Acuna Slugs, Steals Way to MVP

November 22nd, 2023 by Kevin

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The 2023 baseball season saw unprecedented change as a result of significant new rules:  a pitch clock, banning of the shift, limiting pickoff attempts and larger bases.  With the exception of the drastic decrease in average time of games, probably the most noticeable change this year was stolen bases coming back in style.  There were 1,652 stolen bases across the DTBL this season, an incredible 53% increase over a year ago and the highest league total since 1999.  In fact, we were just nine steals shy of this being a record breaking season for steals.  Almost every player with at least average speed increased their stolen base output this year.  But one player took that to an extreme while continuing to be one of the best hitters in the game.  Ronald Acuna Jr stole 73 bases while hitting 41 home runs, a pair of milestones no other player in DTBL history has ever come close to reaching.  In a unanimous decision, the Jackalope and Braves outfielder is the 2023 DTBL Most Valuable Player.

Acuna’s 73 stolen bases led the league by 19.  He is the first DTBL player to steal 70+ bases since Jacoby Ellsbury in 2009 and that 73 figure ranks third highest in league history, just five shy of the league record 78 by Jose Reyes in 2007.  Needless to say, his 41 home runs are the highest total ever among players with 70+ steals.  That mark was previously held by Kenny Lofton who hit 14 home runs with his 75 steals in 1996.  Even if you bump the HR/SB milestones down to 30/50, Acuna is still the first player in league history to reach those marks.  Oh, Acuna also hit .338, which put him second in line for the batting title, and led the league with 149 runs scored.  His 106 runs batted in, despite hitting leadoff all year, also put him in the top 10 of the league.  It was truly one of the best offensive seasons in league history.  By PAR, it currently ranks as the best season in all years that have been calculated (2005-present), by a wide margin.  His 19.0 Batting PAR blows away Aaron Judge’s previous high from last year at 12.2.  I should mention that this PAR total will likely be lowered when I get around to doing the post-season adjustment.  This is because stolen bases were drastically overrepresented in the PAR totals this year since the leaguewide total was so significantly higher compared to recent years.  That said, the adjustment isn’t going to cost him 6+ points, so this should remain the best Batting PAR individual season to date by a comfortable margin.  There is no question that Acuna had one of the best single season performances in DTBL history.

The Jackalope selected Acuna with the first pick in the 2019 Draft.  He immediately had one of the best rookie seasons in league history, hitting 41 homers with 37 stolen bases, earning him Rookie of the Year and runner up for MVP.  It was certainly a sign of what was to come for this five tool phenom.  Unfortunately, his ascendence was put on pause in 2021 when he tore his ACL halfway through the year and then missed the first month of the 2022 season as well.  In these abbreviated seasons, he did not flash the same type of power he had shown previously, but the speed was still there.  Then this season happened, leaving little doubt that he is now back to full strength and better than ever.  While not directly fantasy related, his ’23 stat that I found most impressive was his 11.4% strikeout rate.  He had been in 23%-30% range his entire career, and then suddenly cut that in half this year.  While the Jackalope finished a distant fifth place with Acuna, it would be scary to think how bad their offense would have been without him.  He joins Gerrit Cole for a Jackalope sweep of the non-rookie awards.  They’ll look for more contributions from the rest of the roster next year.

As expected, Acuna won this award unanimously, the second straight season in which the MVP winner received all of the first place votes after Judge did the same a year ago.  No other player even received half as many total points as Acuna’s perfect 100.  In fact, Acuna was the only player who even appeared on every ballot.  Five different players received second place votes, making it a tight race for all of the other finishing positions.  The runner-up is Demigods outfielder and Rookie of the Year winner Corbin Carroll.  The sparkplug to the Demigods championship winning offense, Carroll finished second in the league behind Acuna in both stolen bases (54) and Batting PAR (10.7).  If our league’s MVP vote mimicked real life where sports MVP awards often simply go to the best player on the best team, Carroll would have been the choice.  He received half of the second place votes and finished with 49 total points.  Third place will be shared by a pair of players who have things in common with Carroll.  The first being his Demigods teammate Freddie Freeman.  Freeman was another key cog for the championship squad.  The veteran first baseman hit .331 with 29 home runs and even stole 23 bases.  He received a pair of second place votes and three thirds to finish with 37 points.  The other player with 37 points is Mavericks shortstop Bobby Witt Jr, who shares Carroll’s status as a rookie with elite power and speed.  Witt stole 49 bases while hitting 30 home runs.  Very few players in league history have reached the HR/SB levels that all three of Acuna, Carroll and Witt hit this year.  Witt now had a third place MVP finish to go along with his third place ROY standing.  For MVP, he only received one second place tally, but four thirds allowed him to tie Freeman.  There is yet another tie for fifth place.  Moonshiners star Shohei Ohtani was the unanimous choice for AL MVP.  But in this league, his pitching prowess doesn’t increase his value, making his season slightly less significant while still incredibly impressive.  Ohtani hit .304 with 44 home runs and 20 stolen bases.  I hear he had a pretty good year on the mound as well.  Ohtani only appeared on three ballots, but did get a second place vote, pushing his total up to 15 points.  That ties him with yet another rookie, Diamond Dogs first overall draft pick, outfielder Julio Rodriguez.  Rodriguez’s DTBL career got off to a bit of a slow start.  He made up for it in the final months of the season though, accumulating 32 homers and 37 stolen bases.  Like Ohtani, he received a single second place vote, but with more down ballot support to also reach 15 points.  So that’s three DTBL rookies among the top six MVP vote getters.  The future is certainly bright.

Click here to view the full voting results.

And with that, we have concluded DTBL awards season.  Hopefully soon, I’m going to get the post-season PAR update done.  I anticipate it is going to cause significant changes in the numbers across the board due to the wild statistical shifts that occurred this season.  It will probably be worth writing about at some point.  In the meantime, I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving!

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