Ronald Acuna Jr. was a sensation for the Atlanta Braves last season. The rookie even carried the team during the grueling road to the playoffs by himself. He thrived most in the leadoff spot, but the news is the Braves are planning to move Acuna down the lineup to the cleanup spot.
Acuna thrived in the leadoff spot last season. The rookie played 67 games in which he led off for the Braves. In those 67 games, he had 262 at-bats while posting .328 batting average and .409 on-base percentage. Acuna also showed a good eye when leading off by posting 33 walks in the games when he led off. Acuna was able to show off his speed and power when batting first, posting 14 steals and 19 home runs in those 67 games.
Acuna’s numbers dipped as he moved further down the lineup. The rookie played in 26 games in the two-hole, posting 105 at-bats. In those games, Acuna’s average dropped to .238 while his on-base percentage dropped over a hundred points to .302. His power was dampened too, only hitting 4 home runs when batting second. Pitchers were able to avoid him more when he moved down the lineup, and the number shows this.
The player that is projected to replace Acuna is the leadoff spot is Ender Inciarte. Inciarte is a player with a lot of experience batting in the leadoff position, but that doesn’t mean he has produced more than Acuna. In slightly fewer games, 57 to be exact, Inciarte’s number were all less than what Acuna did in the same spot. Inciarte posted a .223 batting average and .292 on-base percentage in 229 at-bats. Inciarte is never going to have as much power as Acuna, and Inciarte had a dip in power last season, only posting 1 home run from the leadoff spot. The only stat that Inciarte bested Acuna was stealing, which Inciarte had one more stolen base than Acuna’s 14.
Acuna offers more at the top of the lineup than Inciarte. The numbers prove as much. The stolen bases aren’t that much of a gap and the power Acuna has laps Inciarte. It’s okay to have Inciarte down further in the lineup. That would offer the Braves a pseudo leadoff hitter and a player who can steal bases for the innings later in the game. Inciarte found success in the 6th and 7th spot of the lineup last season in limited at-bats. Inciarte is a player who I love having on the roster, but Acuna offers so much more potential. Acuna gives the Braves better power, more walks, and a higher average when batting leadoff.
Donaldson, who is a question mark from a health perspective, will be the player moving into the number two slot in the lineup. This is where Donaldson is the most comfortable and found his most success. In 2017, Donaldson posted 27 home runs while hitting .304 in the second spot. The Braves are hoping to find that production from the former AL MVP, so I don’t mind having Donaldson move into the two hole. Donaldson, who missed most of last season, needs to get back to himself, and if that means having him hit second, that’s fine with me.
Acuna has stated, before spring training, that his preference is to stay at the top of the lineup. It’s the spot he is most confident at as a hitter. I’m sure Braves manager, Brian Snitker, will have some flexibility when it comes to the lineups, but I don’t think it’s a smart move to move Acuna out of the spot he is best at. Acuna’s numbers were considerably better as a leadoff hitter than being further down the lineup. It could be very damaging to his confidence as a hitter if he doesn’t get his second season off to a hot start. Acuna is the Braves best player, sorry Freddie Freeman, but the Braves success last season came from Acuna batting leadoff. It doesn’t make much sense to take your best player from the place he is finding the most success. Nevertheless, lineups aren’t set in stone. Baseball is the longest season so I expect things to change as the season moves along.