“From the day that I got to the league, right away, I always knew that I wanted to win MVP,” Acuña said through interpreter Franco García. “It was always a dream of mine and I’m living a dream come true.”
After a record-breaking season, Acuña was named the National League MVP, the first such honor of his career, but perhaps not the last. The superstar right fielder set MLB and team records.
Acuña beat out the Dodgers’ Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, a former teammate, to win NL MVP. The vote was unanimous. The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani was voted American League MVP.
Betts finished second. Freeman was third. This was the first year that the MVP winners from both leagues were unanimous selections in the history of the award.
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com
Thirty members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America cast their MVP votes at the regular season’s conclusion. Per policy, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution does not vote for postseason awards.
Acuna became the fifth Braves player to win an MVP since the team moved to Atlanta in 1966. The others are Dale Murphy (twice, 1982-83), Terry Pendleton (1991), Chipper Jones (1999) and Freeman (2020).
Acuña did it a season after returning from the torn ACL he suffered in 2021. It required a ton of rehab and time away from the game he loves so dearly. He proved the injury wouldn’t derail his career.
“I’m really happy,” Acuña said of winning NL MVP after the injury. “It meant a lot to me to be able to bounce back. I think after I was hurt, there was some doubt about the ability that I could do what I was able to accomplish. It meant a lot to me to be able to come back and have that type of success and that season that I did.”
The simplest way to put it is this: Acuña put together a historic season. It might be a long time before someone matches him.
In August, Acuña became the first player in MLB history to hit at least 30 home runs and steal at least 60 bases in the same season. He then created the 40-50, 40-60 and 40-70 clubs.
In 2023, Acuña finished with 41 home runs and 73 stolen bases. He drove in 106 runs. He batted .337 with a 1.012 OPS. He accumulated 8.2 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference.
Acuña’s 73 stolen bases set a Braves franchise record for the modern era (since 1900). He surpassed Otis Nixon, who swiped 72 bags in 1991. Since 2000, the only player with more stolen bases in a single season is Jose Reyes, who totaled 78 in 2007. (During the season, Acuña mentioned that the new rules, which restrict pitchers from controlling the running game as they once did, helped him steal more bases.)
Acuña also became the fifth member of the 40-40 club. He joined José Canseco (1988), Barry Bonds (1996), Alex Rodriguez (1998) and Alfonso Soriano (2006). But none of the other four stole more than 46 bases in their 40-40 seasons.
Acuña also scored 149 runs, which set a modern-era franchise record.
He led MLB in stolen bases, runs, on-base percentage (.416), hits (217), total bases (383) and multi-hit games (69). His .337 batting average ranked second, as did his 94.7-mph average exit velocity on balls in play. His 1.012 OPS was third, and his 80 extra-base hits were tied for third.
“I think at the beginning of September, I kind of had an idea that I might be one of the finalists for the MVP race,” Acuña said.
At that time, Betts had seemingly caught up to Acuña in the MVP race. Some pundits even argued Betts led Acuña. But in a series at Dodger Stadium that began at the end of August, Acuña homered in three of four games, including a grand slam that made him the inaugural member of MLB’s 30-60 club.
During the season, when reporters would ask Acuña about whatever feat he achieved that night, he would point to his health. Finally, he was healthy. Strong. Explosive. Fast. He could worry less about his health and focus on letting his talent shine.
It culminated with his biggest accomplishment yet. Acuña, who always displays pride for Venezuela, is the third Venezuelan to win the award and the first to do it in the NL. Houston’s Jose Altuve won it in 2017 in the AL after Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera earned it in back-to-back seasons, in 2012 and 2013.
Six years ago, the Braves entered the offseason hoping to exit their rebuild in the coming seasons. They eventually hired Alex Anthopoulos to be their general manager. The Braves also had promising prospects, a couple of whom had debuted.
But one had not.
And he was viewed as someone who might be more prolific than almost any prospect in baseball at the time. He had all five tools. He was a prodigious talent.
On Thursday, after a historic season, that man – Ronald Acuña Jr. – won his first NL MVP Award. He might have more in his future. He’s that talented.
Acuña won NL Rookie of the Year in 2018. He has since accumulated four All-Star selections and three Silver Slugger Awards.
And now, he is an MVP.
Could next season be an encore?
“I think as long as one’s healthy, anything is possible, right?” Acuña said. “I’m not saying what’s gonna happen next season, I’m not trying to predict anything, but as long as I’m healthy, I feel like anything is possible.”