AnalysisNL EastNL WestOpinions

Early Season NL MVP Candidates

June is a point in the Major League Baseball season when teams start to separate themselves into the categories of pretenders and contenders. It’s also a time in the season where there is enough of a sample size to start looking at potential MVP candidates across the sport.

In the NL, there are currently five players who are worthy enough of being in the discussion as one of the league’s early season MVP possibilities.

Since there will eventually only be three finalists for the award, we’ll start by taking a look at two guys who are on the outside-looking-in at the race. Then, for the other three names, we’ll consider them as the current favorites to be the finalists and present their numbers player by player.

Mookie Betts and Luis Arraez

Betts has consistently been one of the better players in baseball over the last couple of years. And once again, he finds himself in that category in 2023. The 30-year-old is currently on a Hall of Fame track and adding a second MVP award to his resumé – he won the award in the AL as a member of the Red Sox in 2018 – would certainly help out his case even more.

The six-time All-Star is currently fourth in the NL in both fWAR (3.0) and bWAR (3.0), while being 10th in OPS+ (139) and sixth in wRC+ (146). His .386 wOBA ranks sixth among players in the league, and he is fifth in win probability added (2.09) and fourth in run expectancy (21.88 RE24).

His .263/.367/.534 slash line boasts the ninth-best slugging percentage in the NL. Betts also ranks highly when it comes to his 53 runs (third), 17 home runs (fifth), 39 walks (sixth), 106 times on base (ninth), 32 extra-base hits (fifth), and 132 total bases (third). Not only has he been strong at the plate, but he’s also been a strong base runner (2.8 BsR) and a plus in the field – his four defensive runs saved in right field is 13th among all NL defenders.

When it comes to Arraez, the 26-year-old second baseman has been talked about a lot recently. He is currently hitting around .400, and many people are wondering if that, along with a few other numbers, would be enough for him to be the 2023 NL MVP. While he does have some strong numbers, he is currently not one of the top three players in his league.

Even though Arraez leads the NL in batting average (.391), on-base percentage (.440), hits (91) and an insane 17.9 at-bats per strikeout ratio, he isn’t as high in some other statistical categories. His 2.7 bWAR is sixth and his 1.9 fWAR is 13th among qualified NL players. And despite being fourth in wOBA (.397), OPS+ (153) and wRC+ (154), Arraez takes a hit in both win probability added and run expectancy. His 0.60 WPA is 30th in the league, and even though his 18.30 RE24 is fifth, there is a steep falloff between him and the leaders in the NL.

Outside of his offensive numbers, Arraez does not run the bases well (-5.1 BsR), and his glove is not that great. His one defensive run saved is okay, but with a minus-six outs above average, it’s hard to say he’s a plus with his glove.

Lastly, since Arraez’s name is being thrown in the NL MVP ring with his chase to hit .400 this season, it should be pointed out that it’s June, which means there is a lot of baseball left for him to go through some slumps. Also, his expected batting average of .331 suggests he’s been getting lucky, so there could be regression in that number as the season progresses.

Freddie Freeman

Just like his Dodgers teammate in Betts, Freeman has been one of the best and most consistent players in the sport over the last handful of seasons. He too has won an MVP award (2020 with the Braves) and is also in the discussion to one day be in baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Freeman has appeared in all 66 games for LA this season and is hitting .338/.413/.586. His batting average is second in the NL, while his on-base and slugging percentages are third. When combining his on-base and slugging percentages (.998 OPS), Freeman is tops in the league.

In terms of some of the more advanced statistics, Freeman is third in bWAR (3.1) and second in fWAR (3.2) in the NL. His 166 OPS+ is also second, while his 167 wRC+ is the best out of all NL hitters. The 33-year-old is first in both wOBA (.418) and run expectancy (32.91 RE24) and is second in win probability added (2.73).

Not only is he towards the top of the advanced categories, Freeman is also at the top of the leaderboard when it comes to the more traditional numbers. His 57 runs, 24 doubles, 38 extra-base hits, 125 times on base, and 154 total bases are all first in the NL, while his 89 hits are second.

Freeman also continues to be a good base runner as his 1.8 BsR is 17th in the NL. The former second-round pick has also been around league average with his glove with zero outs above average and minus-two defensive runs saved.

As is the case almost every season, Freeman continues to do everything well on a baseball field and could be on his way to becoming a two-time NL MVP.

Corbin Carroll

Carroll made his big league debut with the Diamondbacks last season and appeared in 32 games. Before the start of the 2023 campaign, he signed an eight-year, $111 million extension with the D-Backs and was considered a heavy favorite to take home NL Rookie of the Year honors. He’s still the favorite to take that award home, but the 22-year-old is also putting together an MVP-like season.

Carroll is currently second in the NL in OPS (.986) and with a .313/.397/.589 slash line, the young outfielder is fifth in batting average, sixth in on-base percentage, and second in slugging percentage. On top of that, his 49 runs rank sixth, while his 70 hits are ninth, 17 doubles are eighth, 33 extra-base hits are fourth, 19 stolen bases are second, and 132 total bases are third. The former top prospect has also been solid in the outfield with zero defensive runs saved and three outs above average. And his 30.2 feet per second sprint speed has helped him in becoming the best base runner in the NL (5.9 BsR).

Using just those numbers, it is obvious Carroll has been a very good player this year. But when looking at where he ranks in areas such as wins above replacement and win probability added, it cements his case as a possible NL MVP frontrunner.

The left-handed hitter is second in the NL with a 3.4 bWAR and first with a 3.3 fWAR. His 168 OPS+ is the best in the league, and his 164 wRC+ is second-best. Carroll’s .418 wOBA is tied with Freeman’s for first and his 26.13 RE24 is fourth. When it comes to win probability added, Carroll is first in the NL at 3.11.

If Carroll continues to play at the high level he is right now, he’ll certainly be the NL’s Rookie of the Year and could become just the third player ever to win a Rookie of the Year and MVP award in the same season. The last player to do so? Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 with the Mariners when Carroll, a Seattle native, was a year old.

Ronald Acuña Jr.

When people are having MVP conversations, most of them start with Acuña. He is currently on pace for 32 home runs and 69 stolen bases this year – something nobody has ever done in the history of the sport. Acuña has been a spark at the top of Atlanta’s lineup and the club’s best player through their first 66 games.

Appearing in all 66 games for the Braves, Acuña has a .328/.399/.560 slash line. His batting average is third in the NL, while his on-base percentage is fifth, slugging percentage is fourth, and OPS (.958) is third. He leads the league with 28 stolen bases and his 21 doubles, 35 extra-base hits, 150 total bases, 120 times on base, and 56 runs are all second.

One of the more impressive numbers for the 25-year-old so far has been his 13.3 percent strikeout rate and sixth-highest 6.7 at-bats per strikeout ratio in the NL. Why is that impressive? Because from 2018 to 2022, Acuña never had a strikeout rate below 23.6 percent.

With an okay glove (two defensive runs saved and minus-four outs above average), he has the strongest arm in baseball as he averages 96.4 miles per hour on his throws from the outfield. Add that to his above-average base running (3.5 BsR) and offensive numbers from above, and there’s an already solid case for MVP honors.

On top of all that, Acuña is first in the NL in bWAR (3.5) and third in fWAR (3.2), while being third in OPS+ (155) and wRC+ (157). The 2018 NL Rookie of the Year is also third in wOBA (.409), fourth in win probability added (2.37), and second in run expectancy (27.70 RE24).

Acuña is clearly putting together the best season of his career along with a strong case to win his first MVP award. If he does win, he’d be the third NL East player to win the award in the last four seasons — Freeman (2020 with the Braves) and Bryce Harper (2021 with the Phillies) being the other two.

NOTE: All numbers in this article were through the end of play on June 12, 2023.

Bailey Digh

I've been writing for Diamond Digest since July 2022. I'm also currently a contributor for Phillies Nation. You can find me on X @bailey_digh.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Back to top button