MLB Futures Betting: 3 Best Bets for the NL MVP Award
Freddie Freeman, Dodgers (+1400)
Freddie Freeman is one of the game's best hitters and has been for a while. I see no reason why that'll change in 2023.
Freeman has put up a wOBA of at least .378 in six straight campaigns, including a .393 wOBA last year, his first with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
He checked a lot of boxes in the traditional stats last season, posting a .325 average with 117 runs and 100 RBI. That helped him to a fourth-place finish in the MVP voting. The big thing he was missing was home runs, as he hit just 21 dongs, his lowest homer output in a full season since 2016.
But he was a victim of some bad luck. Despite the meh homer total, Freeman's batted-ball profile was as good as ever. He finished 2022 with a 48.0% hard-hit rate, per Statcast, the second-best clip of his career. He was doomed by a 12.0% homer-to-fly-ball rate (HR/FB%). His HR/FB% is 16.6% for his career and had been above 19.0% for three straight years prior to last season. And we can't blame it on the park, as Dodger Stadium actually rated out as a better park for lefties than Truist Park, Freeman's old home.
Freeman could have some narratives working for him, too. While the Dodgers are still one of the game's best teams, this feels like the first time in a while that LA might be coming back to the pack a bit after an offseason in which they saw a lot of talent walk out the door. If LA still manages to have a top-shelf record and win the NL West -- something they are -130 favorites to do -- Freeman could receive a lot of credit for it, assuming he produces his usual numbers.
He should be in the mix for the NL MVP once again, and I'm digging him at this +1400 price, which places him as the eighth-favorite.
Matt Olson, Braves (+2400)
Olson ended up having a nice season in his first year in the NL, finishing with a .344 wOBA and 34 homers. He scored 86 runs with 103 RBIs, and the counting stats should continue to be there because Olson is surrounded by a pretty loaded lineup in Atlanta.
Projections systems are expecting him to take a step forward in 2023. Given that the shift is now outlawed and that Olson is right in the prime of his career (age-29 season), it's not crazy to think that he could make a sizable jump.
ZiPS sees Olson generating a 137 wRC+, 36 bombs and a .369 wOBA -- all of which rank in the top 10 among NL bats. ZiPS also has Olson at a .259 average, which is notable since Olson hit just .240 a year ago. Steamer is mostly right in line with those numbers, pegging Olson to generate a .260 average and 34 taters.
In the narrative department, Olson could garner some momentum if he's able to help the Braves win the NL East in what should be one of the highest-profile division races in 2023.
Kyle Schwarber, Phillies (+3500)
A year ago, Kyle Schwarber launched an NL-best 46 jacks and still didn't get into the top 15 in NL MVP voting. So, what would Schwarber have to do to win the award? My guess is he'd need to hit for a better average, still crush lots of homers and do it all for a team that wins a ton of games.
I think he can do all those things in 2023.
Schwarber could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the ban on shifts. He was shifted against more than any hitter in the NL last season, with defenses deploying the shift on Schwarber a staggering 90.5% of the time when he came up with the bases empty. Of course, the shift won't fix everything for a guy who had a 29.9% strikeout rate in 2022, but it should help him rack up a better average than the ugly .218 clip he had a year ago.
Steamer has Schwarber projected for a .234 average while ZiPS has him at .235. That's a canyon away from prime Tony Gwynn, but it doesn't have quite the stench of .218, a number that's probably a big reason why Schwarber was tied with a closer in the MVP voting despite leading the NL in homers.
And what if the shift helps him even more than what projection models are thinking and/or he gets some batted-ball luck en route to, say, a .250 average? That would be a boon for his MVP chances, and he hit .250 in 2019, so it's within his realistic range of outcomes.
Schwarber should be a top power hitter once again, with Steamer projecting him to pace the NL in jacks (39). He's obviously a long shot to win the MVP, which is why he's +3500, but I don't mind sprinkling some cash on him at this price.