MLB Playoff Predictions: Power Ranking the 10 Fastest Postseason Players
Ask the Yankees circa 2004 when a stolen base by Dave Roberts in the bottom of the ninth kept the Red Sox—down 3-0 in the American League Championship Series and 4-3 in Game 4—alive and propelled them forward to the greatest comeback in baseball history.
Or maybe you could just look at the 1982 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers.
That season, the Brewers led all teams with 216 home runs, 30 more than next closest team. Last in the league that season were the Brewers' World Series opponents, who hit just 67 home runs—149 fewer home runs than the Brewers!
However, the Cardinals did steal 200 bases that season, second in the league to the Rickey Henderson-led Oakland Athletics and 35 more than the team with the third-most stolen bases.
In the seven-game World Series between the two teams, the Cardinals stole seven bases compared to the Brewers' one on their way to a World Series title.
With the importance of speed writ large in the history of Major League Baseball's playoffs, let's take a look at the 10 fastest players in this year's postseason.
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Of course there are more than 10 "fast" players in the postseason this year. Unfortunately, here at Bleacher Report we lack a comprehensive list of baseball players' 40 times. Alas, such a list is most likely non-existent anywhere.
In comprising the list, a player from each team in the postseason was selected in the interest of fairness. The two teams from which two players were selected—the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers—received two selections because they are the two most prolific base-stealing teams in the playoffs.
So here are a few names that were considered for this list, but ultimately fell short:
- Alexi Casilla: As a bench player for the Minnesota Twins, Casilla does not get much press. But the diminutive middle infielder and fellow speed demon, Carlos Gomez, used to give opposing pitchers fits by bunting for infield hits in 2008. Look for Casilla to be utilized off the bench.
- Curtis Granderson: In 136 games this season, Granderson stole 12 bases and hit seven triples. His speed also helped him play excellent defense in center field for the Yankees.
- Brandon Phillips: The Cincinnati Reds second baseman routinely steals over 20 bases a season. Unfortunately, this season he only stole 16 bases while being caught 12 times.
- Jimmy Rollins: He would have most likely made this list if not for two things: There had to be one Braves player and, at least this season, can it be said that Rollins is the same player after all his injury problems?
All four of those players could have easily made this list, with Rollins being the most glaring omission. However, there are 10 players on tap that impress with their speed.
No. 10: Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves
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Jason Heyward's presence on this list is meant to highlight two things: the young Brave's amazing athleticism and the team's complete lack of base stealers.
Heyward led the team with 11 stolen bases, though his success rate was just 65 percent. The next highest total on the team is seven, shared by three players—Melky Cabrera, Nate McLouth, and Omar Infante.
While Cabrera, McLouth, and Infante all run well, they are not exactly speedsters. None of them are as athletic as Heyward. And that's why Heyward makes this list.
Even in the minor leagues, Heyward showed a propensity to snag an occasional bag or two, swiping 26 bases over three seasons with an 84 percent success rate.
But it's his play in the outfield that gets people to notice the incredible speed this 21-year-old possesses in his 6'5" 240-lb frame. His ability to run down fly balls in right field this season may be more indicative of his excellent route running, but it also highlights the speed that his incredible athletic ability grants him.
And if nothing else it shows either a philosophical indifference to the stolen base or a glaring deficiency heading into the postseason on the Braves' part.
No. 9: Drew Stubbs, Cincinnati Reds
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The tall, lanky Cincinnati center fielder is the fastest man on this list about whom most people don't know.
From his frame to his developing power (22 home runs in 2010) and right down to his speed, Stubbs reminds baseball fans of a young Jayson Werth, which makes the National League divisional-round matchup between the Phillies and Reds especially intriguing.
Stubbs has always been a good base stealer. At the University of Texas, the Texarkana native stole 86 bases in three seasons. In a little over three seasons in the minor leagues, he stole 121 bases.
In his first full season at the Major League level, he has not disappointed, stealing 30 bases and only getting caught six times for an 83 percent success rate.
On top of that, Stubbs patrols center field for the Reds, routinely chasing down fly balls.
No. 8: Denard Span, Minnesota Twins
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When the Minnesota Twins traded Johan Santana to the Mets in the winter of 2008, they acquired Carlos Gomez hoping the speedster, who many thought could beat Jose Reyes in a foot race, would be a fixture in their outfield for years to come.
But Gomez was thoroughly outplayed by another outfielder from Minnesota's own farm system, Denard Span.
So Gomez was shipped to Milwaukee and it is now Span that has become a mainstay in the Twins' outfield.
Span does not have much power, but he is a smart, determined player who hustles when running the bases or playing the outfield.
This season, Span stole 26 bases and was only caught stealing four times, which gives him an 87 percent success rate when attempting to swipe a base. While Span is probably the weakest hitter of Minnesota's regular outfielders, he is definitely the fastest.
No. 7: Andres Torres, San Francisco Giants
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OK, so maybe Andres Torres is the fastest player on this list who nobody knows.
The 32-year-old journeyman had been out of the majors since the 2005 season when he got a call-up last year from the San Francisco Giants, his third major league team after the Tigers and Rangers.
As a full-time starter for the first time ever, the athletic outfielder did not disappoint. While playing all three outfield positions for the Giants, Torres hit consistently throughout the 2010 season, using his speed to total 43 doubles and 8 triples. He also added 26 stolen bases on just 33 attempts.
Throughout his 12-year minor league career, Torres stole 313 bases. Now that Torres has got things together at the plate, he is able to utilize his speed regularly to help the Giants.
They'll need him to, as Torres' 26 stolen bases this season account for nearly half of the Giants' stolen bases as a team (55 total).
No. 6: Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
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Having completed his second full major-league season at the age of 22, Andrus is a veteran at an age when most players are either making their debuts or still traveling from game to game on a bus.
With a .266/.336/.333 line in 1,215 plate appearances in those two seasons, Andrus has not remained in the Major Leagues because of his bat.
Besides his fluid playing style and grasp of fundamentals in the field, it is Andrus' speed that has kept him in the Major Leagues.
Utilizing his speed to get to ground balls many other shortstops would just flail at with their gloves, Andrus has become a regular in the Rangers' lineup and provided a threat on the base paths.
In his first two seasons, Andrus has 65 stolen bases. While his 32 stolen bases led the team, they weren't good enough to make him the highest-ranked Ranger on this list.
No. 5: Shane Victorino, Philadelphia Phillies
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Shane Victorino ranks No. 5 on this list as the sole representative of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Victorino flies around the outfield, routinely making spectacular catches and is a terror on the bases. He stole 34 bases this season and has only been caught six times.
While the Phillies might not be the most prolific base stealers in the playoffs, they are the most successful base stealing team in the playoffs.
The Tampa Bay Rays (172) and Texas Rangers (123) may have more stolen bases than the Phillies (108), but the Phillies 84 percent success rate is better than both the Rays' 79 percent success rate and the Rangers' 72 percent success rate.
This base-stealing success has come from speedy players, such as Victorino and the aforementioned Rollins, and excellent coaching from first base coach Davey Lopes, who stole 557 bases to go along with an 83 percent success rate over a 16-year career.
If there is one team in these MLB playoffs that can steal a base when the situation most calls for it, it is definitely the Phillies.
No. 4: Julio Borbon, Texas Rangers
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Julio Borbon came to the attention of most fantasy baseball enthusiasts at the end of the 2009 season when he stole 19 bases in 46 games.
Heading into 2010, all of those owners who took note of how Borbon finished 2009 were licking their chops at the thought of all the thievery he would provide them. Averaging out his stolen bases from 2009 over a 162 game season would give Borbon 67 thefts.
Unfortunately for Borbon and those who drafted him, he did not live up to the hype. Borbon did not get on base enough in 2010 to be effective on the bases, posting a measly .309 on base percentage in 468 plate appearances. Borbon was never one to take a walk, so this season when his batting average plummeted to .276—34 points lower than his minor-league career average of .310—his on-base percentage went with it.
But that doesn't mean Borbon lost his blistering speed. If he can get on base in these playoffs, he may just terrorize opposing catchers.
No. 3: B.J. Upton, Tampa Bay Rays
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The mercurial Ray is teeming with talent. Publicized as a five-tool prospect since he was a teenager, Upton has only shown some of his abilities in spurts.
But he has certainly showed off his speed with regularity.
Whether it be patrolling center field for the Rays or terrorizing their opponents on the bases, Upton has left no doubt that he is fast. His defense is a positive, unless he's dogging it.
Even more positive is his success on the bases. Upton has stolen over 40 bases in each of the past three seasons for a Rays team that has been ultra-aggressive on the bases. This past season, Upton stole 42 bases with an 82 percent success rate.
Upton is not the last Ray on this list, and although most readers know who the other is, we'll still leave you in a state of pseudo-suspense.
No. 2: Brett Gardner, New York Yankees
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The Yankees might as well have somebody on their team who can pester their opponents on the bases because that's certainly what teams will be able to do to the Yankees and their defensively inept catchers, Jorge Posada and Francisco Cervelli.
That man is Brett Gardner.
Gardner provides stellar defense in left field by utilizing his speed, and has modeled his approach at the plate to capitalize on his base-running ability.
With just 32 extra-base hits in 569 plate appearances and a .277 batting average, it is obvious that Gardner is not the best or most powerful hitter. But what he can do is continually pester an opposing pitcher, first at the plate and then on the bases.
Although Gardner's .277 batting average would indicate a lower contact rate, Gardner will foul off pitch after pitch until the pitcher either walks him or he can poke one threw a hole for a hit. His .383 on base percentage is indicative of that.
Once on base, Gardner uses his blazing speed to further annoy the pitcher. In his brief major-league career, Gardner has stolen 86 bases with a phenomenal 85 percent success rate.
In fact, Yankees fans often complain that Gardner is too reserved on the bases because he waits until deep in the count to take off. With such amazing speed, some feel Gardner should have been more aggressive and bagged more bases than the 47 he stole in 2010.
No. 1: Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Rays
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Could it have been anyone else?
There may be faster players in Major League Baseball, but there is no faster player than Carl Crawford in the 2010 playoffs.
Since making his major-league debut as a 20-year-old in 2002, Crawford has seen the Devil exorcised from his jersey, hit 105 triples, and stolen 409 bases.
He also utilizes his speed to help him play arguably the best left field defense in all of Major League Baseball.
His 47 stolen bases this past season led the Tampa Bay Rays. The team's aggressive philosophy on the bases has allowed them to lead the Majors in stolen bases each of the past three years. Crawford is, and has been, at the head of this charge, as the Rays look to run wild in the playoffs.
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Carl D. Carlucci is a Journalism Intern at Bleacher Report.