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MLB postseason MVPs can come from out of nowhere

Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrer(24) hits single score AustJacksduring first inning Game 1 American League baseball divisiseries against OaklAthletics OaklCalif. Friday

Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera (24) hits a single to score Austin Jackson during the first inning of Game 1 of the American League baseball division series against the Oakland Athletics in Oakland, Calif., Friday, Oct. 4, 2013. At rear are Athletics catcher Stephen Vogt and umpire Mark Wegner. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

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Updated: November 9, 2013 6:16AM

During the long regular season, the best players have plenty of chances to set themselves above the crowd. Among postseason teams, the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen (8.2 wins above replacement), the Athletics’ Josh Donaldson (8.0) and the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera (7.2) have been the brightest stars of 2013, while the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw (7.9 WAR) and the Tigers’ Max Scherzer (6.7) and Anibal Sanchez (6.3) have led pitchers.

But in short postseason series, everyone gets a chance to step up. One hot week can bring an MVP award for an American or
National League Championship Series or a World Series.

A check of the last 10 years of ALCS, NLCS and World Series MVP winners found only one player who also was the regular-season WAR leader. The Rangers’ Josh Hamilton was voted the ALCS MVP in 2010. He also was the AL MVP that season with a .359 average, 32 home runs, 100 RBI, a 1.044 OPS and a major-league-best 8.9 WAR. He put up big numbers in the ALCS (.350, four homers, seven RBI, 1.536 OPS) but slumped to .100 with one homer, one RBI and a .393 OPS in a World Series loss to the Giants.

Among the 30 postseason MVPs from 2003 to 2012, only three — including Hamilton — had the highest regular-season WAR among position players on their own teams. Ivan Rodriguez tied Luis Castillo for the Marlins’ lead at 4.4 in his NLCS MVP season of 2003, and Paul Konerko led White Sox position players at 4.1 when he won the ALCS MVP in 2005.

Four awards went to pitchers who were the WAR leaders on their staffs. Two of those went to Cole Hamels, the Phillies’ ace of 2008 with a 4.3 WAR and MVP awards in the NLCS and the World Series. The others were the Red Sox’ Josh Beckett (6.5), the ALCS MVP in 2007, and the Yankees’ CC Sabathia (6.2), the ALCS MVP in 2009.

The remaining 23 awards went to players who weren’t their team leaders in WAR during the regular season. Some went to players who had outstanding seasons but had teammates just a little better. NLCS MVP Albert Pujols put up an MVP-caliber 8.4 WAR for the Cardinals in 2004, but teammate Scott Rolen was even better at 9.1.

There also have been MVPs whose regular seasons were less than 2.0 WAR, the level tells us indicates a major-league-quality starter. Among position players, those under 2 were the Tigers’ Placido Polanco (1.9), the ALCS MVP in 2006; the Cardinals’ David Eckstein (1.6), the World Series MVP in 2006; the Giants’ Cody Ross (0.2 for the Giants, 1.7 overall), the NLCS MVP in 2010; the Cardinals’ David Freese (1.8), the NLCS and World Series MVP in 2011; the Rangers’ Nelson Cruz (1.3), the ALCS MVP in 2011; and the Tigers’ Delmon Young (minus-0.8), the ALCS
MVP in 2012.

Add to that Cardinals pitcher Jeff Suppan (1.2), the NLCS MVP in 2006, and it’s eight awards to seven players who had subpar regular seasons. It’s the small-sample syndrome we see in April batting averages, only without the long season to provide balance.

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