Of all of the things that have gone right for the Atlanta Braves in 2023, Ronald Acuna Jr.'s tremendous season is at the top of the list. Not only has he remained healthy in 2023, but he has contributed at a high level in virtually every aspect of the game and seems to always be in the middle of whatever craziness the Braves' offense is doing night in and night out.
Through 129 games and almost 600 plate appearances, Ronnie is slashing .330/.413/.562 with 28 home runs and 59 stolen bases. Altogether, that has amounted to a 6.2 fWAR season and we haven't even gotten to September yet. In nearly every aspect of his game, he has taken a step forward in 2023 and when a guy this talented cuts his strikeout rate in half, good things are bound to happen.
It is hardly surprising given all of that that Acuna Jr. is one of the favorites to win NL MVP this season. However, that race has gotten a whole lot more interesting in the last month or so and there is a realistic chance that even if Ronnie continues to play well the rest of the reason, he could still fall short in the MVP voting.
The NL MVP competition is really, really tight
Even with everything Ronald has done in 2023, he still hasn't been the best player in the National League to this point in the season when looking at fWAR. A pair of Dodgers in Mookie Betts (7.3) and old friend Freddie Freeman (6.6) both have more WAR than Ronnie while putting up video game numbers of their own.
Betts' recent stretch is particularly threatening because we have seen him run away with a MVP race before back in 2018. He has also been on the heater to end all heaters in August. In 24 games in the month of August, Mookie is hitting .464 with a .260 wRC+ at the plate. That isn't just good, that is absolutely bonkers.
It is probably safe to bet that Mookie won't be able to keep that pace up, but this torrid stretch has put him firmly in the MVP conversation.
Ronald's production hasn't kept up with his competitors
While Freddie and Mookie have gone wild, Ronald's production has been fairly steady over the last month. He is hitting .320 in August, but he "only" has four homers this month and wRC+ has remained steady, but still awesome, at 151 for the month as well.
No one should be panicking about Ronnie here as a 151 wRC+ is still pretty nuts. Anyone who actually watches Braves games knows that Ronnie is almost always making things happen and that has been the case all season long. He just hasn't gone nuclear in a while and that has allowed guys like Freddie and Mookie to get back into the race.
MVP vote splitting is absolutely going to be a thing
One of the bigger X factors in the NL MVP race this season is going to be whether vote splitting becomes an issue because there are two pairs of teammates that are in the conversation here. Mookie and Freddie could compete for first place votes as some writers try to decide who the most valuable Dodger is and whoever doesn't win that debate could get pushed further down some ballots.
Ronald has clearly been the Braves' best player this season, but don't sleep on Matt Olson getting some MVP love as well. Leading the NL in homers and RBI is going to be more persuasive to some than it should be and while that is nice news for Matt, it could hurt Ronnie if some voters value those counting stats really highly. Conversely, having a guy like Matt that could push Mookie or Freddie further down the ballot could also be helpful for Ronnie's candidacy. It is hard to parse how things will actually shake out this early, but it does seem clear that vote splitting should be a factor this season.
At the end of the day, if Acuna Jr. just does what he does and puts together a nice stretch through the beginning of September before votes start actually getting sent in, he should be fine. One thing that Ronald absolutely has going for him is that he is chasing history this season as he should become the first 30/60 player in MLB history and still has an outside shot at a 40/40 season if he can pick up the home run pace. Those sorts of historical milestones carry a lot of weight and if he hits them and also plays well the rest of the way, he should be in good shape.