Doing something that has never been done in Major League Baseball history is an easy way to win a Most Valuable Player award.
Atlanta Braves star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. had his historic season recognized on Thursday when he was unanimously named the 2023 National League MVP, finishing ahead of fellow finalists Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Bay Area and California sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
Prior to this year, no player in major league history had ever hit 40-plus home runs and stole 50-plus bases in a single season. Acuna finished the regular season with 41 homers and a league-best 73 stolen bases.
The 25-year-old was the driving force in a Braves' team that finished atop the league in many key offensive categories and produced the best record in the regular season at 104-58. Acuna hit .337 with 106 RBIs and led the league in hits (217), runs (149), on-base percentage (.416), OPS (1.012) and total bases (383).
He was named NL Player of the Month three times during the season, a strong indication that he was on pace to win his first MVP award in his sixth major league season.
Acuna went on to receive all 30 first-place MVP votes, finishing ahead of Betts, who received all 30 second-place votes.
The four-time All-Star and the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year, began putting up MVP-caliber numbers during his second season in the majors, finishing fifth in 2019 NL MVP voting. Following the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Acuna suffered a torn ACL in July of 2021 while attempting to make a catch in the outfield. He required season-ending surgery, and the Braves went on to win the World Series without their franchise player.
Acuna returned to the lineup in late April of 2022, but hit just .266 with 15 home runs, 50 RBIs and 29 stolen bases in 119 games played.
He returned to - and far exceeded - MVP form this season while limiting his propensity to chase pitches out of the zone and drastically cutting down on his strikeout rate. Acuna went from striking out 126 times in 533 plate appearances during the 2022 season to striking out just 84 times in 735 plate appearances this season, reducing his strikeout from 23.6% to 11.4%.
That helped him finish with the second-highest batting average in baseball, while also drawing a career-high 80 walks. He then wreaked havoc while on the basepaths, stealing 73 bases on 87 attempts for the most swiped bags since Jose Reyes of the New York Mets had 78 during the 2007 season.
Only four other players in MLB history had produced 40-40 seasons, joining Jose Canseco (1988), Barry Bonds (1996), Alex Rodriguez (1998) and Alfonso Soriano (2006). Of those four, Rodriguez had the most stolen bases during a 40-plus homer season with 46.
Acuna, according to MLB.com, also became just the second player to have 75-plus extra base hits and 70-plus stolen bases in a single season, joining Ty Cobb, who had 79 extra-base hits and 83 stolen bases in 1911.
Acuna joined – and surpassed – some elite company in MVP voting.
He edged out two former MVPs in Betts and Freeman, who combined to help power the Dodgers to another 100-win season -- although both the Braves and Dodgers were upset in the NL Division Series.
Betts, who won the 2018 AL MVP award while with the Boston Red Sox, hit .307 with a career-high 39 home runs and 107 RBIs. He also provided exceptional defensive versatility by playing right field, second base and shortstop. Betts was looking to become just the second player in MLB history to be named MVP in both the AL and NL, following Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.
Freeman, Acuna's former teammate who was named 2020 NL MVP while with the Braves, hit .331 with 29 home runs and 102 RBIs this season. He led the league in extra-base hits and trailed only Acuna in total hits.
But those numbers pale in comparison to those put up by the lone member of baseball's 40-70 club and the newest NL MVP.