Ronald Acuña Jr. practically engraved his own name on the MVP trophy when he dove into his 70th stolen base of the season Wednesday night. The Atlanta Braves have been the best team in baseball from start to finish, and Acuña is the best player on the best team. Normally, he wouldn't even sniff the competition.
The 2023 MLB season has been anything but normal, though. Acuña isn't the only player breaking records and pushing the boundaries of an evolving sport. The National League especially is filled with players who, in a more "standard" year, would be frontrunners for the MVP award.
Acuña's own teammate, Matt Olson, has smacked 54 home runs with 136 RBIs. His former teammate, Freddie Freeman, continues to look like the best all-around infielder in the sport. Acuña's stiffest competition, however, comes from a different member of the Los Angeles Dodgers: Mookie Betts.
Just a month ago, Betts surpassed Acuña as the odds-on favorite for the award. While Acuña has since regained control — in part due to a brief Betts injury spell — the Braves' slugger cannot totally discount the possibility of losing the award. There will be voters who favor Betts.
Here are a few potential reasons why.
No. 3 reason Mookie Betts could win MVP: Wins Above Replacement
It's way too broad to cite one single metric as the end-all, be-all in the MVP race, but Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is a stat teams, media members, and fans all take very seriously. In essence, it does just what the title says — it calculates a player's value relative to the average 'replacement-level' player at his position.
Betts has the best WAR in the National League (8.3), narrowly edging out Acuña (8.0). There are a few games left for Acuña to catch up, but we have arrived at the garbage time portion of the schedule for both Atlanta and Los Angeles. Both teams have first-round buys locked up and are coasting to the finish line. For the most competitive portion of the season, Betts was a head above Acuña.
The factors that contribute to WAR are myriad, but not all-encompassing. Acuña has Betts beat in a number of basic statistical categories (batting average, home runs, stolen bases) and the Braves were better than the Dodgers head-to-head, plus in the standings. Again, Acuña is the favorite for a reason.
Betts has several analytics on his side, however, along with the established reputation of having won MVP before. He is potentially considered the 'better' player in a vacuum, and depending on a voter's individual criteria for the award, we can expect Betts to get a handful of votes tossed his way.