Los Angeles Angels two-way player Shohei Ohtani and Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr., two of baseball’s brightest stars, capped off their dominant 2023 seasons by winning the American League and National League MVP awards Thursday. Here’s what you need to know:
- Ohtani claimed his second MVP award after winning one in 2021. He hit .304 with 44 home runs in 2023 and went 10-5 on the mound with a 3.14 ERA.
- Ohtani had elbow surgery in September and is expected to recover in time to hit in 2024 and pitch in 2025. Despite his limitations, the 29-year-old is the top free agent this winter and is projected to sign a massive deal wherever he lands.
- Acuña led MLB in runs (149), hits (217), and on-base percentage (.416) in 2023. The 25-year-old powered the Braves to a 104-58 record, the best in the majors.
Why Ohtani won
The baseball world was in awe of Ohtani’s 2021 season. It was his breakout year, when everyone realized just how special he was. There was no doubt that he would be a unanimous MVP winner that November. But his 2023 was even better. (His 2022 season was, as well). But there’s no ambiguity in this year’s results. He had a higher OPS+ and ERA+ this year. His OPS was 1.066 and WHIP was 1.061.
Corey Seager had an incredible year. But he played in fewer games and had a lower OPS than Ohtani. He surpassed Ohtani in offensive WAR, but notably, Seager doesn’t also pitch. This is as much of a no-brainer as 2021 was, even if it didn’t feel like it. — Sam Blum, Angels staff writer
What’s next for Ohtani
This MVP title comes with the backdrop of Ohtani’s free agency. He is eligible to sign anywhere right now, and so much remains a mystery. He hasn’t taken questions since Aug. 9, following a start against the Giants. His agent, who normally speaks with reporters at the GM meetings, declined to do so this year. His September elbow surgery could impact his long-term pitching future and possibly his ability to hit at the start of next season. Any team would be paying for possibly the greatest baseball player of all time. But even with that proven track record, there are so many variables still at play when it comes to where Ohtani will report this spring — both in terms of his health, and the contract he’ll want/be able to sign. His value remains astronomical, but his situation at the moment is very unconventional. — Blum
Examining Acuña’s historic season
To put it simply, Acuña had one of the greatest seasons by any hitter in major-league history. He hit .337 with 41 home runs, 106 RBIs, a majors-leading 73 stolen bases and an NL-leading 1.012 OPS, becoming just the third player since 1947 to lead his respective league in stolen bases and OPS. He joined Hall of Famers Willie Mays, who did it twice in 1957-1958, and Rickey Henderson in 1990 on that list. Around baseball, there is a widening popular opinion that Acuña is the most dynamic leadoff hitter since Henderson.
It would be underselling Acuña’s 2023 performance to point out that he became the fifth member of baseball’s hallowed 40-40 club, players who recorded at least 40 homers and 40 stolen bases in a season. Before it was over, Acuña had become the sole member of the 40-50, 40-60 and 40-70 clubs. No one else in the 40-40 club had more than 46 steals.
Acuña Jr. becomes first in MLB’s 40-70 club
And to think, there still were questions entering the season about which version of Acuña the Braves could expect, after he struggled for much of 2022 with residual soreness in his right knee from ACL surgery in 2021, when he’d gotten off to an MVP-caliber start. It didn’t take long for those questions to be answered this spring and in a resounding fashion.
Acuña was the NL Player of the Month in April after hitting .352 with four homers, 13 stolen bases and a .986 OPS while playing every inning of all 27 Braves games. He never cooled off for any significant stretch after that blistering first month, winning NL Player of the Month two more times and finishing the season with career bests in most major categories including OBP, runs, hits (217), doubles (35), walks (80) and games played (159), in addition to average, OPS, RBIs and steals. Meanwhile, his 84 strikeouts were far and away his fewest in a full season.
Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr. wins MLB Player of the Year at Players Choice Awards
(Photos: Nick Turchiaro and Amber Searls / USA Today)