acuna has never finished below 12th in MVP voting.
Acuna is one of the most exciting players in baseball with his electric power-speed combination as well as flashy. However, he backs up the flair. Acuna has a career 133 OPS+ and 137 wRC+. Both stats peaked in 2020 as Acuna slugged nearly .600 in the shortened season. He is on pace to be a future member of the 3,000-hit and 500-home run clubs, and he has one of the brightest futures in Major League Baseball. Few in MLB history have been as good as Acuna this early.
One way to analyze is similarity scores, a statistic developed by Bill James in the 1980s. It comes players from across MLB history to other players, and it works for both position players and pitchers.
Similarity scores are purely statistical analyses. To see the comprehensive formula for similarity scores, go to Baseball-Reference.
MLB History No.1: Giancarlo Stanton
Stanton has been mashing baseballs for the Florida/Miami Marlins and New York Yankees for 11 seasons now. By his age-23 season, he had already launched 93 home runs. He led the NL in slugging percentage at 22, 24, and 27, capping his age-27 season off with the NL MVP. Stanton had 59 home runs that season, 2017. For Stanton, he has had issues staying healthy, but when he is on the field, he has an OPS over .900 and a career 144 OPS+. He has five seasons with 34 or more home runs in addition to four more injury-shortened seasons with 22 or more home runs. Stanton is one of the most feared homerun hitters in recent MLB history.
The Atlanta Braves hope Acuna is as productive as Stanton was while avoiding the injury bug.
No.2: Bob Horner
Horner’s second appearance in this article series, he played 10 seasons with the Braves and St. Louis Cardinals. He had 91 home runs by his age-23 season, and he also won the NL Rookie of the Year like Acuna. Horner was a consistent threat for the Braves, clearing an OPS of .800 in every season he played more than 40 games. He was out of baseball by his age-31 season because of MLB collusion, but he had an admirable career with 218 home runs and an OPS+ of 127.
Acuna will look to have more success in Atlanta than Horner did.
No.3: Miguel Cabrera
Cabrera, an 18-year veteran, is still trudging along. He spent five seasons with the Marlins before moving to the Detroit Tigers. Cabrera is a legend of MLB history. From 2005 to 2016, he never finished worse than 15th in MVP voting. He has a pair of MVPs on his mantle with five additional top-five finishes. He rocks a career .313/.391/.540 slash line. His 147 OPS+ is sandwiched between Mike Schmidt and Albert Pujols, underscoring his elite status in MLB history. His skill has eroded with age, but Cabrera is a shoo-in Hall of Famer. He won four batting titles and was named to 11 All-Star teams.
While Cabrera did not win another championship after his rookie season, he had one of the greatest careers of the last 25 seasons.
No.4: Juan Gonzalez
Gonzalez played for four teams, but he was a two-time MVP with the Texas Rangers. Gonzalez slugged 434 home runs, topping 40 in the five non-strike seasons from 1992 to 1998. He posted a career .904 OPS with a pair of seasons cracking 1.000. He had an OPS+ of 133 in his Texas days. Gonzalez played at least 250 games at every outfield spot, not dissimilar to Acuna’s split time in left field, center field, and right field. Gonzalez fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after two years, but steroid allegations likely played a role. Steroid allegations will stain his legacy, but Gonzalez is one of only a handful to win multiple MVPs in MLB history.
No.5: Cody Bellinger
Bellinger will turn 26 in July of 2021. He is already an MVP, World Series champion, and perennial All-Star caliber player. Bellinger had an otherworldly 2019 season in which he had an OPS of 1.035 and edged out Christian Yelich to the MVP. Bellinger has had his struggles in the playoffs, but he did hit a pair of home runs to send Acuna and the Braves home in the 2020 NLCS. Bellinger is also a former Gold Glove center fielder, and he should be a force for the coming decade.
Acuna and the Braves will look to mimic the success of Bellinger and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
No.6: Boog Powell
Powell played for 17 seasons, but he is most famous for 14 years with the Baltimore Orioles. He won a pair of World Series with the O’s, and he was AL MVP in 1970. He had a pair of other seasons that he finished in the top three. For his career, the left fielder-turned-first baseman had an OPS+ of 134. He was a steady force, but he was never a superstar. He wrapped up his career in 1977 and only survived one Hall of Fame ballot.
Powell had several dominant seasons, but he failed to string them together. Acuna will hope to be different.
No.7: Frank Robinson
One of Powell’s teammates on the 1966 and 1970 Orioles, Robinson is a cut above. Robinson won an MVP in both leagues, earning top-four consideration on four other occasions. Playing with the Cincinnati Reds, Robinson swept the NL in OPS and OPS+ crowns in 1960, 1961, and 1962. His peak season came in his first year in Baltimore. He had a .637 slugging percentage, 1.047 OPS, and 198 OPS+. He won the Triple Crown that season. Robinson was a 14-time All-Star and even won a Gold Glove in 1958. The BBWAA selected him to the Hall of Fame with 89% of the vote in 1989.
Robinson is the combination of individual dominance and team dominance that the Braves and Acuna will look to emulate. Beyond the two World Series, Robinson played in three others.
No.8: Justin Upton
Upton has played 14 seasons in MLB, making stops with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Braves, San Diego Padres, Tigers, and Los Angeles Angels. He is a four-time All-Star, and he was fourth in NL MVP voting in 2011. For his career, he has been an above-average player, raking up 307 home runs and a 119 OPS+. Similar to Acuna, Upton has a propensity for striking out, and if he plays long enough, he will break Reggie Jackson’s strikeout record. Upton is currently 17th in strikeouts, but he only needs 75 to jump into the top 10.
Upton has been a solid player for 15 years, but Acuna’s sights are set higher.
No.9: Jack Clark
Clark played 18 years in MLB, spending about half with the San Francisco Giants. Clark is a four-time All-Star and he won a pair of Silver Sluggers, He hit 340 home runs and had an OPS+ of 137. After a decade with the Giants, Clark blossomed into a superstar in large part because he started to walk a lot. He cracked 100 walks in every season from 1987 to 1990, leading the NL three times. His on-base percentage with the Cardinals and Padres was nearly 60 points higher than his Giants days. Clark’s best season was a masterful .459 OBP, 1.055 OPS, 176 OPS+ in 1987.
Clark is a unique player that could teach Acuna some semblance of plate discipline.
No.10: Tony Conigliaro
Conigliaro was a superstar right fielder for the Boston Red Sox. In his first three seasons, he hit 84 home runs and had an OPS+ of 130. He received MVP votes in 1965 and 1966. In 1967, he was named to the All-Star team. However, in August, Conigliaro was hit in the face with a pitch that ended his season. After missing 1968 with injury, Conigliaro had solid seasons in 1969 and 1970, but he was not quite the same. He went to the California Angels for 74 games in 1971 before being out of the majors until 1975. At age-30, Conigliaro played his final 21 games with the Red Sox.
With a healthy Conigliaro, the Red Sox may have won the World Series, altering MLB history. They lost in Game 7 in 1967 and 1975, and they were above .500 from Conigliaro’s age-22 season in 1967 to what would have been his age-37 season in 1982.
If Acuna’s career is remotely close to Cabrera or Robinson, he will go down as a legend of MLB history.
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