Jim Bowden of The Athletic came up with his All-MLB Team for the 2023 season. Unsurprisingly, the Braves led the way with three players appearing.
First base: Matt Olson, Braves
WAR: 7.4 OPS+: 162
This one came down to Matt Olson or Freddie Freeman and I went with Olson, who slashed .283/.389/.604 while leading the majors in home runs (54), RBIs (139) and slugging percentage (.604). He made his second All-Star team and graded out ahead of Freeman defensively. Olson finished in the 96th percentile in xwOBA and Barrel% and in the 99th percentile in hard-hit rate and average exit velocity.
The Braves shook up the entire core of their roster when they swung a blockbuster trade that landed them first baseman Matt Olson from The Athletics. As a result, Freddie Freeman went on to sign with the Dodgers. After one year, that looked like it might be a catastrophic misstep from Alex Anthopoulos. Freddie Freeman was an MVP candidate in 2022, and Olson took a while to find his footing in Atlanta.
However, Olson bounced back with a career-year in 2023, leading the league in home runs with 54 and slugging percentage. He also hit a career-high .283 and while accruing 7.4 WAR. If this is the Matt Olson the Braves are going to get for the duration of his contract, the decision to move on from Freddie Freeman may turn out to look not only gutsy but genius as well.
Third base: Austin Riley, Braves
WAR: 5.9 OPS+: 128
Austin Riley led all third basemen with 37 home runs, 117 runs scored and an .861 OPS while slashing .281/.345/.516. He finished in the 93rd percentile in average exit velocity and in the 89th percentile in xwOBA, Barrel% and hard-hit rate. Rafael Devers, Isaac Paredes and José Ramírez all received serious consideration here.
Third base is a loaded position in the National League, featuring stars like Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado. However, as Riley begins to enter his prime, he’s establishing himself as perhaps the best in the league at the hot corner. The Mississippi native can expect to finish top 10 in the NL MVP race for the third consecutive season, blasting 37 homers with an .861 OPS. But perhaps the most impressive improvement from his 2023 campaign was his defense, as he was named a Gold Glove finalist.
Right field: Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves
WAR: 8.1 OPS+: 168
Ronald Acuña Jr. is the front-runner to win the National League MVP Award and in my opinion was the second-best player in the sport, behind Ohtani, this year. Acuña slashed .337/.416/.596 and became the first member of the 40-70 club, finishing with 41 home runs and 73 stolen bases. He led the NL in plate appearances, runs scored, hits, stolen bases, on-base percentage, OPS, OPS+ and total bases, and made his third consecutive All-Star team. Acuña ranked in the 100th percentile in batting run value, xwOBA, xBA, xSLG and average exit velocity. Defensively, he was in the 96th percentile in arm value and in the 98th percentile in arm strength. He’s the full five-tool superstar package. Mookie Betts finished a close second, slashing .307/.408/.579 with 39 home runs, 126 runs scored, 107 RBIs and 14 stolen bases. Betts ranked in the 98th percentile in xwOBA and Sweet-Spot%.
Any Braves fan would be lying if they said they weren’t at least mildly concerned about Ronald Acuña Jr. following the 2022 season. He clearly wasn’t himself coming off a torn ACL, and it was fair to wonder whether he would ever get back to the level he was playing at pre-injury. However, Acuña not only returned to that level, he exceeded it in 2023 on his way to history, becoming the first player ever to hit 40 homers with 70 stolen bases.
For a while, there was some heated conversation regarding the NL MVP race between Mookie Betts and Ronald Acuña Jr, but the Braves right fielder put all of that to rest with a spectacular September. He will be named NL MVP in what appears to be the first of many.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire