MLB MVP Rankings: Historic starts for contenders highlight 2 close races
Welcome to the second edition of theScore's 2023 Most Valuable Player rankings, where we look at the top five players in each league. We're past the 60-game mark, and the contenders are starting to separate themselves from the pack. Odds courtesy Barstool Sportsbook and theScore Bet.
5. Bo Bichette, Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have been maddeningly inconsistent this season, but that's not Bichette's fault. The 25-year-old has thrust himself into the MVP conversation by taking his offense to the next level. Bichette's 89 hits lead the majors, putting him on pace to top his league in hits for a third straight season. He also tops the AL leaderboards in average and total bases (144), sits sixth in wRC+ (147), and is tied for third in WAR (2.8). Even his much-maligned defense has improved, to the tune of two defensive runs saved and a 3.5 ultimate zone rating. The Blue Jays would be lost without him.
4. Wander Franco, Rays
Franco has shaken off last year's injury-plagued campaign to become the leader of baseball's best team. The 22-year-old phenom has already tied his career high in homers, and also roared past his previous personal bests in every slash-line stat as well as stolen bases. Franco's sitting top 10 in a slew of offensive categories, including average (sixth), hits (third), steals (second), and WAR (first). He's also one of the toughest hitters to strike out, has increased his walk rate, and leads all AL shortstops in both DRS (nine) and outs above average (seven, tied with Javier Baez). We're watching a superstar grow up in real time.
3. Shohei Ohtani, Angels
Ohtani dropped one spot from the last edition of these rankings, although that's not entirely his fault. The two-way superstar is still making jaws drop with his brilliance while keeping the Angels in the wild-card race. Offensively, Ohtani sits second in total bases (131), third in homers, is tied for second in extra-base hits (30), and places top five in slugging (.544) and OPS. His cumulative 2.9 WAR would be third in the AL. On the mound, his ERA and WHIP have both jumped after some tough starts in May, and he leads the majors in HBPs and wild pitches. But Ohtani also places second in the AL in both strikeouts (96) and K/9, has given up only 10 home runs, and turned in seven quality starts. MVP or not, there's simply nobody like him.
2. Marcus Semien, Rangers
After a difficult first season in Texas, Semien has rediscovered the form that made him a two-time MVP finalist - and not a moment too soon for the Rangers. Semien owns one of the best slash lines of his career, leads the AL in runs scored, is just barely behind Franco for the AL WAR lead, and ranks top three in RBIs, hits (76), doubles (19), and total bases (126). He's been the Rangers' offensive catalyst during their recent surge, turning in a 25-game hitting streak that ended this week. While his power numbers are down a bit, Semien's still slugging close to .500, and has made up for the lack of homers by walking more and striking out less. His defense at second base also remains elite. It took a bit longer than some might have hoped, but Semien's finally showing exactly why the Rangers gave him $175 million in free agency.
1. Aaron Judge, Yankees
Before a fluky toe injury sent him to the injured list on Tuesday, Judge was literally doing it again. The Yankees' captain hit 19 homers in his first 49 games, matching his pace from last year's historic 62-homer campaign. Judge also leads the majors by a wide margin in slugging, OPS (1.078), and wRC+ (189). He's top five in his league in total bases (118) and extra-base hits (29), has increased his walk numbers, and remains a solid defensive player in both right and center. Most importantly, he's been the rock of the Yankees, helping them keep pace in the AL despite a myriad of injuries. Judge's injury obviously derails any hope of a repeat run at 60 homers, and he'll have to get back to action fast to stay in this race. For now, though, he's earned this top spot.
5. Corbin Carroll, D-Backs
Talk about making an entrance. Carroll has hit the ground running - literally - in his rookie season, becoming a difference-maker for the surprising D-Backs. Speed is the 22-year-old's calling card, and true to form, he's tied for second in the NL in steals while being caught just twice in 20 attempts. But there's far more to his game. Carroll also ranks tied for third in the Senior Circuit in WAR, and top-10 in runs scored, OBP, slugging, OPS (.928), and OPS+ (153). On the "valuable" side of the coin, he's now one of the key components of his team's rise to the top of the NL West, providing certainty atop the lineup and a steady hand at all three outfield spots. Only two rookies have ever been named MVP, and both were in the American League. Carroll might not be a favorite to make history in what's shaping up to be a very deep crop of NL MVP candidates, but he's hardly out of place in this conversation.
4. Sean Murphy, Braves
It's taken Murphy barely two months to make Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos look like a genius. The 28-year-old has found a new gear in Atlanta, firmly establishing himself as the NL's best all-around catcher. Murphy sits second in the NL in WAR, but that only tells a small part of his story. He's tied for the major-league lead in homers among catchers, ranks top 10 in the Senior Circuit in OBP and slugging, and sits top five in both wRC+ (153) and wOBA (.405). He also remains an elite defender, sitting among the leaders in catching framing runs, strike rate, and pop time, among other defensive categories. Murphy is simply as good as it gets behind the plate.
3. Freddie Freeman, Dodgers
Once again, Freeman is quietly going about his business and enjoying one of the best all-around seasons in baseball. The sweet-swinging first baseman leads the NL in OPS, ranks second in wRC+, and is tied for third in WAR. He's motoring towards yet another .300/.400/.500 season, ranking top five in the other three slash categories, including second in both average and slugging. He's also leading in doubles (23), extra-base hits (35), and total bases (142), is tied for the league lead in runs scored, and places second in hits (84) - plus he's stolen eight bases for good measure. Freeman's not great at any one thing; he's just really, really good at every facet of the game. A deep crop of NL contenders is the only reason he's not higher on this list.
2. Luis Arraez, Marlins
Few could have imagined we'd be on .400 watch in 2023, yet here we are on June 9, watching Luis Arraez hit .403. It's an eye-popping and historic number that's the obvious key to his MVP candidacy, but let's dig a bit deeper. Arraez's NL-leading OBP is some 30 points ahead of the next-closest hitter, and his .947 OPS places third. He also leads the NL in hits and wRC+ (162), and he's closing in on a .500 slugging percentage despite lacking power (just one homer in 239 plate appearances). Arraez is the toughest hitter in baseball to strike out, sporting a jaw-dropping 4.6% K rate. His defense is holding him back a bit on the WAR leaderboard - although when you're hitting .400, that doesn't really matter. It's still very unlikely that he can sustain this for the rest of the season (though there's a path for him to get there), but Arraez is proving that you don't need power to succeed in baseball in 2023. As the best pure hitter in the sport, he obviously belongs here.
1. Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves
Come October, NL MVP voters might be forced to choose between a .400 (or near-.400) hitter, and what would be the first-ever 30-homer, 60-steal season. Those latter numbers are the pace that Acuna is on. Now fully recovered from his devastating knee injury in 2021, Acuna is at the peak of his powers and absolutely dominating the NL in almost every facet. He ranks top five in all four slash categories as well as wRC+ (158), doubles (18), total bases (139), and extra-base hits (31), while leading the NL in steals, runs (tied with Freeman), and WAR. He's in the 98th percentile or higher in exit velocity, xwOBA, and xBA. Acuna's also developed patience, drawing more walks while dropping his strikeout rate below 20% for the first time ever. It's a very close race in the NL, but at this moment, Acuna's all-around game is leading the way by a hair in the Senior Circuit.
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