Los Angeles Angels two-way player Shohei Ohtani and Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr., two of baseball’s brightest stars, capped their dominant 2023 seasons by winning the American League and National League MVP awards Thursday. Here’s what you need to know:
- Ohtani claims his second MVP award after winning one in 2021. He hit .304 with 44 home runs in 2023 and went 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA.
- Ohtani had elbow surgery in September and is expected to hit in 2024 and pitch in 2025. Despite his limitations, the 29-year-old remains a top free agent this winter and is expected to sign a big deal wherever he lands. .
- Acuna led MLB in runs (149), hits (217), and on-base percentage (.416) in 2023. The 25-year-old led the Braves to a 104-58 record, best in the majors.
Why did Ohtani win?
The baseball world was in awe of Ohtani’s 2021 season. It was his breakout year and everyone realized how special he was. He would no doubt be the unanimous MVP winner that November. But his 2023 was even better. (His 2022 season was also). But there is no confusion 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 has had an incredible year. But he played fewer games and had a lower OPS than Ohtani. He outscored Ohtani in the offensive battle, but remarkably, Seager didn’t pitch either. It’s like 2021, even if it doesn’t feel like it, no matter what. — Sam Bloom, Angels staff writer
What’s next for Ohtani?
This MVP title comes on the heels of Ohtani’s free agency. He’s eligible to sign anywhere right now, and much remains a mystery. He hasn’t taken questions since Aug. 9, following his start against the Giants. His agent, who usually speaks to reporters at GM meetings, declined to do so this year. His September elbow surgery could affect his long-term pitching future and his ability to hit early next season. Any team will pay for the greatest baseball player of all time. But even with that proven track record, many variables are still at play when it comes to where Ohtani will report this spring — his health and the contract he wants and can sign. His worth is astronomical, but his situation at the moment is highly unusual. — Blum
Studying the historical period of Akuna
Simply put, Acuna had one of the best seasons of any hitter in major-league history. He hit .337 with 41 home runs, 106 RBIs, a major-leading 73 stolen bases and an NL-leading 1.012 OPS, becoming only the third player since 1947 to lead his respective league in stolen bases and OPS. He was joined on that list by two-time Hall of Famers Willie Mays in 1957-1958 and Rickey Henderson in 1990. There is a widely popular opinion around baseball that Acuna is the most dynamic leadoff hitter since Henderson.
Pointing out that he became the fifth member of baseball’s hallowed 40-40 club, players who record at least 40 homers and 40 stolen bases in a season, would undersell Acuna’s 2023 performance. Before it was over, Acuna became the sole member of the 40-50, 40-60 and 40-70 clubs. No one else in the 40-40 club has more than 46 steals.
Acuna Jr. became the first in MLB’s 40-70 club
After he battled through most of 2022 with residual pain in his right knee from 2021 ACL surgery, there are still questions heading into the offseason about what version of Acuna the Braves can expect when he arrives at the MVP. – Caliber start. It didn’t take long for those questions to be answered this spring.
Acuna was named the NL Player of the Month for April after hitting .352 with four homers, 13 stolen bases and a .986 OPS while playing in every inning of 27 Braves games. He didn’t suffer a significant stretch after that blistering first month, and won NL Player of the Month twice and finished 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 are the fewest in a full season. – David O’Brien, Brave’s Beat writer
Braves star Ronald Acuna Jr. wins MLB Player of the Year at Players’ Choice Awards
(Photos: Nick Turchiaro and Amber Searles/USA Today)