It’s both poetic and stupid that ALCS and NLCS MVP awards exist. We have enough trouble agreeing on MVPs over a 162 game season, so how can we possibly pick them after a short series? The whole thing is just a small sample size accident.
At the same time, that’s what the playoffs are all about— making way too big a deal over a way too short a series. Since the whole thing is a crapshoot anyway, we may as well celebrate whoever rolled a seven.
The best rollers this year were Jackie Bradley Jr. of the Red Sox and Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers—at least according to their managers. How well did Alex Cora and Dave Roberts do selecting their team’s Championship Series MVP? Since you asked...
Bellinger’s two-run home run in the second inning of Game 7 proved to be the game and series clincher, as the Dodgers won the game 5-1. He was also praised by TV analysts for hustling to beat out a double play in the sixth inning, allowing Yasiel Puig to come to bat and hit a three-run homer. Apparently that’s enough for an MVP, because Bellinger really didn’t do too much else in the NLCS, collecting just three singles, a double, a home run, a walk, and two stolen bases in 26 plate appearances. That’s an underwhelming .200/.231/.360 slash line.
Either Puig or Chris Taylor would have been better options. Puig led the team with a .619 slugging percentage and .983 OPS, while Taylor reached base 12 times out of 26 plate appearances. He also played three different positions (second base, left field, and center field), allowing Roberts increased lineup maneuverability. He also made this game-saving catch to preserve the Dodgers’ lead in Game Seven:
Chris Taylor’s postseason moment. pic.twitter.com/2i9kMnTwBN— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) October 21, 2018
There is one category in which Bellinger proved superior: win probability added (WPA). His 0.20 WPA just barely surpassed Taylor's 0.19. However, the team leader by far was Kenley Jansen, who earned 0.52 WPA. Jansen was stellar in his four appearances, striking out seven and scattering just three baserunners in 4 2⁄3 innings.
Can we award the MVP to someone who only faced 17 batters? That’s not really too far off from Bellinger’s 26 plate appearances, so it’s just a matter of subjectivity. Maybe if we awarded a NCLS Cy Young, that would work for Jansen. After all, if we’re giving out MVPs, why not a CY or even Rookie of the Series? (That would probably by Walker Buehler by default.)
The selection of Bradley for ALCS MVP is a lot more clear-cut, even though he only collected three hits. These weren’t dinky little singles of course; he hit two home runs and a double. Add in four walks a hit by pitch, and you get a slash line of .200/.400/.667.
Other Red Sox had great series as well. In addition to Bradley, Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez also posted on base percentages over .400 and slugging percentages of at least .500. What set Bradley apart was how timeliness and importance of his contributions. As a result, he put up a crazy-high 0.71 WPA over the five game series. He also contributed a positive WPA in all five games, includingthe Game 1 loss.
Jackie Bradley Jr. ALCS WPA by game
The funny thing about WPA is that rewards opportunity as much as the play itself. Game Three was one of Bradley’s lesser games by WPA, but that’s when he hit his grand slam. When he scored from third on a wild pitch in Game One to tie the score, it was actually worth more than the grand slam by WPA, even though the Red Sox eventually lost that game.
Whether you put stock in WPA or not, Bradley was probably the correct choice for ALCS MVP. He had a significantly positive impact with the bat, on the bases, and in the field. In the NLCS, Bellinger had a few nice moments, but not nearly enough to outshine Taylor or even Puig. Regardless, the most important thing about winning the Championship Series MVP is that it means you get to play in the World Series, so stay tuned.