2010 MLB Playoffs: Ranking the Top 25 Postseason Careers in MLB History

Lewie PollisSenior Analyst IIISeptember 30, 2010

2010 MLB Playoffs: Ranking the Top 25 Postseason Careers in MLB History

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    Say what you want about the problems with MLB's current playoff system. You can bemoan the addition of the Wild Card, or whine about how home field advantage for the World Series is determined by the All-Star Game, or complain that a best-of-five series is a poor way to determine which of two good teams is superior.

    But when the first round kicks off on Wednesday, don't pretend that you won't be watching.

    The postseason is when heroes are made. It's when role players become household names, and stars aim to reach immortality. I know it sounds like a cheesy MLB Network commercial, but I defy any baseball fan to disagree.

    In this slideshow are the 25 players who have had the best postseason careers in MLB history. Because this is about the career as a whole, I tried to make rankings relatively context-neutral, so a clutch hit or a walk-off homer didn't matter as much as they would have in, say, a "top postseason moments" article.

    If someone you think deserves to be here didn't make the cut, that doesn't mean he wasn't considered—my original list had 75 names, meaning 50 nearly worthy players almost made it in.

No. 25: Randy Johnson

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Key stats: 121 innings, 3.50 ERA, 9.82 K/9 rate

    It's not what Johnson did in the playoffs that's memorable so much as how he did it. The Big Unit struck out almost 10 batters per inning in the playoffs, good for second on the all-time list of pitchers with over 60 postseason IP and the tops among hurlers with more than 81 October frames.

No. 24: Paul O'Neill

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Key stats: 85 games, 85 hits, .828 OPS

    O'Neill's postseason résumé is more about quantity than quality; as part of the Yankees' dynasty of yesteryear, his 299 plate appearances are good for ninth in MLB history. 

No. 23: Whitey Ford

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    T.G. Higgins/Getty Images

    Key stats: 146 innings, 2.71 ERA, seven complete games

    Sure, his seven complete games (fifth all time) and three shutouts (second) are impressive, but to fully appreciate Ford's accomplishments, one has to consider the context of his career. The 1961 World Series MVP is the only pitcher to have thrown more than 19 games and 134 innings in the playoffs who did not play in this decade.

No. 22: Pete Rose

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Key stats: 67 games, .321 average, 86 hits

    When you play for good teams for a long time, it's easy to get comfortable with the postseason. That's how it was for Rose, who ranks eighth on baseball's all-time playoff hits list.

No. 21: Hank Aaron

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Key stats: .367 average, .710 SLG, 1.116 OPS

    With just 69 career postseason at-bats, Hammerin' Hank didn't get much of a chance to flaunt his skills in the playoffs. But boy did he make the most of them, bashing six homers in 17 games and cracking the Top 10 lists in SLG and OPS.

No. 20: Andy Pettitte

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    Key stats: 18 wins, 249 innings, 164 strikeouts

    With a good-not-great ERA of 3.88, Pettitte's reputation as a phenomenal postseason pitcher is largely undeserved.

    What is impressive is how much he's pitched: he owns the October record books in wins, innings, and games started (40).

No. 19: Bernie Williams

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Key stats: 121 games, 22 homers, 80 RBI

    Williams put up some phenomenal counting stats in his career, placing second in runs scored (83), hits (128), and homers, while setting the bar in RBI.

    But his résumé seems less impressive when you consider that Williams' 545 PAs put him in second in that category as well. The longevity is a point in his favor, but it explains how he accrued such gaudy totals despite a good-not-great .275/.371/.480 slashline (worse than his overall career marks).

No. 18: Lou Brock

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Key stats: .391 average, 14 steals, 1.079 OPS

    Brock's enduring legacy is for being one of the greatest baserunners in the history of the game. It's a skill he flashed in the postseason too, swiping 14 bases and scoring 16 runs in just 21 games.

    Even more impressive is the power surge that ran through Brock's body come playoff time. His four long balls in 92 postseason plate appearances were more than double his total in 838 PA's in 1977-8.

No. 17: Tom Glavine

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    Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    Key stats: 14 wins, 218.1 innings, 3.42 ERA

    Glavine may not have the same wealth of postseason experience as Andy Pettitte, but he comes in right behind him in innings pitched and games started (35). Throw in 14 wins and an ace-worthy ERA, and you've got a postseason legend.

No. 16: Harry Brecheen

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Key stats: 0.83 ERA, 0.83 ERA, 0.83 ERA (seriously, what more could you want?)

    No, that's not a picture of Harry Brecheen. In his place is Mariano Rivera, because the former's claim to fame—having the lowest ERA of any pitcher with at least 30 playoff innings—is no longer applicable.

    Why isn't he farther up on the list? Because he threw just 32.2 postseason frames.

No. 15: Chipper Jones

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    Key stats: 92 games, 96 hits, .411 OBP

    Chipper might not look too impressive next to his similarly experienced peers in terms of counting stats like homers (just 13 in 412 PAs) or RBI (47), but he more than makes up for it in his amazing ability to get on base.

    His 72 walks tie him for the most in playoff history, and his 17.5-percent postseason BB rate is a testament to his ability to keep cool under pressure.

No. 14: Greg Maddux

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Key stats: 11 wins, 198 innings, 3.27 ERA

    Arguably the greatest pitcher of his generation, Maddux was not one to shy away from a postseason challenge. In roughly a full season's worth of playoff appearances, he posted an All-Star-caliber ERA and whiffed 125, good for seventh on the all-time list.

No. 13: Albert Pujols

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Key stats: 56 games, .322 average, 1.009 OPS

    Pujols hasn't been quite as good in 199 playoff at-bats as he has during his regular-season career. But that's like saying ice cream doesn't taste as good without hot fudge.

    In roughly a third of a season's worth of playing time, Pujols has clubbed 13 homers with 36 RBI while getting on base at a scintillating .432 clip.

No. 12: Reggie Jackson

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Key stats: 77 games, 18 homers, 48 RBI

    How could Mr. October not be on this list? Jackson is one of the most renowned clutch hitters in baseball history, and for good reason.

No. 11: Sandy Koufax

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Key stats: 57 innings, 0.95 ERA, 9.63 K/9 rate

    No, 57 innings isn't much of a sample size, but it's enough to be impressive when a pitcher's ERA is below the cent mark.

    In addition, among pitchers with at least as many frames as Koufax, he ranks second in WHIP (.825) and fourth in whiff rate.

No. 10: Curt Schilling

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    Key stats: 11 wins, 133.1 innings, 2.23 ERA

    When you think of pitchers who were true postseason heroes in multiple years, not many names would come to mind before Schilling's. The 2001 World Series co-MVP will go down in history for the famous bloody sock incident.

    But subjectivity aside, Schilling's playoff résumé has been nothing short of phenomenal. He ranks among the Top 10 in wins, IP, starts (19), and shutouts (two). No one who has more innings than Schilling has a lower ERA.

No. 9: Carlos Beltran

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    Key stats: .485 OBP, .817 SLG, 1.302 OPS

    Question: How does a guy with only 22 career games in the playoffs become one of the best postseason players in the history of baseball?

    Answer: By playing really, really, really ridiculously well in those 22 games.

    Never mind his 11 homers in just 82 at-bats—his .817 slugging percentage is the single best career mark in playoff history. Same goes for his 1.302 OPS.

    For the sabermetrically inclined, Beltran owns a career .547 wOBA in the postseason, making his bat roughly 2.5 times as valuable as the average player's.

No. 8: John Smoltz

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    Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    Key stats: 15 wins, 209 innings, 2.67 ERA

    Smoltz isn't the postseason leader in any rate stats like ERA or K/9 rate, nor is he at the top of the list for innings pitched or games started.

    But no one has done as well as Smoltz did in the playoffs for as long as Smoltz did in the playoffs, as evidenced by his record 199 strikeouts.

No. 7: Bob Gibson

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Key stats: 81 innings, 1.89 ERA, 10.22 K/9 rate

    The jaded fan might see Gibson's playoff ERA and scoff that isn't as good as the unbelievable 1.12 mark he posted in 1968. Okay, fine, Gibson might not have been at his absolute best in the playoffs.

    But on the other hand, it was the playoffs, making it more impressive by definition. And the fact that Gibson did better once doesn't make his postseason career any less amazing.

No. 6: Derek Jeter

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    Key stats: 138 games, .313 average, 99 runs

    You can say that Jeter is in his decline. You can declare that he's overrated, and you can proclaim that he's the worst defensive shortstop of his generation. You won't hear any arguments from me.

    But much as I hate his pinstripe-wearing, Evil Empire-leading, crybaby cheating guts (you can say it was justified, but there's no denying that he lied his way on base), it is impossible to ignore what Mr. November has done in the postseason.

    Most games played. Most hits (175). Most runs. Most total bases (268). Near the top in homers (20), RBI (55), walks (61), and steals (16). Of course, that's closely related to the fact that he has the most plate appearances (637), but even so, it's amazing that one player can have such a monopoly on the postseason counting stat leaderboards.

No. 5: Manny Ramirez

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    Key stats: 111 games, 29 homers, 78 RBI

    Say what you want about Manny Ramirez. It doesn't matter if he's an egotistic idiot who injects himself with a chemical byproduct of menstruation.

    As President Lincoln said when confronted about General Grant's alcoholism, "find out...what brand of whiskey Grant drinks, because I want to send a barrel of it to each of my generals."

    In addition to 78 RBI and a .937 OPS, Man-Ram has the honorable distinction of having the most home runs in playoff history. Sure, that's largely because he has the third-most at-bats, but it's not as though he has any obvious challengers; the only other players to have even reached 20 are Jeter and Williams, both of whom have more postseason PAs than Ramirez.

No. 4: Lou Gehrig

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Key stats: .361 average, .477 OBP, .731 OPS

    Let's deal with the elephant in the room first—the rate stats. Yes, you read all those numbers correctly. That works out to a 1.208 OPS, a .512 wOBA, and a 205 wRC+. Take a minute and let that sink in.

    How about the counting stats? Ten homers, 30 runs, 35 RBI. Doesn't sound too extraordinary...until you realize that he did that in just 34 games. That works out to 48 homers, 143 runs, and 167 RBI.

    If Gehrig was the luckiest man on the face of the earth, opposing pitchers in the playoffs must have deemed themselves the unluckiest.

No. 3: Christy Mathewson

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Key stats: 101.2 innings, 0.97 ERA, 10 complete games

    Yes, baseball was a different game when Cy Young dominated hitters 100 years ago, and as a result, we have to take his numbers with a grain of salt. But it would take a whole mine full of sodium chloride to make his postseason résumé sound human.

    Unsurprisingly, his 10 complete games were and remain a record, as do his four shutouts. Ten full outings in 11 tries might not have been as impressive by turn-of-the-century standards, but there's no demeaning that accomplishment—especially since he actually averaged more than nine innings a start.

    But it wasn't quantity over quality for Mathewson. His 0.89 BB/9 rate is tops among pitchers with at least 100 innings, while his ERA and WHIP (.85) both rank second.

No. 2: Mariano Rivera

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Key stats: 133.1 innings, 0.74 ERA, 39 saves

    How can anyone possibly describe what Mariano Rivera has done?

    The unequivocal best pitcher in postseason history has thrown about two full seasons' worth of relief work over a whopping 88 appearances. Only seven hurlers have thrown more playoff frames than Mo, and he's accrued more than twice as many as the closest reliever.

    His .772 WHIP is No. 1 among pitchers with more than 36 innings of postseason experience. He's tied for ninth all-time with 107 innings—again, as a reliever.

    The best part is his 0.74 ERA—the single best mark among pitchers with at least 30 innings in the playoffs. And unlike Brecheen and Sherry Smith, you can't blame that on the small sample size. 

    Then, of course, there are the saves. You know that he's got the most there, but do you know by how much? Excluding No. 2-ranked Brad Lidge (who has just 16), you could take any three closers in baseball history and their combined postseason save totals would fall short of Rivera's.

No. 1: Babe Ruth

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Key stats: 15 homers, 1.211 OPS, 0.87 ERA

    Everyone knows Babe Ruth is the greatest hitter of all time, but things got even better when he was in the playoffs.

    In 129 postseason at-bats, Ruth posted a phenomenal .326/.467/.744 triple-slash with 15 homers and 33 RBI. He even threw in four stolen bases for good measure.

    But not much attention is paid to the other half of his game. Everyone knows he was a great-hitting pitcher, but not many people realize that he was a great pitcher, period.

    For that reason, it may surprise you that George Herman Ruth has the third-best ERA in postseason history.

    Sure, he threw only 31 innings in the postseason, which makes his record slightly less impressive. But consider that those three innings came in just three starts. That's righthe averaged more than 10 innings per start.

    Ruth would rank pretty high on this list for his bat alone. But when you add in what he did on the mound, there's no question that his the greatest postseason career of all time.