Unanimous! Acuña named NL MVP after historic '23

November 17th, 2023

ATLANTA -- went where no other player had previously gone. But to accurately paint a picture of the record-setting season he had this year, it’s best to point out he produced numbers that previously seemed unrealistic.

So it certainly wasn’t surprising when it was announced on Thursday night that Acuña had been unanimously elected the 2023 National League Most Valuable Player. This year’s MVP voting was historic, as it marked the first time since balloting began in 1931 that the NL and American League winners (Shohei Ohtani) won in unanimous fashion.

“From the day that I got to the league, I always knew I wanted to win the MVP,” Acuña said through an interpreter. “It was always a dream of mine, and I’m living a dream come true.”

The Braves' outfielder learned of the honor as he was making his season debut for Tiburones de La Guira of the Venezuelan Winter League.

Acuña received a first-place vote on each of the 30 ballots cast by selected members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts received each of the 30 second-place votes. Former Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman finished third, narrowly ahead of current Braves first baseman Matt Olson. Freeman received 17 third-place votes and 13 fourth-place votes. Olson garnered 13 third-place votes and 17 fourth-place votes.

Acuña is the eighth Braves player to earn this honor and the first since Freeman in 2020. The franchise’s other winners were Jonny Evers (1914), Bob Elliott ('48), Hank Aaron ('57), Dale Murphy ('82 and ’83), Terry Pendleton ('91) and Chipper Jones ('99).

Aaron's MVP campaign came in his age-23 season. The 25-year-old Acuña now stands as the second-youngest Braves player to win this award. Murphy was 26 when he won the first of his two consecutive MVPs, while Jones was 27.

“I feel great,” Acuña said. “I'm just thankful for the support that I got from the organization. I’m happy to be a member of the Braves organization. I just want to thank everyone and the fans as well for the entire season.”

This accolade adds to the splendor of an incredibly satisfying year for Acuña, who was a top MVP candidate when he tore his right anterior cruciate ligament two days before the 2021 All-Star break. He returned approximately a month into the 2022 season, but he never truly regained confidence in his surgically repaired knee until this season.

He spent this year showing why he has the potential to be one of the best players in baseball history.

“It meant a lot to me to be able to bounce back after I was hurt,” Acuña said. “There was some doubt about my ability to do what I accomplished. It meant a lot to me to come back and have that kind of success.”

Acuña led the NL in runs (149), hits (217), stolen bases (73), on-base percentage (.416) and OPS (1.012). He ranked second in slugging percentage (.596) and batting average (.337). His 41 home runs and 106 RBIs ranked among the top six in the league. And, of course, he did the previously unthinkable by becoming the first player to hit 40-plus homers and tally 70-plus steals in a season.

Nobody had previously notched more than 46 steals during a 40-homer season. This was also the first time anybody had more than 52 steals during a 30-homer season. So it’s safe to say a 40-50 or 40-60 season would have been deemed unrealistic before this year. A 40-70 season? Wow.

Critics have said too much value has been placed on Acuña’s stolen base total, especially with the rule changes implimented this year to benefit basestealers. But no other NL player tallied more than 54 steals. With these stolen bases, the Braves outfielder positioned himself to score 18 more runs than any other Major Leaguer.

And Acuña’s numbers stand as historically great even if you remove stolen bases from the evaluation.

The Venezuela native finished his MVP-caliber season with 80 extra-base hits, a 1.012 OPS and 84 strikeouts. He joined Lou Gehrig (1927), Chuck Klein (‘30) and Joe DiMaggio (‘37) as the only players to hit at least .335 with 40 home runs, 215 hits, 80 extra-base hits, 100 RBIs, 145 runs and a 1.000 OPS with fewer than 90 strikeouts.

Doing something the game hasn’t seen since 1937 is MVP-worthy. And again, this doesn’t even account for any of Acuña’s franchise-record stolen base tally.

Acuña was the catalyst for a Braves team that won an MLB-high 104 games on the strength of an offense that became the first AL/NL club to produce a .500 slugging percentage. His incredible value was visible on an everyday basis.

Still in the early stages of his career, is there a chance he’ll top this year’s production?

“I’m not saying what’s going to happen next season,” Acuña said. “I’m not trying to predict anything. But as long as I’m healthy, I feel like anything is possible.”