Over the weekend, Ronald Acuna Jr. was moved to the top of the lineup, where he has found most of his success as a big-league hitter after Brian Snitker shuffled his lineup in the midst of a four-game losing streak. Moving Acuna has already shown signs of production. The Braves won their last three games of their road trip, while Acuna hit over .300 in the small sample size. Now, the question is how long will Acuna stay at the leadoff spot?
To start the season, Brian Snitker moved Ronald Acuna Jr. to the cleanup spot to give the young phenom more opportunities to hit with runners in scoring position. The move makes sense, as does the explanation. That doesn’t change the fact Acuna is more comfortable and prefers to be in the leadoff spot of the lineup. However, the arrival of Josh Donaldson, who reportedly made demands of hitting in the two-hole of the lineup, and the conundrum of where to bat Ender Inciarte. This is why Acuna was moved down the lineup, initially. However, with the struggles, the Braves were having on the road put Snitker in a spot where he had to make a change.
Acuna Jr. has not struggled in the cleanup spot, as noted in the numbers above. However, Acuna has been so much better in the leadoff spot, it’s hard to justify an opinion of moving him down the lineup. Acuna has the power needed to be a great cleanup batter but his numbers in the leadoff spot show that his power numbers are not diminished when he is at the top of the order. And if Acuna is in favor of batting up top, Snitker should leave him up there for the time being.
Acuna has thrived in the leadoff spot. In 67 starts at leadoff, Acuna has hit 20 of his 34 career home runs, including the monster shot he hit in Arizona to win the game for the Braves. This is not an anomaly for Acuna. In 69 starts at leadoff, Acuna is batting over .300 and has an on-base percentage over .400. This season, in 36 starts at cleanup, Acuna’s average dipped below .280 and his on-base percentage was .373. Acuna’s slugging percentage, a number that is vital to a cleanup hitter, is actually a lot better when he’s leading off. In the cleanup spot, Acuna’s slugging is almost 200 points below his leadoff number. It’s a number that doesn’t make sense but it’s clear his best position for the Braves is at the top of the lineup.
Ronald Acuna Jr. being in the leadoff spot is the right move for the Braves now and the foreseeable future. It’s a move that needed to be made, and Brian Snitker finally pulled the trigger on a move that needed to be made. Acuna, not Donaldson or Freeman, is the best and most important player on the Braves roster. He’s more comfortable in the leadoff spot, but the making this move is about more than making Acuna comfortable. The numbers are all the proof anyone should need. Acuna is a more productive player at the top of the lineup. That’s a fact. Everything below Acuna can be shifted or moved but Acuna up top should not change, for the rest of the season.