The case that Astros closer Ryan Pressly was real World Series MVP

Nov 5, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Ryan Pressly (55) celebrates after the Astros defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in game six winning the 2022 World Series at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 5, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Ryan Pressly (55) celebrates after the Astros defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in game six winning the 2022 World Series at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports /

If the commissioner passed out awards for excellence in selecting a World Series MVP, few voters would have anything to show in their trophy cases.

Houston Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña received the Willie Mays MVP award Saturday night following Houston’s series-clinching 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. He was honored based on a vote of media members and MLB officials conducted during the late stages of Houston’s victory.

Fans who chose to take part also had a 20 percent say in Peña’s selection.

He was presumably named for his .400 World Series batting average and team-leading 1.023 OPS.

Statistically, however, Jeremy Peña only ranked second among the Houston Astros in value contributed toward the team’s championship.

His total of 16.52 of Championship Win Probability Added ranked well behind the 33.87 CWPA produced by the team’s closer Ryan Pressly.

Pressly pitched in five games, allowing zero earned runs and saving both the fifth and sixth games. In Game 5, he recorded the final five outs, two of which were pivotal to the championship’s outcome.

Entering the game with the tying run on base, one out and a torrent of momentum building in the Phillies’ favor, Pressly fanned Brandon Marsh and got Kyle Schwarber on a ground ball to end the threat.

His Saturday work closing out the Series, which involved protecting a three-run lead, came after most World Series MVP ballots had been turned in, so it’s no surprise he was overlooked.

The thing is, World Series MVP voters have a historically spotty record of identifying the most deserving player. In fact, for the most recent 25 World Series, less than half the time did the MVP award go to the player who was statistically the most valuable player.

In 2021, voters chose Atlanta outfielder Jorge Soler, who was the most deserving MVP. Prior to that, however, you had to go back to Steve Pearce’s selection in 2018 to find the last time voters chose the correct World Series MVP.

Since 1998, they’ve only nailed the actual Series MVP eight times.

There appear to be a few reasons why voters have such a bad track record for determining who was actually the World Series MVP. Part of the reason is that voters appear to tend to be exclusionary.

Most notably, they exclude from consideration anybody who did not play for the Series-winning team. Since 1998, voters have never honored a losing team’s player as Most Valuable despite the statistical fact that in five Series since 1998, the player who was statistically Most Valuable did not play for the eventual champion.

That happened most recently in 2020, when voters honored Corey Seager, shortstop of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Seager had an excellent series, batting .400 with five RBI in leading his team to the championship in six games over Tampa Bay. That translated to a Championship WPA of 25.95.

But it was Tampa Bay’s Brett Phillips who statistically stood out, even if in defeat. That was unique because Phillips, a reserve outfielder, only batted once in the series. But it was a lulu, a Game 4-ending base hit that drove in Randy Arozarena with the winning run and squared the series at two games each. For that hit alone, Phillips impacted his team’s chances of winning the Series by 29.77 percent.

The other four losing team members since 1998 who merited MVP consideration were Cleveland’s Rajai Davis in 2016, Houston’s Lance Berkman in 2005, San Francisco’s Barry Bonds in 2002 and  San Diego’s Tony Gwynn in 1998.

As they did in selecting Peña ahead of Pressly, voters also appear to bias against pitchers when they consider MVPs.

Since 1998, five pitchers have won the Series MVP, the most recent being Washington’s Stephen Strasburg. That is ironic in a sense because at a Championship WPA of 19.76 statistically Strasburg was only that Series’ fifth Most Valuable Player … and two of the four who ranked ahead of him were also pitchers.

Teammate Patrick Corbin produced a 22.15 Championship WPA in leading the Nats to that 2019 win, while Houston’s Zack Greinke compiled a 25.12 Championship WPA in a losing cause.

But the most deserving MVP that Series was a position player, right fielder Juan Soto (28.05 Championship WPA.)

Strasburg’s undeserved selection was an anomaly. Voters snubbed deserving pitchers in favor of less-deserving  position players five times since 1998: Pablo Sandoval ahead of Madison Bumgarner in 2012, Edgar Renteria ahead of Bumgarner in 2010, Mike Lowell ahead of Jonathan Papelbon in 2008, David Eckstein ahead of Chris Carpenter in 2006, and Derek Jeter ahead of Mariano Rivera in 2000.

If voters frequently miss in their choice of a Series MVP, they are usually pretty close. That was the case this year, when Peña (while not the Most Valuable Player) was a plausible awardee. He ranked second only to Pressly in contribution to victory, and it followed a similar pattern when Peña was honored with the ALCS MVP over Alex Bregman.

The one glaring exception came in the wake of the 2015 World Series, a five-game Kansas City Royals victory over the New York Mets.

Voters that year presented the award to Royals catcher Salvador Perez despite the fact that statistically his involvement actually hindered rather than helped Kansas City’s chances.

The most plausible explanation for selecting Perez was his team-leading .364 batting average built on eight hits in 22 at bats.

That sounds impressive, but look deeper. Although Perez was pivotal in his team’s 5-3 Game 4 victory, most of his hits either produced nothing or amounted to piling on in games Kansas City already had in hand. He was involved in none of the Series’ 10 most decisive plays, and his Championship WPA totaled -4.02.

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The brutal truth of the week was that statistically only three of Perez’s teammates contributed less to Kansas City’s World Series win that week than did Perez.