2023 Quarter Mark AL and NL MVP Candidates

Ronald Acuna Jr. is playing at an MVP level in the NL, while Shohei Ohtani is doing the same in the AL, here are the top early MVP candidates.

Ronald Acuna Jr
ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 07: Ronald Acuna Jr. #13 of the Atlanta Braves reacts with a signature Trey Young, Ice Trey celebration after hitting a solo home run during the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Truist Park on June 7, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

Can you believe it? We’re already past the quarter mark of the 2023 MLB Season.

There have been countless storylines so far, some of which we’re still waiting to find answers for, but nothing can take away from the production we are seeing from some guys across the entire league. Some hot starts have begun to cool, but others have found yet another gear to kick it into and are catapulting their teams to the top.

Reigning MVP’s Paul Goldschmidt and Aaron Judge are still doing MVP-like things. Other than Nolan Arenado’s recent home run surge, you can say these two are what is keeping their teams relevant so far.

Now, before you throw the Cardinals’ record at me, imagine where they’d be WITHOUT Goldy.

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That’s why, even though there is still so much of the regular season left, it isn’t too early to see which players are likely going to be in MVP consideration as we near the postseason.

American League Candidates

Shohei Ohtani (RHP/DH) – Los Angeles Angels

Pitching Traditional Stats: 10 G, 5-1, 3.05 ERA

Pitching Advanced Stats: 12.20 K/9, 3.81 BB/9, 4.02 FIP, 3.42 xFIP

Hitting Traditional Stats: 46 G, .287/.360/.539, 11 HR, 32 RBI

Hitting Advanced Stats: 10.2 BB%, 20.5 K%, 143 wRC+

What can’t Ohtani do?

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After such an impressive 2022, how would he be able to impress us any more? Well, he continues to find ways to do so. Not only at the plate, but also on the mound.

The runner-up in 2022 entered May 16th with a 5-1 record, 3.23 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and a 12.06 K/9. Accumulating 0.9 WAR on the mound alone. Combine that with his .288/.361/.528 slash line and there is no questioning whether Shohei is the current front-runner for the award.

Marcus Semien (2B) – Texas Rangers

Traditional Stats: 46 G, .305/.383/.492, 7 HR, 38 RBI

Advanced Stats: 11.2 BB%, 15.8 K%, 142 wRC+

This is likely not a name that many would think of when it comes to an MVP candidate in 2023, and that is what is most impressive about the season that Marcus Semien is having.

Semien has been a huge bright spot for the Rangers, especially in the absence of Corey Seager. He is a big reason why the Rangers have been able to hold the top spot of the AL West over the reigning World Series champion Astros and the Seattle Mariners. Both of those teams were predicted to finish above them.

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Many Ranger fans remember the incredibly slow start to the 2022 season for Semien and it seems like he took it personally. Much can be said about Semien’s season so far, as highlighted by one of our own, Tim Kelly, in his article published on JustBaseball.com.

There’s a reason the Rangers invested as much as they did in Semien last off-season. Now, when they have needed him the most, he is making a case to be a finalist for the award come season’s end.

Wander Franco (SS) – Tampa Bay Rays

Traditional Stats: 46 G, .277/.340/.473, 7 HR, 23 RBI

Advanced Stats: 7.9 BB%, 13.8 K%, 128 fWAR

Wander Franco’s name has been no stranger to the bright lights. Since his state-side debut in the Rays organization, his Major League debut has been as highly anticipated as any other player in Major League History.

His name highlighted prospect lists for years until he finally debuted, at 20 years old, back in 2021. All of baseball was ready to see what he would be able to do in his first full season. Unfortunately, injuries prevented us from seeing his true breakout.

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2023 is here and Wander is living up to the lofty expectations that everyone placed on him.

He has always been incredible when it comes to bat-to-ball skills. His Barrel% is almost double his career average thus far, and his in-zone contact rate remains at an elite 92.3% rate entering May 18th.

The start of the Rays season has been well documented. They have been clicking on all cylinders and contributed throughout the roster. While Randy is gathering all the attention with his emotions, Wander Franco continues consistently producing for this team. He is a big reason they have been able to have the league’s best record.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Yandy Diaz (1B/3B) – Tampa Bay Rays
  • Matt Chapman (3B) – Toronto Blue Jays
  • Gerrit Cole (SP) – New York Yankees
  • Aaron Judge (OF) – New York Yankees
  • Bo Bichette (SS) – Toronto Blue Jays

National League Candidates

Ronald Acuña Jr. (OF) – Atlanta Braves

Traditional Stats: 46 G, .344/.431/.600, 11 HR, 27 RBI

Advanced Stats: 12.4 BB%, 14.4 K%, 176 wRC+

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What a past couple of years it has been for Ronald Acuña Jr.

Prior to tearing his ACL, he was also on the path to taking home the MVP award. While many thought that injury would derail the ballclub, they actually went on to win the World Series and it had many Atlanta fans questioning whether they actually needed him. Even more so when the reports of the rift between him and Freddie Freeman came out.

The rollercoaster ride continued when everything happened in his home country of Venezuela during Winter Ball which led him to retire from it. While many were ready to write him off for his “antics”, Acuña took it personally and it’s showing.

The pace that he is on is one that no one anticipated. Even with all of the talent we knew that he possessed as he made his way up to the Major Leagues.

He is currently on pace to reach new career highs in almost every batting statistic across the board, as shown in the diagram above provided to us by Baseball Savant.

Many might not like the way he currently approaches the game, but you have to respect the MVP-like performance he has put up so far this season.

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Sean Murphy (C) – Atlanta Braves

Traditional Stats: 39 G, .274/.399/.563, 10 HR, 34 RBI

Advanced Stats: 12.9 BB%, 22.1 K%, 160 wRC+

Alex Anthopolous has struck again. It never ceases to amaze me what he has been able to accomplish with all of the transactions he has made to build the juggernaut that are the Atlanta Braves.

His latest success? Starting catcher, Sean Murphy.

It was always a question of when, not if, the Athletics would be moving on from Murphy. Alex Anthopoulos was able to capitalize on that. Not only did he acquire the All-Star catcher, but he was able to extend him shortly after. The impact he has had for this team goes beyond what he does at the plate.

With all of the changes that have occurred in the Braves’ starting rotation and the increase in playing time after the injury sustained by Travis D’Arnaud, Murphy has been able to keep the ship afloat and have them at the top of the NL East division.

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What Ronald Acuña Jr. has been able to do surely should not go unnoticed, but Sean Murphy also deserves his flowers for what he has done thus far.

Freddie Freeman (1B) – Los Angeles Dodgers

Traditional Stats: 48 G, .321/.394/.547, 8 HR, 28 RBI

Advanced Stats: 10.1 BB%, 16.1 K%, 153 wRC+

Coming into the season, many wondered if the Los Angeles Dodgers were going to remain the favorite in the NL West. The Padres made all the big splashes in the offseason and the Dodgers seemingly took a step back. What we all forget though, is that they have Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts.

Two superstars have proven to be more than enough so far this season, as the Dodgers remain in the first in the NL West. A year after finishing second in the race for a batting title, Freeman is back to hitting .321, with plenty of power as well.

Freeman is third in the National League in fWAR right now and is as safe of a bet in baseball to continue to play at this level, if not higher, for the remainder of the 2023 season.

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Honorable Mentions:

  • Paul Goldschmidt (1B) – St. Louis Cardinals
  • Xander Bogaerts (SS) – San Diego Padres
  • Will Smith (C) – Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Luis Arraez (2B) – Miami Marlins
  • Thairo Estrada (2B/SS) – San Francisco Giants