Major League Baseball

Can Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr. join MLB's exclusive 40/40 club?

April 16

By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer

José Canseco in 1988. Barry Bonds in 1996. Alex Rodriguez in 1998. Alfonso Soriano in 2006.

That’s it. That’s the list of major leaguers who finished a season with at least 40 home runs and at least 40 stolen bases.

No Mays. No Trout. No Mantle or Griffey. The 40/40 Club is as exclusive as it gets. You need the power for taters, the speed for swipes and, most importantly, the durability to stay on the field all season. All things considered, there’s really only one fellow in the bigs right now with a shot at becoming the club’s fifth member: Atlanta outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr.

The 23-year-old baseballing typhoon is off to a thermonuclear start this season. He has six homers already, he’s getting on base nearly half the time, and he ranks as a top-10 fastest player in baseball so far this season. His speed was on display Sunday night, when he pulled off a magical feat of teleportation by beating out a routine dribbler to shortstop with ease.

Even though he’s younger than Kylie Jenner, this isn’t Acuña’s first 40/40 chase. In 2019, he had 41 homers and 37 steals with a week left in the season before a hand injury sidelined him until the playoffs. That bad break is a good reminder of how difficult it is to reach 40/40.

There have been some incredibly close calls over the years. Bobby Bonds (yes, Barry’s dad also played baseball) was at 38/39 with 21 games remaining in 1973, but he homered just once the rest of the way and finished at 39/43, just missing out on becoming the first member of the club.

In 2002, Vladimir Guerrero Sr. (yes, Vlad Jr.’s dad also played baseball) had 39/40 with four games to go and couldn’t get there. Even so, the video of him going for it on the final day of the season, with the French broadcast, is magnifique.

Matt Kemp was at 38/40 heading into the final day of the 2011 season (aka that insane Rays/Yankees/Red Sox/Orioles wild-card madness day). The Dodgers' slugger homered in the seventh inning against Arizona for his 39th and had one last shot in the ninth to reach 40/40, but he struck out on three straight fastballs and came up short.

All the non-Acuña 40/40 contenders in the league right now have big questions. Byron Buxton is easily a top-five fastest player in the league and already has five homers, but he attempted only three steals in 39 games last season and probably won’t reach base often enough to get to 40 swipes.

White Sox outfielder Luis Robert has the raw tools and could be a 40/40 guy in a few years, but right now, he, like Buxton, might not get to 40 steals with such a low on-base percentage.

Trea Turner is a shoo-in for 40 steals if he stays healthy, but he has never passed the 20-dinger mark in a season. Fernando Tatis Jr. has the juice, the legs and the baserunning panache to pull it off, but he’s already on the injured list with a shoulder injury, and it’s unlikely he will play enough this season to reach either mark.

The only other guy with any chance to compete with Acuña might actually be Shohei Ohtani. We all know about his light-tower power, but the two-way Japanese super-freak is also somehow in the 91st percentile of sprint speed (above guys such as Ozzie Albies, Adam Eaton and Tim Anderson). It’s unlikely, however, that Ohtani will play enough games as a hitter or get enough green lights to reach 40 steals.

Thus, all roads lead back to Acuña. For him, reaching 40 homers should be the "easy" part (as easy as smacking 40 home runs in the majors can be). He’s on pace for 81 right now, so 40 seems very doable. His power, particularly to the opposite field, remains downright jaw-dropping.

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Reaching 40 steals will be more difficult, but Acuña has a new secret weapon this season that he didn’t have in his first pursuit of 40/40: an elite batting eye. When he debuted, Acuña was a free-swinger with a pedestrian walk rate. But since then, his approach has matured significantly, and he finished the small-sample 2020 campaign fourth in the majors in walk rate, behind only Bryce Harper, Juan Soto and Aaron Hicks.

The more Acuña walks, the more he gets on base. The more he gets on base, the more opportunities he has to steal bases. You can’t steal second if you didn't get to first.

So lock in, folks. Acuña needs to average around one homer and one steal every four games. It’s obviously early days, but as things stand right now, he’s right on pace. Keep one eye on this all season, and maybe by September, we'll be adding Acuña to Canseco, Bonds, Rodriguez and Soriano in the illustrious 40/40 club.

Jake Mintz is the louder half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball analyst for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. You can follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.

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