The 2023 MVPs are an all-time great duo

November 17th, 2023

It's not hyperbolic to say that and just had two of the most incredible baseball seasons ever, making them the unanimous selections as their respective leagues' Most Valuable Players for 2023 -- Ohtani’s MVP honor is the second of his career, and Acuña won his first.

The two-way superstar (Ohtani) and ultimate power-speed threat (Acuña) paired historic seasons in the same year, placing themselves alongside some of the all-time greats in baseball lore. They did what few -- if any -- other players have ever accomplished. Ohtani one-upped his previous performances as an elite hitter and pitcher, while Acuña posted power-speed numbers that we've never seen.

This got us thinking: Which pairs of players have put together all-time great seasons in the same year in AL/NL history? We're talking about the best of the best, the kind of iconic seasons that etch your name permanently into the record books.

2023: Shohei Ohtani (LAA) and Ronald Acuña Jr. (ATL)
Ohtani: 44 HR (hitter) and 3.14 ERA (pitcher)
Acuña: 41 HR, 73 SB and 217 hits

Ohtani might have had the best season of all time, period -- despite missing most of the final month of the ‘23 season due to a pair of injuries (including elbow surgery that will prevent him from pitching until 2025). At the plate, Ohtani crushed 44 home runs, stole 20 bases and led qualified hitters with a 179 wRC+. On the mound, he posted a 3.14 ERA and struck out 167 batters in 132 innings. Cumulatively, he was worth 9.0 fWAR -- an MLB-leading figure that surely would’ve been higher had he stayed healthy the final month. But even without that final month, he was the unanimous selection as the AL MVP.

Acuña, meanwhile, had one of the best power-speed seasons in baseball history. He became the first member of the 30-home run, 60-stolen base club … and then the first member of the 40-home run, 70-stolen base club. In terms of pure counting stats, it’s almost hard to fathom what the young superstar pulled off. Forty-one home runs, 73 stolen bases (a Braves modern record), 217 hits and 149 runs are video game-like numbers. It all earned him a unanimous selection as the NL MVP.

2022: Aaron Judge (NYY) and Shohei Ohtani (LAA)
Judge: 62 HR and 11.5 WAR
Ohtani: .875 OPS (hitter) and 219 K (pitcher)

It was just a year ago that a pair of players embarked on two historic seasons. Judge hit an AL-record 62 home runs, surpassing a 61-year-old record held by former Yankee , who hit 61 home runs in the 1961 season. Judge also accumulated 11.5 WAR, a figure bested in a single season only by Bonds and (1999) in the Expansion Era (since 1961). Deservedly so, Judge was crowned AL MVP.

Ohtani, meanwhile, had his second consecutive year of two-way dominance. By wRC+, Ohtani was 42% better than the league-average hitter -- bested by only 14 qualified hitters -- while crushing 34 home runs. On the mound, Ohtani struck out 219 batters with a 174 ERA+ across 166 innings while finishing fourth in AL Cy Young Award voting. In practically any other year, Ohtani would have been the runaway favorite for unanimously winning the MVP.

2012: Miguel Cabrera (DET) and Mike Trout (LAA)
Cabrera: .330 BA, 44 HR and 139 RBI
Trout: 30 HR, 49 SB and 10.1 WAR

The Old School vs. New School stats argument took center stage in the 2012 AL MVP race between Cabrera and Trout. It was Cabrera who was victorious thanks to winning the first Triple Crown (league leader in BA, HR and RBI) since in 1967. Trout, however, held the definitive edge in a large swath of other categories, sparking the old vs. new debate. As a 20-year-old rookie, Trout's 10.1-win season thumped Cabrera's 7.3 WAR and was the best rookie season ever according to WAR. At the time, Trout was just one stolen base short of the third 30 HR/50 SB season in MLB history -- Bonds (1990) and (1987) were the only two players to have pulled it off at that point. Trout also played spectacular defense in center field, which helped produce the most well-rounded and dominant rookie season ever.

Just for good measure, produced a 10.1-win season, the best ever for a catcher. The 25-year-old paired elite offense (24 home runs and 164 wRC+) with strong defense and was a vital cog in the Giants' World Series title runs in the 2010s.

2001: Barry Bonds (SF) and Randy Johnson (AZ)
Bonds: 73 HR and 12.5 WAR
Johnson: 2.49 ERA and 372 K

If you're looking for a frontrunner for the most impressive duo in a single season, Bonds and Johnson might be your best bet. Bonds' 2001 season has a legitimate argument for the best season ever. His MLB-record 73 home runs are one of the most jaw-dropping feats in baseball history and a record that, in all likelihood, will never be broken. In the midst of an astonishing stretch -- he hit 209 home runs with a 1.368 OPS and was worth 47.3 WAR from 2001-04 -- it was Bonds' 2001 season that stood out the most.

Johnson, too, was in the middle of an utterly dominant stretch of a Hall of Fame career. From 1999-2002, Johnson had a 1.87 ERA+ in 1,030 innings and struck out a whopping 1,417 batters; Martinez was the next-closest with 999 strikeouts. In 2001, Johnson had a 2.49 ERA in 249 2/3 innings and struck out 372 batters, the third-most in a single season in the Live Ball era (since 1920). Only (383 K in 1973) and (382 K in 1965) have struck out more batters in a season in the last century.

1998: Mark McGwire (STL) and Sammy Sosa (CHC)
McGwire: 70 HR and .752 SLG
Sosa: 66 HR and 158 RBI

McGwire and Sosa were at the forefront of a 1998 MLB season that is so famous that there are "30 for 30" specials and books written about it. Best known as the Summer of '98, both sluggers shattered Maris' single-season HR record and traded big flies all season long. McGwire's 70 home runs ended up topping Sosa's 66, with those totals now ranking second and third, respectively, behind only Bonds. Even if revelations about performance-enhancing drug use later shed a different light on their chase, McGwire and Sosa still made 1998 one of the most memorable and thrilling seasons in history.

Those two sluggers weren't the only ones making headlines that season, either. belted 56 home runs and was within five of McGwire/Sosa through the middle of August. Meanwhile, 22-year-old had one of four 40 HR/40 SB seasons in MLB history.

1986: Eric Davis (CIN) and Rickey Henderson (NYY)
Davis: 27 HR and 80 SB
Henderson: 28 HR and 87 SB

The 1980s featured a different brand of baseball, with speed and defense the name of the game. Look no further than the 31,257 stolen bases in the '80s, the most in any decade in the Live Ball Era. There were a few players, though, who managed to combine elite speed and pop in a decade with relatively few home runs. Davis and Henderson were the poster boys for power/speed threats in that era.

In '86, Davis and Henderson pulled off two of the three 20 HR/80 SB seasons in MLB history. This came after Henderson did it the previous year, his first one with the Yankees, when he hit 24 home runs and stole 80 bases. In the case of Davis, few players, if any, have approached the power/speed blend he had in the '80s. Over a 162-game stretch from June 1986 to July 1987, Davis hit 49 homers and stole 93 bases. With better timing, Davis might have achieved a proposterous 50 HR/100 SB season.

1972: Steve Carlton (PHI) and Johnny Bench (CIN)
Carlton: 182 ERA+ and 11.1 WAR
Bench: 40 HR and 9.2 WAR

Carlton's '72 season has a strong argument for the best by a pitcher in MLB history. Dealt from the Cardinals to the Phillies in one of the most infamous trades in baseball history, Carlton produced an all-time season in his Philadelphia debut. Carlton deservedly took home the NL Cy Young award, throwing 346 1/3 innings with an elite 182 ERA+ and 2.01 FIP while punching out 310 hitters. His 11.1 WAR is behind only Martinez's 11.6 mark from the '99 season. Incredibly, Carlton had 27 of the Phillies' 59 total wins that year.

Outside of the aforementioned 2012 Posey season, no catcher has produced more WAR (9.2) in a single season than Bench in '72. At the plate, Bench crushed 40 home runs with a wRC+ that was 56 percent better than the league average hitter. His defensive numbers were even more eye-popping. Bench, who threw out more runners (469) than all but 15 catchers in MLB history, caught 32 of 55 of would-be stealers in '72, good for a 56% rate.

1968: Bob Gibson (STL) and Denny McLain (DET)
Gibson: 1.12 ERA and 13 shutouts
McClain: 1.96 ERA and 31 wins

There's a reason that 1968 is known as the Year of the Pitcher, as hurlers that season posted a collective 2.98 ERA, the lowest of any in the Live Ball Era.

Gibson was the obvious stalwart in what is viewed as one of the best pitching seasons of all time. Across 304 2/3 innings, Gibson produced a 1.12 ERA that is the lowest single-season ERA (min. 200 IP) in the Live Ball era. McLain wasn't so bad himself, posting a 1.96 ERA (154 ERA+) across 336 innings. McLain was the most recent pitcher to win 30 games in a season and, barring some unforeseen changes in baseball, will be the last to ever do so. Both pitchers took home Cy Young and MVP awards in their respective leagues, the last time that pitchers from both leagues won those awards in the same season.

As if that wasn't enough, both pitchers also faced off in that year's World Series. In three starts, Gibson went 2-1 with a 1.67 ERA in 27 innings, including his famous 17-strikeout performance in Game 1 for the Cardinals. McLain lost his first two starts against Gibson but won his Game 6 start in a complete-game performance (one run allowed). In the decisive Game 7, Gibson allowed four runs in his only loss of the series that ultimately went to the Tigers.

1965: Willie Mays (SF) and Sandy Koufax (LAD)
Mays: 52 HR and 10.7 WAR
Koufax: 2.04 ERA and 382 strikeouts

Eight years after their two historic franchises relocated from New York to California, Mays and Koufax were at the height of their powers in what would be career-best seasons for two all-time greats.

At 34 years old and 14 years into his Giants career, Mays had fully transitioned from a power/speed threat into one of the game's premier sluggers. And 1965 was the most prodigious season in what was one of the best careers in baseball history. Mays set career-highs in home runs (52), wRC+ (186) and WAR (10.7), taking home his second and final NL MVP Award. Mays was the leading force for a loaded Giants team in the 60s that featured Hall of Famers like , and .

Koufax's 1965 season was the crowning jewel in what was one of the best peaks for any pitcher in baseball history. From 1963-66, the Hall of Fame lefty had unfathomable numbers -- a 1.86 ERA, 97 wins and 1,228 strikeouts in 1,192 2/3 innings. In '65, Koufax posted a 2.04 ERA across 335 2/3 innings with 382 strikeouts, the second-most strikeouts of any season in the Live Ball era behind only Ryan's 383-strikeout season in '73. His season also included a perfect game and two shutouts in the World Series, including the decisive Game 7 that gave the Dodgers their third World Series since moving to LA.

1941: Joe DiMaggio (NYY) and Ted Williams (BOS)
Williams: .406 BA and 11 WAR
DiMaggio: 56-game hitting streak

The 1941 season is engrained in the history and culture of baseball in America. It was the pinnacle for two of baseball's best and most iconic players, with both producing one of the game's most recognizable feats -- neither of which might ever be accomplished again.

The number 56 is synonymous with DiMaggio's 1941 season. When DiMaggio hit in an MLB-record 56 straight games, he didn't just set an unbreakable record; he entered the baseball lore. During his streak, Joltin' Joe produced a .408 batting average with 15 home runs while striking out just five times. For the entire season, DiMaggio posted a 1.083 OPS (185 OPS+) with 30 home runs and only 13 strikeouts in 139 games en route to winning the AL MVP Award.

Impressive as DiMaggio's season was, you can make a strong case for Williams' being even better. His 1941 campaign is best known for his .406 batting average, which is still the most recent time a qualified hitter batted .400 in a single season. It was beyond just the batting average, though. Williams crushed 37 home runs and walked 147 times, leading to a career-best .553 OBP and .735 SLG. The 22-year-old produced his first of three straight 11-WAR seasons, something no player has done in MLB history.

1927: Babe Ruth (NYY) and Lou Gehrig (NYY)
Ruth: 60 HR and 12.9 WAR
Gehrig: 1.240 OPS and 12.4 WAR

Being compared to the 1927 Yankees -- otherwise known as Murderers' Row -- is the ultimate compliment an individual offense can receive. In a Yankees lineup littered with future Hall of Famers, it was Ruth and Gehrig teaming up for the best performance from a pair of teammates in MLB history.

In the 1920s, Ruth was playing on an entirely different level than the rest of the baseball world. In that decade, Ruth produced the four best seasons of all time by WAR, hit a record 59 home runs in 1921 and broke his own record with 60 home runs in 1927. While you can argue which of Ruth's seasons was the most valuable, there's no doubt that his '27 season is his most memorable. His 60 home runs remained a record for 34 years until Maris hit 61 homers.

Gehrig wasn't far behind Ruth in '27. Forming a dynamic duo with Ruth, Gehrig produced a whopping 12.4 WAR, the best season of his career and seventh-best all time. Two years into his famous games-played streak, Gehrig's '27 season was the height of his greatness, highlighted by his 1.240 OPS (220 OPS+), 47 home runs and 173 RBIs (tied for fifth most in a single season). Gehrig is one of the most recognizable players in baseball history and his impact is still felt today, both on and off the field.

Honorable mentions
2018: Jacob deGrom (NYM) and Mookie Betts (BOS)
2015: Bryce Harper (WSH) and Mike Trout (LAA)
1999: Pedro Martinez (BOS) and Randy Johnson (AZ)
1985: Rickey Henderson (NYY) and Dwight Gooden (NYM)
1967: Carl Yastzremski (BOS) and Roberto Clemente (PIT)
1961: Mickey Mantle (NYY) and Roger Maris (NYY)
1957: Mickey Mantle (NYY) and Ted Williams (BOS)
1923: Babe Ruth (NYY) and Rogers Hornsby (STL)
1908: Honus Wagner (PIT) and Christy Mathewson (NYG)