This has been a week of announcements in baseball. Between finalists for awards, winners, and even multiple managerial hirings. One of the most interesting announcements of the week will be the winner of the Silver Slugger Award, the award given to the most productive hitter at each position. With the finalists already announced and a breakdown of the AL side already in the books, it’s time for an NL Silver Slugger breakdown position by position.
Breakdown of the 2023 NL Silver Slugger Award
Catcher: William Contreras (MIL), Sean Murphy (ATL), JT Realmuto (PHI), Will Smith (LAD)
This award became wide open when a couple of the top catchers in the NL had down seasons (at least by their standards). Will Smith and JT Realmuto both had worse offensive seasons than we’ve grown accustomed to. Smith though, was still able to put up a wRC+ of 119 which is very good, especially for a catcher but didn’t quite match his career averages or that of the top offensive catchers. Realmuto, on the other hand, is hovering around the league average at 102.
Meanwhile, a couple of lesser-known young catchers were both involved in the same three-team trade this offseason. William Contreras who went from the Atlanta Braves to the Milwaukee Brewers and Sean Murphy who went from the Oakland Athletics to the Braves both had breakout offensive seasons. In the first half of the season, it looked like Murphy was going to be an MVP candidate but his injuries slowed him down in the second half and he ended up with just 438 plate appearances, albeit still putting up extremely impressive rate numbers. He had a wRC+ of 129 and an OPS of .844.
Contreras though, is the one who deserves the most credit. He had the most plate appearances with 611, had a still very good wRC+ of 124, and an OPS of .825. Additionally, he had the highest batting average of any NL catcher at .289 (minimum 400 plate appearances). Many would have predicted Contreras to be the best-hitting catcher in the NL, but not many would have thought it would be William Contreras.
Favorite: William Contreras
First Base: Pete Alonso (NYM), Freddie Freeman (LAD), Matt Olson (ATL)
As one would expect from the position, first base is a real heavyweight matchup this season. Freddie Freeman and Matt Olson have made this a two-horse race by each putting up MVP-like numbers but Pete Alonso still had an extremely impressive season hitting 46 home runs with an .821 OPS. Freeman hit .331 with 59 doubles, an OBP above .400, and a .976 OPS. That gets him a wOBA of .411 and a 163 wRC+ over 730 plate appearances. Olson slugged over .600 with an OPS of .993 and 54 home runs for a wOBA of .413 and a wRC+ of 160 over 720 plate appearances.
That’s a lot of numbers but what they essentially mean is that both of these guys put seasons that would ordinarily win them the NL MVP, but 2023 was not ordinary and they find themselves battling for a Silver Slugger. What makes these players even harder to compare is that they got it done in such different ways, Olson was the best power hitter in the majors while Freeman possesses an almost perfectly balanced approach that led to him contending for a batting title, OBP title, and had him chasing 60 doubles. Overall though, Freeman’s dynamic hitting ability and his ability to do anything with the bat narrowly give him the edge over baseball’s foremost power bat.
Favorite: Freddie Freeman but barely
Second Base: Ozzie Albies (ATL), Luis Arraez (MIA), Ketel Marte (ARI)
Luis Arraez has been the best pure hitter in the majors for several years now, he had just been hiding in as a utility man for the Minnesota Twins before this winter’s blockbuster deal that sent him to the Miami Marlins. A career .326 hitter who put it all together in 2023 to chase .400 longer than anyone thought possible. He ended the season with a still remarkable .354 average and a stellar .393 OBP leading to a 132 wRC+.
That is not to discount the very strong seasons had by Ketel Marte and Ozzie Albies. Albies solidified himself as the top power-hitting second baseman .513 with 33 home runs, both tops among primary NL second basemen. As well, Marte has quietly been one of the best second basemen of the last several seasons. He put up a .844 OPS and 127 wRC+, third and second among qualified NL second basemen respectively.
Favorite: Luis Arraez
Third Base: Nolan Arenado (STL), Manny Machado (SDP), Max Muncy (LAD), Austin Riley (ATL)
Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado have been two of the best third basemen in the sport for several years but both had down years in 2023. As well, LA Dodgers veteran Max Muncy has rebounded from last year but hasn’t quite gotten back to where he was, which leaves the door open for Austin Riley. Riley had by far the best offensive season of these four players, his .861 OPS and 127 wRC+ are both well ahead of the next-best player and his 715 plate appearances are upwards of 100 more than all of them. Additionally, he had the highest wOBA, slugging, and OBP of all NL third basemen.
Favorite: Austin Riley
Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts (SDP), Francisco Lindor (NYM), Dansby Swanson (CHC), Trea Turner (PHI)
No real surprises among these finalists, four players who seem to put up impressive numbers every year but two separated themselves from the rest offensively. Xander Bogaerts and Francisco Lindor both had very strong seasons with the bat and ended up with very similar numbers. Lindor put up a wRC+ of 121 while Bogaerts sits at 120 but they both got there in very different ways. Lindor with elite power for a shortstop and Bogaerts with his the ability to hit for a high average and get on base.
Lindor trounces Bogaerts in slugging (.470 to .440) but falls short in average and OBP: .285 to .254 and .350 to .336 respectively. From an overall production standpoint, Lindor gets a slight advantage. As for Trea Turner and Dansby Swanson, it was a tale of two seasons, if Swanson had maintained his first-half production over the entire season he may have been the favorite, the same goes for Turner if he had gotten going sooner.
Favorite: Francisco Lindor
Outfield: Ronald Acuna Jr. (ATL), Mookie Betts (LAD), Cody Bellinger (CHC), Corbin Carroll (ARI), Kyle Schwarber (PHI), Juan Soto (SD), Seiya Suzuki (CHC)
This is a star-studded group of outfielders who all put up very impressive seasons. Cody Bellinger had a resurgence after multiple down-years with an .881 OPS, Corbin Carroll is likely going to win the Rookie of the Year unanimously after putting up great offensive and defensive numbers throughout the season and Seiya Suzuki took another step forward in his second season in North America putting up a 126 wRC+. This is not to mention Kyle Schwarber, who slugged 47 home runs in what ended up being one of the most uniquely productive seasons in recent memory, especially for a lead-off hitter.
Despite the efforts of those four though, this award surely belongs to one of the greatest outfield trios in recent Silver Slugger history. Ronald Acuna Jr and Mookie Betts are going to finish one-two in MVP voting and Juan Soto put up another standard Juan Soto season. They finished with a wRC+ of 170, 167, and 155 in addition to each having an OPS of 1.012, .987, and .930. Those are excellent seasons from three players who are on the trajectory of becoming some of the game’s greats.
Favorites: Ronald Acuna Jr, Mookie Betts and Juan Soto
Designated Hitter: Bryce Harper (PHI), JD Martinez (LAD), Marcell Ozuna (ATL), Jorge Soler (MIA)
Bryce Harper is starting to cement himself as one of the best players of his generation. In a season in which he made the fastest recovery from Tommy John surgery in MLB history, he still managed to put up a 142 wRC+ over 546 plate appearances. His power wasn’t quite up to his standards slugging “just” .499 but he still got on base at a .401 rate and hit .293. While in most seasons he would be up against the other outfielders, this year he is against the designated hitters of the NL and that is some tough competition.
Unlike Harper, Marcell Ozuna had an excellent power season slugging .558 with 40 home runs for a wRC+ of 139. Veteran JD Martinez only had 479 plate appearances but still hit 33 home runs, surpassing Ozuna in slugging (.572) but lacking the on-base ability that once made him one of the best in the game. Lastly, Jorge Soler put up a .853 OPS and 126 wRC+ over 580 plate appearances in what has been a resurgent season. Despite some great efforts, none of these players were quite able to surpass the talents of Harper.
Favorite: Bryce Harper
Utility: Cody Bellinger (CHC), Mookie Betts (LAD), Ha-Seong Kim (SDP), Spencer Steer (CIN)
Two of these players, Bellinger and Betts, were also finalists for the outfield award and have already been covered. As for the new faces, Ha-Seong Kim had an extremely impressive season but a large part of his value came from his stellar defense and baserunning. That being said his offense was still very solid, he put up a .351 OBP, .749 OPS, and 112 wRC+.
Spencer Steer was one of the best rookie hitters in the MLB in 2023 and could easily have been a finalist for Rookie of the Year. He put up a .820 OPS and 118 wRC+ over 665 plate appearances for the Cincinnati Reds. While both Kim and Steer put up very solid seasons neither put up the offensive numbers of Bellinger and neither even came close to the stratospheric production of Betts.
Favorite: Mookie Betts
As mid-November rolls around each year the baseball calendar officially turns to awards season and one of the most sought-after awards by all big league hitters is the Silver Slugger Award. Not only do the players strive to bring home the hardware but many fans also take a strong interest in debating who is most deserving of the accolades. Hopefully, this breakdown of the NL Silver Slugger, and the AL version that preceded it, helps clear the air around who baseball’s best sluggers were in 2023.