Alden Gonzalez, ESPN Staff WriterNov 16, 2023, 06:33 PM ET
- ESPN baseball reporter. Covered the L.A. Rams for ESPN from 2016 to 2018 and the L.A. Angels for MLB.com from 2012 to 2016.
Ohtani, a captivating free agent coming off another historic two-way season, became the first player to win the award unanimously on two occasions, having also done so in 2021. Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, the Texas Rangers‘ star middle infielders, finished second and third, respectively, in the American League.
Ohtani received all 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America even though he did not pitch for most of the last two months of the Los Angeles Angels‘ season.
Acuna, a force at the leadoff spot for a fearsome Braves lineup, combined 41 home runs with an NL-leading 73 stolen bases, becoming the first member of the 40-70 club. The 25-year-old also led the NL in on-base percentage (.416), OPS (1.012), hits (217) and runs scored (149). His .337 batting average trailed only Luis Arraez (.354) for the major league lead.
Ohtani, 29, led the major leagues with 9.0 FanGraphs wins above replacement (2.4 as a pitcher, 6.6 as an offensive player). He slashed .304/.412/.654 in 599 plate appearances as a hitter, leading the AL in home runs (44) and the majors in OPS (1.066) while adding 20 stolen bases.
In 23 pitching starts, Ohtani went 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA, striking out 167 batters and issuing 55 walks in 132 innings.
“Obviously I wanted to win it last year, but [Aaron] Judge had a spectacular season and, deservedly so, he won it,” Ohtani, speaking through an interpreter, told MLB Network on Thursday evening. “So I wanted to come back stronger and try to win it this year, and I know my rivals, Semien, Seager, they had great seasons, and congrats to them for winning the World Series. I think it’s awesome.
“My goal was to try to come out on top, and this kind of pays off all my hard work.”
Ohtani arrived in the United States with great fanfare surrounding his two-way prowess in winter 2017, choosing the Angels after receiving interest from virtually every team. But his first three years were hampered by Tommy John surgery, knee surgery and a COVID-19-shortened season, limiting him to mostly serving as a designated hitter.
Beginning in 2021, though, Ohtani simultaneously performed at an elite level as both a pitcher and a hitter, becoming the first to do so since Babe Ruth’s brief attempt at a dual role a century ago.
Ohtani won the AL MVP unanimously in 2021, then finished as the runner-up in the wake of Judge’s record-breaking home run season in 2022 before capturing the honor again in 2023.
All told, Ohtani has batted .277/.379/.585 with 124 home runs, 290 RBIs and 57 stolen bases from 2021 to 2023, but he also won 34 games, posted a 2.84 ERA and struck out 542 batters in 428⅓ innings as a pitcher.
Ohtani learned that he had retorn his ulnar collateral ligament near the middle of August of this past season, but he continued to hit. Shortly after the Angels’ season ended, he underwent what is considered a hybrid version of another Tommy John surgery.
“As far as the rehab — it’s going really great so far, going really well,” Ohtani said through his interpreter. “It feels a lot better and faster than the first time I had this surgery. But at the same time, I can’t rush. I have to take everything slow and take all the right steps. My plan is to come back strong next year.”
In a statement, Dr. Neal ElAttrache, the orthopedic surgeon who performed the surgery, wrote that Ohtani will be ready to hit at the start of the 2024 season and resume a two-way role by 2025.
Questions once again surround Ohtani’s pursuit of that role, but executives throughout the industry still expect him to garner a free agent contract that reaches $500 million.
Acuna won the NL Rookie of the Year Award during his age-20 season in 2018 and finished fifth in NL MVP voting during his age-21 season in 2019, clearly establishing himself as one of the most dynamic forces in the sport. But he suffered a torn ACL in the middle of the 2021 season, forcing him to merely watch from the dugout while his Braves teammates won a championship. The following year, he was admittedly not himself. The explosiveness that helped elevate him to stardom was lacking. His timing was off.
Acuna spent the ensuing offseason working diligently on his conditioning and trained with Fernando Tatis Sr., father of his good friend Fernando Tatis Jr., on slightly lowering his hands to lessen some of the moving parts in his swing and get his bat through the zone a lot quicker. It helped make Acuna a more discerning hitter than ever and helped avoid the lulls that befall every player over the course of a long season. Through six months of baseball’s regular season, Acuna’s OPS never fell below .900.