Braves’ Spencer Strider, Ronald Acuña earn honors in 2022 Players Choice Awards



As the Braves traveled from city to city this summer, writers in press boxes across baseball marveled at how two of the sport’s top rookies wore the same uniform.

Inevitably, the same question always came up: Who would win National League Rookie of the Year? Both Spencer Strider and Michael Harris deserved the award, but only one could win.

MLB players made their choice.

Strider’s peers voted him the National League Outstanding Rookie as part of the 2022 Players Choice Awards.

Players around the majors voted for the honors in September. The players chose Strider over Harris and St. Louis’ Brendan Donovan.

This award is separate from National League Rookie of the Year, which is voted on by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Strider and Harris almost certainly will finish Nos. 1 and 2, in either order, in voting for that.

But the Players Choice Awards always are intriguing because players vote for other players. They’re the ones who faced Strider, the ones who saw what he did all season. They’re the ones who saw the electric fastball up close and the ones who had to figure out ways to beat Strider on a given night.

In the regular season, Strider posted a 2.67 ERA over 31 games (20 of them starts) and 131-2/3 innings. He tallied 202 strikeouts, and reached 200 strikeouts in a season in the fewest innings in history.

Among pitchers with at least 110 innings this season, Strider’s 38.3% strikeout rate led the majors – by almost five percentage points. Opponents hit only .179 versus Strider, the lowest mark in baseball among pitchers who logged at least 130 innings.

Among MLB’s rookie pitchers with at least 100 innings, Strider had the lowest ERA. He ranked 11th in baseball in strikeouts, despite having pitched many fewer innings than those ahead of him on the leaderboard.

Late in the season, Strider set an Atlanta-era Braves record with 16 strikeouts in a game. The Braves have fielded many elite pitchers throughout their storied history, and Strider’s achievements put him on track to eventually join them.

The Braves, as they did multiple times with players in 2022, rewarded his talent: They signed Strider to a six-year, $75 million contract extension. The deal appears to be fair for both sides – Strider gives up two free-agent years, but the Braves pay him more than he likely would have earned in arbitration had he not agreed to the deal.

Strider’s trajectory began three years ago, when he underwent Tommy John surgery while pitching for Clemson. He used his rehab time to become more intentional with everything – his mentality, his preparation, his pitches, his downtime. He built himself into a strikeout pitcher, and hasn’t looked back.

And now, he has been rewarded for it with his first major honor.

This one might be special: His peers – the same players who face him each day – selected him.

Acuña wins National League Comeback Player

Last summer, Ronald Acuña suffered a torn ACL. The replay, which made you cringe, became nightmare viewing for Braves fans, who hoped their superstar eventually would return as they remembered him.

Acuña overcame the odds over the last year: He underwent surgery, progressed through the mental and physical challenges of rehab, then made it back to the field.

The players voted Acuña the National League Comeback Player for 2022. The outfielder beat out St. Louis’ Albert Pujols and San Diego’s Brandon Drury for the honor.

Acuña hit .266 with a .764 OPS in 2022. He launched 15 home runs and drove in 50 runs.

Statistically, this was the worst season of his career.

But that comes with this: Acuña didn’t have a normal offseason or spring training. He played through knee pain, and other ailments, all year. Despite these, he showed flashes of the five-tool player who has electrified baseball since his debut.

At his best, Acuña is one of the sport’s top talents. He didn’t reach that level much in 2022, but his peers recognized his hard work and determination in returning from a brutal injury.