With the 2023 MLB season nearing completion, it is time to revisit some of the studs and duds from another exciting year full of action, surprises, and incredible plays.
Studs and Duds from the 2023 MLB Season
1. Ronald Acuna Jr.
Atlanta Braves superstar right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr is about to win his first National League (NL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award, two years after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) that sidelined him for his team’s championship run in 2021. Hitting leadoff for the best offense in the league, he became the first player to bash over 40 home runs and swipe over 70 stolen bases in the same season.
The 25-year-old Venezuelan phenom finished the season with a .337 batting average, 41 home runs, 106 RBIs, and 73 stolen bases in 159 games. Unfortunately, the Phillies’ pitching staff shut down Acuna and the rest of the Braves’ talented lineup in their 2023 NL Division Series matchup. Acuna only hit .143, failing to record a home run or RBI in the four-game series.
2. Shohei Ohtani
The favorite to win the American League (AL) MVP Award, Shohei Ohtani continued to rewrite history, becoming the first player with at least ten pitching wins and 40 home runs in the same season. However, the Los Angeles Angels failed to make the playoffs again.
Ohtani’s season ended once he tore the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right (pitching) elbow. Following that shocking reveal, he did not pitch again but kept hitting for a couple of weeks. Eventually, he was shut down and underwent a second major elbow surgery on September 19. The top 2023 free agent will only be allowed to bat next year, presumably on a new team that offers him a better chance of making the playoffs.
3. Mookie Betts
One-half of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ superstar duo, Mookie Betts, had another fantastic campaign this year and will likely finish behind Acuna in the MVP voting. Before this season, he had mainly played right field in the Major Leagues. Nevertheless, due to injuries and the makeup of LA’s roster, the versatile superstar played 70 games at second base and 16 at shortstop in addition to the 107 in right field.
At the plate, Betts batted .307 with 39 home runs, 107 RBIs, and 14 stolen bases. He even tried his luck in the Home Run Derby, getting eliminated in the first round. Lastly, like Acuna, Betts’ regular-season success failed to translate to the postseason. The Arizona Diamondbacks swept the favored Dodgers in the Division Series, holding Betts and Dodgers stud first baseman Freddie Freeman to one hit in 21 at-bats.
Diamondbacks’ outfielder Corbin Carroll burst onto the scene this year, quickly becoming one of the most exciting players in the league. The frontrunner to be named NL Rookie of the Year played a significant role in his club reaching the playoffs. He has continued to shine this month, becoming the youngest in team history to homer in the postseason as Arizona has surged to the NL Championship series. In the regular season, Carroll hit .285 with 25 home runs, 76 RBIs, and 52 stolen bases, becoming the first rookie to put up those numbers in MLB history.
One of the few bright spots on an average New York Yankees’ squad that failed to make the playoffs, Gerrit Cole is a leading contender for the AL Cy Young Award. He finished the season 15-4 with a 2.63 ERA and 222 strikeouts in a league-leading 209 innings pitched. After finishing runner-up in 2019 and 2021, this would be Cole’s first Cy Young Award. Hopefully, the Bronx Bombers can provide their ace with more offensive support next year.
1. Anthony Rendon
Anthony Rendon has hardly played since signing a seven-year $245 million free-agent contract with the Angels after winning the World Series with the Washington Nationals in 2019. From 2021-2023, he played in 148 games, spending most of his time on the injured list with various injuries.
In the rare times Rendon has played, the third baseman’s production at the plate has not even come close to living up to his paycheck. Additionally, at the beginning of the season, he made headlines for getting into a little dispute with fans of the Oakland A’s, and for some reason, the Angels hid for multiple months the fact that he fractured his leg.
2. Wander Franco/Julio Urias
These two core members of playoff teams made costly off-the-field mistakes. As a result, their teams played without them for the rest of the season, a big blow to their chances of success. Tampa Bay Rays’ shortstop Wander Franco, one of the top young shortstops, finished the season on administrative leave while under investigation in the Dominican Republic for an alleged inappropriate relationship with a minor.
3. Dylan Cease
Ace pitcher Dylan Cease’s step back in performance symbolized the Chicago White Sox’s miserable campaign. In 2022, Cease pitched to a 14-8 record with 227 strikeouts and a 2.2 ERA. This year, he still racked up the strikeouts (214), but his record was 7-9, and his ERA ballooned to 4.58 on a 101-loss club.
4. Jacob deGrom
Despite numerous arm injuries over the past few years, the Texas Rangers signed longtime New York Mets ace pitcher Jacob deGrom to a five-year $185 million contract in free agency before this season. He made six starts with his new team before undergoing Tommy John surgery for a torn UCL. He will be 36 in 2024, leading one to wonder whether or not he will still be one of the best pitchers in the league.
5. Alek Manoah
While Cease remained in the Majors all season, Alek Manoah’s step-back was so severe that he got demoted to the minors more than once to try to figure things out. He emerged as one of the Toronto Blue Jays top starting pitchers last year, going 16-7 with a 2.24 ERA and earning an All-Star nomination.
In 2023, the burly right-hander slumped to a 3-9 record and 5.87 ERA in 19 games started. Toronto still made the playoffs without him, thanks to the contributions of other starting pitchers, particularly Chris Bassitt, José Berrios, and Kevin Gausman. Whether his disappointing season came down to injury or poor performance, Manoah must find a way to salvage his once-promising career to remain a Major Leaguer.
For some of these 2023 busts, next year will offer them a chance to return to form, while Franco and Urias face uncertain futures in MLB. On the other hand, these five studs are some of the best players in the league and will likely continue to perform well over the next few years.