Symbolism is useful, but it’s also overused. The Astros just won the World Series, and George Springer just won the World Series MVP. Are there ways in which Springer is a symbol for what the Astros are, and for what they’ve achieved? Sure, if you need him to be. He’s a good young player. Homegrown. Seems like a leader. Thrived on the biggest stage. Springer could serve as a symbol, because he is great, and the Astros are great. Look how easy this is!
But while it’s appropriate that Springer won the award, I don’t think that’s because the Astros made a point of following his lead, or anything. I don’t think the Astros made themselves in George Springer’s image, any more than they made themselves in Jose Altuve’s. A winning team is a collection of a whole lot of talent. It’s appropriate that Springer won the award because of this.
You thought you were seeing a lot of this before. You haven’t seen anything yet. You’re going to hear about this from your dentist.
Like any larger-scale prediction that turns out to be right, there were areas where that article was dead on, and there were areas where it ultimately missed the mark. It very correctly identified the Astros as a team on the rise. It identified the Astros as a team willing to make unpopular decisions, and as a team willing to experiment. The article made a bold, overall statement: It believed in the strength and direction of the Astros’ rebuild. It liked what they were doing, even if the team ultimately didn’t get much from, say, Jon Singleton, or Jarred Cosart, or Brett Oberholtzer, or Brady Aiken. The article spent no time at all considering the possibility that Marwin Gonzalez would become a star-level utility type. You can’t predict every player. You can’t nail every detail. We knew, for example, the Dodgers would be good, but that doesn’t mean anyone foresaw Chris Taylor. Baseball teams, and baseball futures, are complicated.
But forget about all of that. The article made a statement, about the future of the Houston Astros. And the magazine made a statement, by putting George Springer on the cover. It didn’t have to be him. It could’ve been Altuve. It could’ve been Singleton. It could’ve been, I don’t know, Mark Appel. It could’ve looked worse, even with the same headline still coming true. Springer was the guy. Springer was put on the cover of one of the better-known issues of Sports Illustrated in recent memory. The Astros won the championship, and Springer was their most valuable player in their most important series.
There wasn’t even much in the way of competition. I suppose there could’ve been flimsy arguments for Altuve, or Charlie Morton, or Alex Bregman. But Springer was obvious, almost from the instant he connected for his second-inning dinger, knocking Yu Darvish out early once again. Springer hit five World Series home runs, which only two other players have done. He set a record with eight World Series extra-base hits, and he wound up with 29 at-bats and 29 total bases. Springer finished the series with a 1.471 OPS. Only Joc Pederson was also in four-digit territory, among the regular players. Springer blew away the competition.
And it’s worth recalling now how it started. Back in the ALCS, Springer was terrible. He was one of the worst performers for an Astros team that barely squeaked through. And in Game 1, in Los Angeles, Springer went 0-for-4, his line reading strikeout — strikeout — strikeout — strikeout. You know how these stories tend to go when the spotlight shines brightest. Springer was in a slump. Springer was over-swinging. Springer was lost, and the Astros needed him to be found.
He found himself in Game 2, and he didn’t slow down. Excellent hitters are only slumping until they’re not slumping anymore, and Springer snapped out of it overnight. I’d like to now share with you some numbers from The Baseball Gauge. It’s time to start dealing with win probability.
You’re presumably familiar with Win Probability Added. That’s WPA, which we also track here. It measures the changes in a team’s estimated chances of winning, following a given event. You can arrive at a number for a particular player by adding up the changes in win probability from all of his plate appearances. Out of everyone on both teams involved in this year’s World Series, Springer led in WPA, at +1.1. Altuve was second, at +0.5. Springer, in other words, was incredibly valuable, effectively worth more than a full win. The series had only seven games.
The Baseball Gauge also offers another, somewhat similar stat, called Championship Win Probability Added, or cWPA. Instead of regular WPA, which is concerned only with the one active game being played, cWPA is concerned with winning the whole series. Out of everyone on both teams involved in this year’s World Series, Springer led in cWPA, at +0.571. Bregman was second, at +0.222. Springer, in other words, was incredibly valuable, effectively improving the Astros’ chances of winning the title by 57%. That’s a hell of a push, despite a throwaway first game.
Springer doesn’t only rank high when you look at 2017. He’s coming off an all-time World Series performance. I filtered to look at all of the World Series, ever. Here are the top 10 players, by regular WPA.
We find Springer in 10th place. And now here are the top 10 players, by cWPA.
Once more, we find Springer in 10th place. There’s a difference between 10th place and first, and Springer didn’t just go all Ralph Terry or Jack Morris. But he was vaguely similar to what David Freese was back in 2011. Springer never had the chance to throw a Game 7 shutout. Instead, he spread his contributions around. Springer was responsible for six of the top-30 most important events from the World Series, by cWPA, and no one else was responsible for more than three. For a quick summary, here are the six plays. I’ve included the video highlights, because what is postseason baseball without video highlights?
No. 1 play: Game 5 home run, +12.4% World Series odds
No. 2 play: Game 7 home run, +11.4%
No. 3 play: Game 2 home run, +8.6%
No. 4 play: Game 4 home run, +7.3%
No. 5 play: Game 6 home run, +6.4%
No. 6 play: Game 7 double, +6.2%
The Astros didn’t win all of those games. And these numbers don’t take defense into account, so Springer isn’t penalized for, say, his ill-advised dive in center field that turned into a run-scoring triple. But Springer also turned in some quality plays, and, more importantly, he responded to that dive by hitting a tying home run as fast as he possibly could. It was a series of atonement, in a way. Springer almost instantly atoned for the unsuccessful dive. And, more broadly, he atoned for his unsuccessful ALCS. It was almost exactly one week ago that people talked about George Springer as if he might be too far gone. He’s the 2017 World Series MVP. No other player was worthy.
Credit to Springer for finding himself. Credit to Springer for not missing the pitches he was given. Credit to the Astros for putting their faith in Springer, even as it seemed like he might have too much of a strikeout problem. He’s come a long way since his days as a prospect. Springer, like the ballclub around him, matured into something with no visible weakness. It’s not that the Dodgers would’ve been an undeserving champion. But the Astros deserve to be the champion. Everything, every single contributing decision, has been validated. The Astros are too smart to get too hung up about the unpredictable chaos of the playoffs. The Astros are also too smart not to admit that winning feels better than losing.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.