rphy’sThe Atlanta Braves are off to their best start in a very long time. Throughout the month of April and the first week of May, they’ve marched their way to the top record in the National League. Furthermore, they are excelling in several statistical categories. At the time of writing, they lead the NL in homers (58), on-base percentage (.340), slugging (.464), and OPS (.804). Their OPS+ of 116 is five points ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks for the best in the league. The Braves are also in the top five in hits (309), walks (134), stolen bases (26), and runs scored (188). This offensive explosion has been supported by a pitching staff that’s second in ERA (3.49) and first in strikeouts (331).
True, it has been a definite team effort. Multiple roster mainstays have had a concise impact on what has been an exciting season so far. However, three, in particular, have helped the team to the pedestal on which it stands today. Had it not been for this trio, the team may not have experienced a drastic regression. That said, they would most likely not have enjoyed the same monstrous beginning that they have. So, it is time to give credit where credit is due. Here are the top three Atlanta Braves’ impact players from the month of April.
(Note: We will be going in reverse order of impact)
Atlanta Braves Impact Players: April
Max Fried was one of multiple Braves to spend time on the injured list through the first part of the season after hurting himself in the year’s very first game. Yet, he still did enough through the back part of April to land himself among the Atlanta Braves’ impact players. His numbers have been among baseball’s elite this year, with multiple pitches in his arsenal ranking as negative run values. Translated, that means that those pitches are among the most valuable in the game so far. It all begins with the pitch type at the top of this list: his four-seam fastball.
Fried’s four-seamer is among the deadlier pitches in the game. Last year, it ranked as having a run value of -12. This was better than Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Sonny Gray. He threw it in conjunction with a curveball that had a run value of -11, which was tied with Framber Valdez for the second-best in all of baseball. Utilizing this combination helped lead Fried to 14 wins and a second-place finish in Cy Young voting. So far this season, the combination has not been quite as volatile. However, considering the amount of time he has spent on the IL, run values of -4 and -2, respectively, are nothing to sneeze at. Fried has been a mainstay on the Atlanta Braves impact players list for a long while. If his health stays intact after this IL stint, look for those numbers to only get better.
Ronald Acuna Jr.
Ronald Acuna Jr. is on the fast track to a potential NL MVP award this year. In fact, the odds are severely in his favor. While he has yet to find the pop in his bat that he’s become famous for, his contact and his speed are among the best in the league. His fWAR of 2.0 is fourth best in all of baseball, and his offensive WAR of 15.2 is second only to Matt Chapman. He has a wRC+ of 167, which is tied for second in the National League and fourth in the MLB. His .343 average is tops among all outfielders and his wOBA (.426) is best among National League outfielders.
Though all of that is noteworthy, what has really been impressive is Acuna’s speed and basepath awareness. Currently, Baseball Savant has him ranked in the 86th percentile for sprint speed. While this may not sound MVP caliber, his stolen base attempts have been somewhat remarkable this season. He leads the league with 15 thefts, and, for the most part, they have come at intriguing moments. His ability to read pitchers continues to dazzle fans and pundits around the league and for good reason. Acuna continues to prove, with every passing game, why he is on the cusp of the newest wave of talent in the Major Leagues. Only time will tell where his career goes from here. For a player who has had a bright future since the beginning, things only seem to be brighter.
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) May 3, 2023
The one player that could beat out Acuna for NL MVP at this point is Sean Murphy. In fact, Dave Schoenfield of ESPN has said as much. He has been a perpetual threat this season. Murphy’s 2.3 fWAR is tied with Wander Franco of the Tampa Bay Rays for the best in baseball and is certainly the highest in the National League. His wRC+ of 178 and his wOBA of .443 are also the best in the NL. His defensive WAR of 6.3 is the best in baseball by a full point, and he continues to add to that mark every time he steps on the diamond. Donning the catcher’s gear is not easy, though Murphy is making it look easy. He ranks in the top five to top ten in baseball in most catcher-based defensive categories.
Murphy’s appearance at the top of the Atlanta Braves impact players list is supported by his ability to read situations and come through in the clutch. His 32 RBI are tops in the National League and good for fourth in all of baseball. Not only that, but Murphy has been excellent at being selective at the plate. He’s currently crushing four-seam fastballs to the tune of a .478 average, which is 10 points higher than his xBA off that pitch. Yet, teams are still willing to throw him that pitch, as it’s easily the type he’s seeing the most. So, to sum it all up, Murphy is seeing pitches well, playing excellent defense, and fast becoming a team leader. The season is still unfolding. However, it will be interesting to see if an MVP battle brews between Murphy and Acuna.
Main photo credits:
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports