A Look at This Year’s MLB MVP Race

The best of the best in baseball.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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By Winnie Yang

Two months into the MLB season, baseball is looking more exciting than ever. The new rules implemented at the start of the season have kicked into effect, improving the pace of play and adding excitement to the game in the form of stolen bases and hustle plays. The pitch clock has also shortened the average game by 30 minutes, with less time spent on pauses and transitions. A crowd of rookies has rounded out the established veterans of the game, and the change of rules has allowed stars to shine even brighter. Early into the season, some players have already proven themselves to be some of the most impactful talents in the sport.

American League (AL)

Coming as no surprise, the leading MVP candidate in the American League is Los Angeles Angels pitcher/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani is the only two-way player currently in the MLB, and he’s been in the MVP conversation every year that he’s played. Ohtani is special because he can both hit and pitch, which means he offers the Angels two talents in one roster spot. Ohtani isn’t just able to hit and pitch: he has established himself as one of the best starting pitchers and one of the strongest hitters in the league. This year, Ohtani is slashing .274/.340/.548 in terms of batting, which is slightly above his career statistics and well above the league average. While his 3.30 ERA and 1.014 WHIP are both slightly worse than his performance last year, he has thrown more innings and allowed remarkably few hits. Ohtani’s value as a two-way player cannot be understated, and he continues to make a case as one of the greatest players in the sport.

Closely behind Ohtani in the race stands the reigning AL MVP, New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge. In 2022, Judge had one of the best offensive performances of all time and broke Roger Maris’ longstanding single-season home run record. Despite signing a nine-year, $360 million contract and being named the captain of the New York Yankees over the offseason, many fans doubted Judge’s ability to replicate his 2022 performance. These fears were confirmed when Judge started the season off slowly and was soon out with a hip injury. But he came back from the Injured List with a bang and was named the AL Player of the Month for May for batting .342 with 12 home runs. After this monster month, Judge’s numbers for the start of 2023 are slightly better than his numbers in 2022, despite missing 10 games, making him a strong contender for a repeat MVP.

While Ohtani and Judge are by far the most likely candidates for MVP, Houston Astros outfielder/designated hitter Yordan Álvarez has also had an incredible start to the season. Álvarez came in third place in the MVP voting in 2022, and he continues to excel on the offensive side of the ball. He is already slashing .278/.391/.578 and has an MLB-leading 51 RBI. Álvarez has particularly smashed left-handed pitching, though his numbers against righties are also impressive. While Álvarez is a terrific hitter, his potential is somewhat limited by his subpar defense. Minute Maid Park’s Crawford Boxes allow for Álvarez to play in the smaller left field, but he rarely plays the field in away games. Luckily, the Astros have plenty of outfield talent to back him up, which allows Álvarez to thrive in his role as the team’s DH.

The very top of MVP race in the AL looks similar to 2022’s race, but many great players are lurking just below the frontrunners. Los Angeles Angels outfielder and three-time MVP Mike Trout has put up an impressive start to the season, and Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could look to claim his first award. The start of the season has been impressive across the league, and the rest of the season will hopefully continue to dazzle.

National League (NL)

Despite suffering an ACL tear that sidelined him for the end of the 2021 season and the beginning of the 2022 season, Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. has found his groove coming into this season, once again proving to the world his ability as an offensive threat. Throughout 58 contests this season, he is slashing a remarkable .331/.407/.564 with 12 home runs. His impressive bat is not the only reason for his frontrunner status, as he excels at his leadoff role, leading the NL with 52 runs scored. On top of this, he leads the NL with 28 stolen bases. So, how has Acuña improved significantly considering his disappointing last season? The rule changes play a pivotal role. Acuña himself noted the ban on defensive shifts has made the biggest difference for him this season, even as a right-handed batter. As he has a tendency to hit ground balls and saw the shift 60 percent of the time last year, his numbers are expected to improve greatly. 

Though Acuña remains the front-runner of this year’s NL MVP race, the race behind him is wide open. Another potential front-runner is former MVP and two-time champion Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder/shortstop Mookie Betts. It seems that every year, Betts’s name is mentioned in the MVP conversation, and this year is no exception. The veteran is slashing .257/.362/.532 this season with 15 home runs through 56 contests. Betts encountered a new challenge coming into this season: playing shortstop. The outfielder has played the majority of his career on the grass, with a few exceptions at second base. However, with the Dodgers lacking an everyday shortstop, manager Dave Roberts made the call to bring Betts in. “This is something that is uncharted territory, really, for me, to see somebody going from the outfield, the best at his position in the game, to come up and play above-average shortstop in a major league game, in a big series,” Roberts said about his decision. With Betts playing out of his usual position at a high level, he adds to his MVP case by being able to adapt to benefit the team.

Still, the league is just under 60 games into the season, so the MVP race is easily subject to change. Acuña seems to be leading the NL at the moment with his all-around impact, but Betts has proved himself to be available whenever his name is called and continues to put up impressive hitting statistics. Other honorable mentions for NL MVP include San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. who recently returned from suspension, Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman who constantly puts up good numbers, and New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso who is one of the best sluggers in the league. The candidates will continue to battle it out for the remaining two-thirds of the season.

The season has just started and the stars of baseball are already shining. The MLB has drawn more viewers than ever, expanding its viewership to all parts of the world. While the best of the best in baseball are the same names we’ve seen before, more stars are rising and making a name for themselves. This will only increase for the rest of the season, and the theatrics will continue to amaze.