The race for National League MVP has had a leader pretty much from the beginning of the season and he remains the frontrunner, but there is a foursome of amazing players competing for the award here in 2023. The award that was Ronald Acuña Jr.'s to lose for a few months is being chased rather fiercely by fellow Braves star Matt Olson, former Braves first baseman and current Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman and Freeman's teammate Mookie Betts.
Let's break this down.
First, the betting odds:
- Acuña: -400
- Betts: +500
- Freeman: +600
- Olson: +3000
No one else is lower than +15000, giving a nice snapshot of how the top four have separated themselves from the rest of the pack rather significantly.
Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves (-400)
The Braves have the best record in baseball and Acuña has the highest WAR on the team. That's an easy starting point. How about the fact that he's a leadoff man and leads the league in on-base percentage, runs scored and stolen bases? He even leads in total bases. He's hitting .333/.419/.569, very comfortably over the elite-level .300/.400/.500 threshold and a 162 OPS+.
He's done it from the get-go, collecting two hits on Opening Day and then homering in the second game. He was hitting .370 through six games. He's been consistent, as his worst month by OPS was July, when he hit .326/.423/.494. He's played in every single game this season. And with all those plate appearances, he's been the fourth-hardest player to strike out in the NL.
What more is there to say? Acuña has pretty much been great at everything all season.
Mookie Betts, Dodgers (+500)
And yet despite all that, the NL WAR leader is Mookie Betts (6.7 to Acuña's 6.4). He leads the league in slugging and OPS. He's already scored more than 100 runs along with 33 doubles. He doesn't run a ton, but still has 10 steals. With 34 home runs, he trails only Olson and Pete Alonso. He's a leadoff man and still has 86 RBI. He's also tough to strike out (11th in the NL in lowest strikeout rate). He's slashing .300/.397/.598.
Other than being one of the most fearsome offensive players in baseball, Betts has put up a ton of value on the defensive side of things this season. He's arguably the best defensive right fielder in baseball, but he's also filled in at second base and shortstop when the Dodgers had depth issues at the middle infield positions this season. He's done more than just occupy space, too, as he's excellent at second and serviceable at short.
Remember, Betts won an MVP with the Red Sox. If he secures one here, he'd join Frank Robinson as the only players to have won an MVP in each league.
Freddie Freeman, Dodgers (+600)
The funny thing about the above record is that only five players total have ever won an MVP for two different teams. In addition to Robinson, the list has Bryce Harper, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Jimmie Foxx. Freeman won for the Braves in 2020 and has a shot this season.
Freeman is hitting .332/.410/.572 (162 OPS+) with an MLB-best 45 doubles. He also has 23 homers, 102 runs, 84 RBI and -- would you believe this? -- he's 17 for 18 in stolen bases. He's third in OPS to Betts and Acuña, third in batting average to Luis Arraez and Acuña second in OBP to Acuña and third in slugging to Olson and Betts. He's fourth in WAR and that's pretty impressive for a first baseman (the defensive component of WAR usually hurts first basemen due to range).
Matt Olson, Braves (+3000)
Speaking of WAR punishing first basemen, Olson sits sixth in the NL. Where he's first is in power. He leads the majors in home runs and RBI, where he's on pace to end up with 56 homers and 140 RBI. Even with Acuña tearing things up on his team, I have to believe those numbers would catch the eyes of some voters. Then again, the types of voters that would go crazy over those two categories might also look down on the relatively low batting average (.266), so maybe I'm wrong.
As the odds illustrate, Olson is squarely in fourth right now, but if he makes a run at 60 homers and 150 RBI, especially if a few of the others listed here slump, he'll definitely have a chance to swoop in and steal the award.
Overall, Acuña should absolutely win the award as things stand and if forced to make a prediction, I'd stick with Acuña. Betts, Freeman and Olson are making furious pushes, however, and that's what makes this thing so fun. There are connections, too, with Freeman having played with Acuña, Olson essentially being Freeman's replacement in Atlanta. And, of course, Betts' push to join Robinson by winning an MVP in both leagues is a great storyline as well.
Of all the individual awards races here in 2023, the race for NL MVP is easily the most fun.