Cody Bellinger

2023 MLB awards ballot: New rules lead to new heights reached in riveting season

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The pitch clock. Bigger bases. Removal of defensive shifts. It was crystal-clear on opening day that the MLB fans would experience in 2023 was going to be different than the league we had gotten used to over the past 10-15 years.

So long are the marathon games and the stagnant era of no action on the bases. Long gone are the days of the ultra-optimization of advanced metrics to make sure infielders were always in the perfect spot, no matter where on the infield that might be.

With just two days left in the MLB regular season, it's quite easy to argue that the rule changes, while not transforming the sport, have rejuvenated it, bringing fans action that was closer to that of 20 years ago while not taking up four hours of their day.

On top of the impact for fans and the league, the rule changes have also clearly impacted players, allowing new skillsets to shine as the three-true outcome player finally drops out of favor with some.

In this roller coaster season highlighted by emerging young talent, surprisingly competitive rosters and plenty of history made as well, finding winners for each of the awards at the conclusion of 2023 is uniquely difficult.

From a no doubt top four in the National League MVP race to a muddled two-through-10 in the American League MVP race, the incredible storylines of the 2023 season are likely to make this year go down as one of the more memorable in recent history.

In the first year of a revamped MLB, here are the players worthy of some extra hardware at the end of the season:

American League Most Valuable Player

  1. Shohei Ohtani, DH/P, Los Angeles Angels:
    102 R, 151 H, 26 2B, 44 HR, 95 RBI, 20 SB, .304/.412/.654, 184 OPS+
    10-5, 3.14 ERA, 132.0 IP, 55 BB, 167 K, 1.061 WHIP
  2. Yandy Díaz, 1B, Tampa Bay Rays:
    95 R, 173 H, 35 2B, 22 HR, 78 RBI, .330/.410/.522, 158 OPS+
  3. Corey Seager, SS, Texas Rangers:
    88 R, 156 H, 42 2B, 33 HR, 96 RBI, 2 SB, .327/.390/.623, 170 OPS+
  4. Julio Rodríguez, OF, Seattle Mariners:
    102 R, 180 H, 37 2B, 32 HR, 103 RBI, 37 SB, .275/.333/.485, 128 OPS+
  5. Marcus Semien, 2B, Texas Rangers:
    122 R, 185 H, 40 2B, 29 HR, 100 RBI, 14 SB, .276/.348/.478, 122 OPS+
  6. Kyle Tucker, OF, Houston Astros:
    97 R, 163 H, 37 2B, 29 HR, 112 RBI, 30 SB, .284/.369/.517, 142 OPS+
  7. Yordan Alvarez, DH/OF, Houston Astros:
    77 R, 120 H, 24 2B, 31 HR, 97 RBI, .293/.407/.583, 170 OPS+
  8. Gunnar Henderson, 3B/SS, Baltimore Orioles:
    100 R, 143 H, 29 2B, 28 HR, 82 RBI, 10 SB, .255/.325/.489, 125 OPS+
  9. Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Kansas City Royals:
    97 R, 177 H, 28 2B, 30 HR, 96 RBI, 49 SB, .276/.319/.495, 120 OPS+
  10. Luis Robert Jr., OF, Chicago White Sox:
    90 R, 144 H, 38 HR, 80 RBI, 20 SB, .264/.315/.542, 128 OPS+

Perhaps to the surprise of no one, Shohei Ohtani, despite missing around the last month of the season, clearly stands above the rest of the field as American League MVP, bringing unprecedented value as a two-way star despite the Angels' continued lack of success.

The field gets convoluted quickly from there, with stars from the AL's contending teams standing out the most.

While Corey Seager has been perhaps the league's best hitter this year, his earlier absence due to injury and the extent to which the Rays have needed Yandy Díaz's play have elevated the Tampa Bay first baseman to the runner-up spot on my ballot.

National League Most Valuable Player

  1. Ronald Acuña Jr., OF, Atlanta Braves:
    149 R, 217 H, 35 2B, 41 HR, 106 RBI, 73 SB, .337/.416/.596, 168 OPS+
  2. Mookie Betts, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers:
    126 R, 179 H, 40 2B, 39 HR, 107 RBI, 14 SB, .307/.408/.579, 163 OPS+
  3. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers:
    131 R, 211 H, 59 2B, 29 HR, 102 RBI, 23 SB, .331/.410/.567, 161 OPS+
  4. Matt Olson, 1B, Atlanta Braves:
    127 R, 172 H, 27 2B, 54 HR, 139 RBI, 1 SB, .283/.389/.604, 162 OPS+
  5. Corbin Carroll, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks:
    116 R, 161 H, 30 2B, 25 HR, 76 RBI, 54 SB, .285/.362/.506, 134 OPS+
  6. Juan Soto, OF, San Diego Padres:
    97 R, 156 H, 32 2B, 35 HR, 109 RBI, 12 SB, .275/.410/.519, 158 OPS+
  7. Cody Bellinger, OF/1B, Chicago Cubs:
    95 R, 153 H, 29 2B, 26 HR, 97 RBI, 20 SB, .307/.356/.525, 133 OPS+
  8. Luis Arraez, 2B, Miami Marlins:
    71 R, 203 H, 30 2B, 10 HR, 69 RBI, 3 SB, .354/.393/.469, 133 OPS+
  9. Austin Riley, 3B, Atlanta Braves:
    117 R, 179 H, 32 2B, 37 HR, 97 RBI, 3 SB, .281/.345/.516, 128 OPS+
  10. Francisco Lindor, SS, New York Mets:
    108 R, 153 H, 33 2B, 31 HR, 98 RBI, 31 SB, .254/.336/.470, 120 OPS+

It's no secret that there's a rather significant gap between the top four and the rest of the field, with any of the top four candidates likely winning the league MVP in most other years.

I don't think any fan, writer or player could have too much beef with any of Acuña, Betts, Freeman or Olson winning, though one of the four proved it's still possible to stand out even in the most elite of company.

40 home runs. 70 stolen bases. Words that haven't gone in the same sentence until this year, and it's hard to imagine anyone 25 years ago thinking such a feat was possible. Hard to go against that for league MVP.

American League Cy Young Award

  1. Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees:
    15-4, 2.63 ERA, 209.0 IP, 48 BB, 222 K, 165 ERA+, 0.981 WHIP
  2. Sonny Gray, Minnesota Twins:
    8-8, 2.79 ERA, 184.0 IP, 55 BB, 183 K, 154 ERA+, 1.147 WHIP
  3. Kevin Gausman, Toronto Blue Jays:
    12-9, 3.16 ERA, 185.0 IP, 55 BB, 237 K, 134 ERA+, 1.178 WHIP
  4. Luis Castillo, Seattle Mariners:
    14-9, 3.34 ERA, 197.0 IP, 56 BB, 219 K, 121 ERA+, 1.096 WHIP
  5. Kyle Bradish, Baltimore Orioles:
    12-7, 2.83 ERA, 168.2 IP, 44 BB, 168 K, 146 ERA+, 1.043 WHIP

Despite a heavily disappointing season in 2023 for the Yankees, ace Gerrit Cole has added another Hall of Fame-caliber season to what is becoming closer and closer to a Hall of Fame-caliber career.

Leading the junior circuit in innings pitched, strikeouts, ERA, WAR and WHIP, it's hard to understate Cole's dominance this year, despite being paired with one the league's most ineffective lineups.

While it feels strange to rank a pitcher with fewer than 10 wins as a Cy Young runner-up, the season Sonny Gray has had has perhaps given even more evidence to the belief that wins are a meaningless metric.

The league leader in FIP, Gray has allowed just eight home runs in 184 innings, stabilizing the AL Central champion Twins' rotation.

Though Gausman is a peg behind the top two, his continued dominance as a strikeout pitcher and excellent durability have kept the Jays as contenders all year long.

National League Cy Young Award

  1. Zac Gallen, Arizona Diamondbacks:
    17-9, 3.47 ERA, 210.0 IP, 47 BB, 220 K, 125 ERA+, 1.119 WHIP
  2. Blake Snell, San Diego Padres:
    14-9, 2.25 ERA, 180.0 IP, 99 BB, 234 K, 182 ERA+, 1.189 WHIP
  3. Logan Webb, San Francisco Giants:
    11-13, 3.25 ERA, 216.0 IP, 31 BB, 194 K, 130 ERA+, 1.074 WHIP
  4. Justin Steele, Chicago Cubs:
    16-5, 3.06 ERA, 173.1 IP, 36 BB, 176 K, 146 ERA+, 1.171 WHIP
  5. Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers:
    10-8, 3.39 ERA, 193.2 IP, 66 BB, 200 K, 127 ERA+, 1.069 WHIP

Blake Snell has been incredibly dominant this season and will likely win the award, leading the NL in WAR for pitchers, ERA and hits per nine innings. At least for me though, it is hard for the league leader in walks (by quite a wide margin at that) to also be crowned the league's finest pitcher.

While Snell's case for the award is a bit stronger than the similar case Dylan Cease had in the AL last season, the case for Arizona's emergent Zac Gallen is arguably just as strong.

Though his ERA is over a run higher, Gallen has thrown 23.2 more innings than the Padres' lefty, posting a stronger WHIP, FIP and much better strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Gallen's value has shined for the Diamondbacks as well, emerging alongside Merrill Kelly to lead Arizona to the postseason.

There's little doubt that Snell has had the more highlight reel-filled season, though with better command and more durability, Gallen may just be the most well-rounded pitcher in the senior circuit this season.

American League Rookie of the Year

  1. Gunnar Henderson, 3B/SS, Baltimore Orioles:
    100 R, 143 H, 29 2B, 28 HR, 82 RBI, 10 SB, .255/.325/.489, 125 OPS+
  2. Triston Casas, 1B, Boston Red Sox:
    66 R, 113 H, 21 2B, 24 HR, 65 RBI, .263/.367/.490, 129 OPS+
  3. Josh Jung, 3B, Texas Rangers:
    75 R, 127 H, 25 2B, 23 HR, 70 RBI, 1 SB, .266/.315/.467, 109 OPS+

2023 gifted fans with two rookies that also are likely top 10 MVP candidates in each of the respective leagues, and it was Gunnar Henderson in Baltimore delivering in that regard for the AL.

While many (myself included) would have guessed that Adley Rutschmann would be the no-doubt MVP candidate on a 101-win Orioles team, Henderson as emerged as an all-around star this season.

In addition to posting two defensive WAR across both third base and shortstop, Henderson has totaled 65 extra-base hits while amassing a 125 OPS+.

Despite a disappointing year in Boston, Casas has emerged as a bona fide big league slugger, launching 24 bombs and 21 doubles while managing a stellar .856 OPS. While the 23-year-old has plenty of work to do defensively, the Red Sox have a tremendous young talent at first base.

National League Rookie of the Year

  1. Corbin Carroll, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks:
    116 R, 161 H, 30 2B, 25 HR, 76 RBI, 54 SB, .285/.362/.506, 134 OPS+
  2. Kodai Senga, SP, New York Mets:
    12-7, 2.98 ERA, 166.1 IP, 77 BB, 202 K, 142 ERA+, 1.220 WHIP
  3. James Outman, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers:
    86 R, 120 H, 16 2B, 23 HR, 70 RBI, 16 SB, .248/.353/.437, 112 OPS+

While Carroll's MVP candidacy has been a roller coaster throughout the season, it's hard to argue against him being the surefire NL Rookie of the Year, being the biggest part of a resurgent playoff-bound Diamondbacks team.

With 25 home runs and over 50 stolen bases, Carroll's speed has translated to 116 runs and has been a menace for the Snakes at both the top of the lineup and on the base paths this season.

Signed to bolster what was thought to be an unstoppable, veteran-packed Mets rotation, fans didn't anticipate for Senga to actually be the highlight of the staff.

The 30-year-old rookie has struck out over 200 hitters while posting a sub-3 ERA, giving the Mets hope in the immediate future at having a top-of-rotation starter.

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