MLB MVP rankings: Historic NL race on tap for stretch drive
Welcome to the fifth and final edition of theScore's 2023 Most Valuable Player rankings, where we look at the top five players in each league. The contenders in both leagues are evident heading into the final month. Is there any drama in store down the stretch?
5. Luis Robert Jr., White Sox
Robert may not think of himself as a leader in the traditional sense, but he's been leading the woeful White Sox on the field all year long. The 26-year-old's 35 homers and 69 extra-base hits place second in the AL, while his 272 total bases rank third. He's also sixth in wRC+ (135) and is one of only five AL players to have surpassed the 5.0-fWAR mark. Robert's an all-around threat thanks to his stellar center-field defense, where he's been worth an AL-high 12 outs above average among outfielders. This is the kind of season that elevates you above your team's dismal record.
4. Kyle Tucker, Astros
Tucker has been Mr. Consistency for an Astros team that's needed him all year, and the results speak for themselves in the form of a likely 30-30 season. Tucker is second in the AL in RBIs, fourth in slugging and wRC+, fifth in OPS, and sits sixth in OBP. He's also ranked top-10 in homers, steals, fWAR, and extra-base hits. The only knock against him seems to be his defense, which inexplicably regressed after he won a Gold Glove last year, but the Astros will obviously live with it if he's hitting like this. He might lack the flash of other contenders, but don't be fooled: Tucker's very worthy of a top-five AL MVP finish.
3. Corey Seager, Rangers
It's been a long road to get here for Seager, who officially qualified for the league leaderboards just last week after missing 43 games because of injuries. Despite only 430 plate appearances, Seager now officially leads the AL in average and slugging while ranking second in OBP, wRC+, OPS, and fWAR. He also sits sixth in homers. While the rest of the Rangers have collapsed, he's kept them afloat almost singlehandedly, posting a 1.112 OPS with 13 homers since Aug. 2. Had he played even half of the games he missed, Seager would've been a constant presence in this race and a lock for the top three. That he's cracked the top five with half the playing time of his peers is a testament to his brilliant season.
2. Julio Rodríguez, Mariners
Is it fair that Rodríguez makes his 2023 MVP rankings debut by jumping into the No. 2 spot? Probably not - but J-Rod's placement speaks to just how ridiculous his second half has been. Rodríguez left that sophomore slump in the dust with a blistering .355/.410/.623 post-break slash line, along with 11 homers, 39 RBIs, and 14 steals. He's reached base safely in 48 of 52 games since July 1. Thanks to this surge, J-Rod now leads the AL in hits while sitting third in fWAR and steals, sixth in RBIs, and top 10 in nearly every other important offensive category, all while motoring toward a 30-30 season. He's singlehandedly turned the Mariners' season around and is all but dragging this offensively challenged club back to October. If Rodríguez had played like this from Day 1, we might have actually had a legitimate AL MVP race on our hands.
1. Shohei Ohtani, Angels
It's unfortunate for baseball that Ohtani's torn UCL ended his pitching campaign, but no matter - his season is one that we'll talk about for decades to come. While he won't qualify for the official pitching leaderboards, Ohtani should still finish with the lowest opponent's average (.183) among pitchers with at least 130 innings. He still ranks second in the AL in K/9 rate using the 130-IP minimum. And then there's his offense, which he continues to produce at a level that would be historic were he just a lowly one-way player. He leads either the AL or majors in homers, runs, fWAR (6.6 as a DH), OBP, OPS, triples, extra-base hits, total bases, and walks. Ohtani remains the undisputed king of the American League.
5. Corbin Carroll, Diamondbacks
Carroll re-enters the top five after an August rebound at the plate. The 23-year-old is already one of only four rookies in MLB history - and the first ever in the NL - to post a 20-homer, 40-steal season, and he still has an outside shot to become the second rookie (alongside Mike Trout) with a 30-40 campaign. Carroll has already surpassed the 5.0-fWAR mark, something only 22 other NL freshmen have done since 1901. He also has the MLB lead in triples, ranks second in his league in steals, and is top 10 in slugging, runs, OPS, and extra-base hits while playing solid outfield defense at all three spots. Carroll has been the D-Backs' engine all summer and is the reason they've hung around the playoff race.
4. Matt Olson, Braves
The Braves' lineup has enough juice to power the entire Battery District, and Olson is leading their power surge. The 29-year-old has transformed into one of baseball's premier power hitters during his second year in Atlanta, averaging a round-tripper every 11.7 at-bats while owning an NL-best .315 isolated power. Olson also leads the NL in homers and is comfortably on top of the major-league RBI leaderboard, having already established career highs in both categories. He's second in the NL in slugging, third in walks, and fourth in OPS, runs, and total bases. The Braves' lineup would not be nearly as scary or productive as it's been without the steady first baseman in the middle. Olson might be a long shot to win, but he'll be getting his fair share of MVP support in November.
3. Freddie Freeman, Dodgers
In any other year, Freeman's numbers would make him the runaway MVP. He's likely to post the 12th 55-double season since World War II and has a chance at MLB's first 60-double campaign in 87 years. He leads the majors in extra-base hits (78). In the NL, he sits second in average and OBP and third in total bases, hits, runs, OPS, and fWAR. For good measure, he's got a career-high 17 steals in 18 attempts. Only three players - two of whom did it in MVP years - have finished a season with at least 25 homers, 100 RBIs, 20 steals, 200 hits, 80 extra-base hits, 120 runs scored, and an OPS above 1.000. Freeman might do all that and hit 55-60 doubles and still fall short of a top-two finish in MVP voting. It's just dumb luck that Freeman's historic season is up against two other all-time great years in a race that's becoming too close to call.
2. Mookie Betts, Dodgers
An August to remember thrust Betts ahead of his teammate by a hair. Betts is already cruising toward the majors' first 40-homer, 40-double season in eight years, and he now leads the NL in fWAR, slugging, OPS, and wRC+. His August run also bumped him up to third in OBP and fifth in average. His defense is elite in both right field, where he's made his name, and his part-time homes at second base and shortstop. In fact, he's saved more runs at second (six) than in right (two) despite nearly 300 fewer innings at the keystone. Betts has a very good chance to join Frank Robinson as the second player to win MVPs in both leagues - but, like Freeman, he's also battling rotten timing.
1. Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves
Acuña already made history by establishing baseball's 30-60 club (it's also the third 30-50 season), and he may yet bring the 30-70, 30-80, or even - dare we say it - 40-80 clubs into existence. He leads the NL in runs, hits, stolen bases and OBP and is second in fWAR and OPS. There's a chance he could finish with 30 homers, 70 steals, a .300/.400/.500 line, 130 runs scored, 200 hits, and 40 doubles while striking out fewer than 100 times. Nobody has ever done that in one season. To be clear, there's no wrong answer in this NL MVP race. Three superstars are having three magical and uniquely historic seasons. But we wrote in July that while Freeman and Betts were closing the gap, this was still Acuña's award to lose. He hasn't lost any steam, and that's why, by the slimmest of margins, he remains our pick.
(Odds source: theScore Bet)
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