My Ballot for the IBWAA: MVP
Later today, the BBWAA will announce the AL and NL winners for the MVP award. This is how I voted for the IBWAA:
Ronald Acuna Jr. (ATL)
Mookie Betts (LAD)
Freddie Freeman (LAD)
Matt Olson (ATL)
Corbin Carroll (ARI)
Juan Soto (SDP)
Bryce Harper (PHI)
Luis Arraez (MIA)
Ha-Seong Kim (SDP)
Francisco Lindor (NYM)
Going from the bottom of my MVP ballot, I will quickly explain my bottom 5 players I picked before elaborating more on my Top-5 picks. To be brief, the bottom-5 votes do not typically have much- if any- effect on the MVP vote and I use it as a place to highlight 5 exciting seasons I saw from this past year.
Francisco Lindor gave the Mets a great all-around season to continue to showcase that the 2021 season was an oddity while producing to a +6.0 bWAR/+6.0 fWAR season. Ha-Seong Kim gets a vote from me for his constant offensive and defensive presence for the Padres at shortstop with a +5.8 bWAR/+4.4 fWAR. (This year he was also the first Asian-born infielder to win a Gold Glove). Luis Arraez was fighting to hit .400 for much of the year, though he had to settle with an MLB-leading .354 average at the end of it all. His +4.9 bWAR/+3.4 fWAR looks worse than his value was for a Marlins team that just made the postseason. Bryce Harper continued to make the Yankees look like fools for not even offering him an official contract offer and accepted a move to first base in stride while continuing to be one of the best and most clutch hitters in baseball. A +3.7 bWAR/+3.3 fWAR season was held back due to missing 30+ games with injury. Juan Soto rounds out my bottom-5 as being the better and younger Bryce Harper (with a little less charisma too), and his +5.6 bWAR/+5.5 fWAR speaks for itself. The biggest question with him is if he’ll still be a Padre going into- and through- the 2024 season.
Corbin Carroll was the clear rookie of the year this year (you can read my thoughts on that here) and his overall production felt right to place between my “fun” votes and the serious candidates at the top.
Matt Olson may not have Atlanta Braves fans forgetting about his predecessor at first base, but his performance in 2023- including an MLB leading 54 home runs and 139 RBI’s and an NL-best .604 OPS- have kept fans from grabbing the torches and pitchforks against the front office. His defense is also a plus. Heck, it is hard to find flaws in a +7.4 bWAR/+6.7 fWAR season.
And yet, no matter how good Matt Olson was, there will always be Freddie Freeman producing even better as an all-around great player. Freeman hit to an MLB-best 59 doubles alongside a .331/.410/.567 triple-slash (1 of 2 players to hit to a .3XX/.4XX/.5XX line in the NL this past year). Like Olson, Freeman also boasts a solid glove and to pick between the two is really to pick which WAR calculation you like more as Freeman had a +6.6 bWAR/+7.9 fWAR. I picked Freeman with the higher overall number.
The NL MVP race came down to the wire and it came out that Freeman’s teammate couldn’t beat out Olson’s teammate. Mookie Betts will forever be a mistake in the history of the Boston Red Sox as he was the only other NL player to hit to that 3/4/5 with a .307/.408/.579 triple-slash along with 39 home runs, 107 RBI’s, 179 hits, and an MLB-best +8.4 bWAR/+8.3 fWAR.
Not everything comes down to WAR, however, and Ronald Acuna Jr. just about matched Betts with a +8.1 bWAR/+8.3 fWAR while also hitting 41 home runs, stealing an MLB-best 73 bases with an MLB-best .416 OBP (and 217 hits) and an NL-best 1.012 OPS and 168 OPS+. Acuna took a minor hit to his overall numbers due to defense that didn’t rate out favorably, but when we’re talking about such a high standard of offense, it’s negligible. A 40-40 season has happened just 5 times (last by Alfonso Soriano in 2006) and Acuna put up the first 40-70, 40-60, and 40-50 season ever. That’s otherworldly (even with the change in rules to increase stolen bases.)
Shohei Ohtani (LAA)
Marcus Semien (TEX)
Corey Seager (TEX)
Gerrit Cole (NYY)
Gunnar Henderson (BAL)
Yandy Diaz (TBR)
Julio Rodriguez (SEA)
Aaron Judge (NYY)
Yordan Alvarez (HOU)
Andres Gimenez (CLE)
One exciting season we saw in the American League this year was from Andres Gimenez of the Cleveland Guardians. He was the best defender in the AL (and won the Platinum Glove to solidify this argument), of which I wanted to highlight even if his offensive numbers were just a bit below-average. Yordan Alvarez on the other hand is the opposite of Gimenez as he hit to a .990 OPS and a 170 OPS+ and 31 home runs, though he played in just 114 games which brings his case down a lot. Speaking of, Aaron Judge had a 1.019 OPS and 175 OPS+ with 37 home runs…in just 106 games last season. Oh, what could’ve been another fantastic season. Julio Rodriguez gets a bump above the two sluggers by being both an all-around great player in center field, as well as his playing 155 games. That’s a luxury that is becoming more and more rare as not many players stay healthy to do so. Rounding out the bottom-5, I went with an outside-the-box pick in Yandy Diaz. His .330 AVG led the AL and helped him to a .330/.410/522 triple-slash (.932 OPS/158 OPS+), which made him one of two AL players to get to that .3/.4/.5 line. That’s deserving of a commendation.
Gunnar Henderson came in as both my AL Rookie of the Year and placed 5th in my AL MVP voting on the backs of a +6.2 bWAR/+4.6 fWAR season. He played 150 games, hit 28 home runs, and had a .255/.325/.489 triple-slash (.814 OPS/125 OPS+). You can read more about my choices for AL Rookie of the Year, here.
Gerrit Cole came in as my pick for the AL Cy Young Award and as a good divider between my top-3 candidates for the MVP award. Cole lead the AL in nearly every important pitching stat (33 Starts, 2.63 ERA, 165 ERA+, 209.0 Innings, 0.981 WHIP, .789 WP%) and also had 222 strikeouts. To read more about my choices for AL Cy Young, click here.
Corey Seager will be higher for everybody else, but I honestly don’t see the hype. Yes, he had an OPS over 1.000, but he also missed 25% of the season. Technically he qualified as a hitter, but I can’t help but think about how his stats- like his .327/.390/.623/1.013 (170 OPS+) slash- aren’t complete. It stinks too because Seager has all the potential in the world to be great but the trend is that he trades playing for performance in most of his seasons (if he plays a lot he’s good, if he plays a little he’s great). This was true yet again this season. Great over a shorter period of games played, and deserving of a top MVP vote, but not to that next level.
I might be the only person who gives Marcus Semien the benefit of the doubt over Corey Seager, and I can hear the arguments loud and clear. However, I can’t find one person in baseball who would rather have a player for 119 games than 162 games. I say it year after year, but the best ability is availability and I hold the guys who play 150+ games in high regard. (For what it’s worth, this is Semien’s 7th season with 155+ games played.) In addition to playing every game this year, Semien also had great numbers on both sides of the ball with a .276/.348/.478/.826 (122 OPS+) slash-line in addition to hitting 29 home runs, bringing in 100 runs, and leading the AL in hits. It’s a bit of an old school/new school mix with the value of Semien and I think that deserves recognition. Unlike Seager’s “could’ve been” season, Semien did it.
Shohei Ohtani was the obvious choice for the American League MVP award this season, and arguably his numbers as a hitter alone could’ve won him the award. I take high stock in a hitter putting up a .3XX/.4XX/.5XX triple-slash and Ohtani met this benchmark with a .304/.412/.654 slash. Oh, that OPS was AL-leading and his SLG was MLB-leading. Not to mention an MLB-leading 1.066 OPS and 184 OPS+. If not for his season getting cut short due to a UCL tear, Ohtani- who finished with 44 home runs- may have also cracked the 50 HR mark. Darn.
Speaking of Ohtani, who I’ve clearly highlighted as one of the game's best hitters…he was also a top tier pitcher. He had a 10-5 record with a 3.12 ERA (142 ERA+) over 23 games and 132.0 innings pitched. He also tacked on 167 strikeouts and had a WHIP of 1.061. At this point, the MVP award is for players to take from Ohtani. (Like how Aaron Judge had to set a new AL single season Home Run record to win last year.) Lucky for everyone else, Ohtani won’t be allowed to pitch next year- no thanks to his UCL- which will even the playing field for at least one season.