MLB awards: Taking a look at 5 early National League MVP candidates

May 23, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso (20) hits an RBI-single against the Chicago Cubs during the sixth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
May 23, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso (20) hits an RBI-single against the Chicago Cubs during the sixth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /

The month of May is nearing its end and players have begun to separate themselves as the best of the best in both leagues this season. Baseball is unique among the major American sports as the surprise seasons and bad seasons by good MLB players happen at the same rate.

The most coveted award beyond winning the World Series is of course the Most Valuable Player. The last six NL MVP honors have gone to either a first baseman (Paul Goldschmidt and Freddie Freeman) or a power-hitting outfielder (Bryce Harper, Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton).

Even more of an odd trend in the NL, 60 percent of the past 10 winners are left-handed, with only one of the previous 10 being a pitcher in Clayton Kershaw.

The end of May is a large enough sample size to get an idea of who could be on their way to winning the 2023 NL MVP:

5 MLB players in the early running for National League MVP

Ronald Acuna Jr.

Outfielder, Atlanta Braves

The ACL injury that kept Ronald Acuna Jr. out of the Braves 2021 World Series run is fully behind him as the young right fielder is the early favorite for the award. In fact, he’s literally the odds on favorite as all of the sportsbooks have him between +100 and +115 to win the award. No other player is even under +1000 on any book.

Since 1901, three players have produced 40+ runs, 20+ extra base hits, 15+ stolen bases, 25+ RBI and have an OPS north of 1.050 in their team’s first 43 games:

Ty Cobb in 1911

George Sisler in 1922

Ronald Acuna Jr. in 2023.

Ronald is literally putting up numbers that have not been seen in a century.

(Stats provided via @StatsSAC on Twitter).

Acuna Jr. currently ranks third in OPS, fourth in average, first in stolen bases, ninth in home runs, third in hits, fifth in doubles, first in runs and first among outfielders in assists in the National League. Could he reach a 40-40 season?

Freddie Freeman

First Baseman, Los Angeles Dodgers

Acuna’s former teammate has been carrying the offensive load in Hollywood. All Freddie Freeman has done is rack up a National League-leading 72 hits through 54 games. The Dodgers’ lineup looks vastly different this season as Trea Turner, Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger all have new homes.

Freeman won the award in COVID-shortened season of 2020 despite not leading the NL in any offensive category except doubles and runs. He currently is second in average, first in OPS, first in doubles and second in runs leading the Dodgers to their current lead in NL West.

Pete Alonso

First Baseman, New York Mets

The Mets are underachieving so far in 2023, but Pete Alonso currently leads in two-thirds of the Triple Crown categories with 20 home runs and 46 RBI.

When it comes to the odds, Alonso is in second, but his paltry .243 average and the struggle of his team places him just behind Freeman in this race. On the contrary, imagine where the Mets would be without his production so far.

Alonso leads in home runs and RBI, is eighth in OPS and sixth in runs scored. The Polar Bear needs to enhance his overall resume to stay in this race.

Nolan Gorman

Designated Hitter/Infielder, St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals were off to a horrendous start to their 2023 campaign. Sure, Paul Goldschmidt is an important part of their turnaround, but Nolan Gorman has been integral.

Gorman is batting .281 with 13 home runs and 40 RBI through 49 games played. He leads the Cardinals in those two categories plus OPS. He is fourth in OPS, second in RBI and sixth in home runs despite playing 4-5 games less than the other qualifiers.

St. Louis has inched their way back into the NL Central race sitting just 5 games back as of May 29.

Sean Murphy

Catcher, Atlanta Braves

Baseball is a sport where a team is rarely carried by a single player … just ask Mike Trout. Atlanta is the best team in the National League and it is due, in part, to the Robin, Sean Murphy, and the role he is playing to Acuna’s Batman.

Just like anyone else on this list, it would take a massive fall off or injury by Acuna for Murphy to win this award, but the resume is there.

Buster Posey was the last catcher to win the award in 2012 for the San Francisco Giants. He finished with a .336 average, 24 home runs and 103 RBI.

According to FanGraphs, Murphy is on pace to finish with an MLB best WAR (8.3). His statline pace is currently 34 home runs and 115 RBI with a .280 average. Looks like MVP-type numbers if they were to play out. The only problem is that his teammate is on pace for an entry into the 30-60 club hitting above .300.

Next. Memorial Day check-in: Contender or pretender?. dark