MLB Playoffs 2011: Best at Each Position in the Postseason
Well, it's barely been 24 hours since postseason matchups were decided, and already people are discussing playoff matchups: how Detroit's pitchers will fare against the Yankees' hitters, how many shutouts the Phillies will pitch and what Albert Pujols playing his way into the postseason means.
In that spirit, here are the players in the playoffs who I feel are the best at each position.
Honorable Mention: 5 Good Players Not the Best at Their Positions
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- Albert Pujols, Cardinals: The three-time MVP, widely considered to be baseball's best player, returns to the postseason for only the second time since his 2006 World Series win. He had a bit of a down season, being hurt for weeks and not getting to a .300 average or 100 driven in. Pujols has solid postseason experience, batting .322 with 13 dingers and 36 driven in in 56 appearances.
- Prince Fielder, Brewers: This season's All-Star NL first baseman is one of the biggest bats in the postseason. He thunders into the playoffs after having batted .299 in the regular season with 120 driven in, 95 runs and 38 dingers.
- Ian Kinsler, Rangers: People had wondered whether Kinsler would rebound after a lackluster 2010 season. And he did, becoming one of the best and most underrated two-baggers, and one of the best baserunning second baseman. After a 30-30 season with 70 extra-base hits, Kinsler looks to improve on his .299 postseason average.
- Lance Berkman, Cardinals: Big Puma, now 35, had a surprisingly good showing in his first season in the Lou, batting .301 with 31 homers and 94 driven in. He also has a .320 postseason average with 30 RBI. Berkman can be a threat at multiple positions, including first, left, right and DH.
- Josh Hamilton, Texas: Last year's AL MVP had a bit of a drop-off this season, failing to bat .300 or hit 30 home runs and halving his WAR. Though Hamilton is solid in the regular season, his postseason average leaves something to be desired.
Catcher: Alex Avila, Tigers
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Alex Avila had an All-Star season at backstop, with a .295 average, .389 OBP (fifth-best in MLB), 19 home runs and 82 RBI. He also only had five errors all season at catcher and led all AL catchers in putouts and batters caught stealing while catching.
First Base: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
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In a loaded position (which would have been even more loaded had A-Gon made it to the postseason), I'm going with the man from Detroit.
It may have gotten lost in the shuffle, but he won the AL batting title. And while doing so, he also led the league in doubles and had a 1.033 OPS and a 7.1 WAR (1.7 better than Pujols). Cabrera looks to make a splash in his first postseason since winning the 2003 World Series.
Second Base: Robinson Cano, Yankees
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For the second straight year, Robinson Cano has been the best two-bagger in the major leagues. He batted .302, had 28 homers, drove in 118 and finished in the top 10 in runs scored, runs created, hits, doubles, triples and total bases.
He also led the league in the range factor at second this season. Cano is also an old hand at the MLB postseason, having played in 37 postseason games.
Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
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Playoff shortstop is probably the weakest position, so I'm going to go with an old standby. 2007 NL MVP Jimmy Rollins was a critical piece Philadelphia's last three final four teams.
This season, Rollins had 16 homers, 87 runs and 30 stolen bags. He has also finished in the top 10 of stolen bags in nine of the last eleven seasons.
Third Base: Adrian Beltre, Rangers
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This season, Beltre has outperformed A-Rod by a long shot. He was fifth in homers in the AL with 32, drove in 105 and was third in AL slugging percentage with a .296 average. He also has a 5.2 WAR, including a 1.3 defensive WAR. He looks to again post numbers in his first postseason since 2004.
Utility Infield: Ben Zobrist, Rays
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When you think of utility players in this playoffs, one of the first players to come to mind is the Rays player who has played first, second, third, short, DH and all three outfield positions.
Zobrist had a pretty balanced attack, with 99 runs, 91 RBI, 20 dingers, 19 stolen bags and a 5.6 WAR, as well as an All-Star appearance.
Left Field: Ryan Braun, Brewers
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Braun finished second in batting, second in runs, fifth in hits, first in slugging percentage and OPS, seventh in stolen bags, first in extra-base hits and second in WAR in the National League.
He is one of the top candidates for NL MVP, and one of the best multi-tooled players in the league...he was also fourth in fielding percentage for NL outfielders and first among NL left fielders.
Outfield: Curtis Granderson, Yankees
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Granderson is the best outfielder in the American League. This season, he led the league in RBI with 119 and runs with 136, belted 41 dingers and stole 25 bases. Except for perhaps Braun, he is the best outfielder in the MLB, let alone the playoffs.
Right Fielder: Hunter Pence, Phillies
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I hadn't intended to necessarily end up with one of each outfielder, but it just turned out that way. Pence has been one of the best players in the league since his trade to the Phillies from Houston.
This season, he was fourth in the NL in hits and batting average, seventh in total bases, eighth in RBI (and that's starting the season in one of the league's weakest lineups) and also in the top three in outfield assists.
Designated Hitter: Victor Martinez, Tigers
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The catcher turned slugger was one of the best hitters in the American League, hitting .330 for the season. He also drove in 103 Tigers. With David Ortiz out of the picture, V-Mart is the best DH in the American League.
Ace Pitcher: Justin Verlander, Tigers
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This is Justin Verlander's season. The 24-win pitcher is expected to run away with the AL Cy Young, and perhaps even add the AL MVP. With a 2.40 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 250 strikeouts, he has been a force to be reckoned with and is a key part in the Tigers' hopes for a ring.
Starting Rotation: Philadelphia Phillies
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You can't win the World Series with just one pitcher. And while Verlander is the best pitcher in the postseason, the next best is Roy Halladay. The best after him is Cliff Lee. And one of the best remaining after that is Cole Hamels. Roy Oswalt is also in consideration, and Vance Worley is a solid starter who may not get any action.
The Phillies' staff has a combined ERA of 3.02, half a run per nine better than any other team in the playoffs. Halladay, Lee and Hamels all personally have sub-3.00 ERAs. Philadelphia also holds teams to a .240 batting average and has 108 quality starts (league average is 86; no other playoff team has 100), including 21 shutouts and 18 complete games.
Innings Eater: Al Alburquerque, Detroit
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Our list takes a sudden left turn in favor of a promising rookie. Middle relief is an all-important position in the playoffs, and nobody has done sevenths or eighths better than this guy.
In 41 appearances, the first-year call-up has six wins in relief, six holds, a 1.87 ERA and 13.9 Ks per nine.
Setup Man: Mike Adams, Rangers
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Traded from San Diego to Texas midseason, Adams is now the AL's best setup man. In 73 innings, he has a 1.47 ERA, a 0.79 WHIP, 32 holds and five wins in relief. Adams also has good control...he only walked 1.7 batters per nine innings this season.
Closer: Mariano Rivera, Yankees
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Doesn't seem like much of a contest to me.
He's the all-time saves leader. He's had a sub-2.00 ERA in each of the last four seasons. In the postseason, he has 42 playoff saves and a 0.71 postseason ERA. He also hasn't blown a playoff save since 2004, hasn't lost a playoff game since 2001 and hasn't given up a playoff home run since 2000.
Manager: Tony La Russa, Cardinals
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There's a case for Kirk Gibson, the likely NL Manager of the Year. There's a case for Girardi. But the strongest case is for the Cards' skipper.
He is the active leader in games managed and won. He's won 59 playoff games, 17 more than Mo has saved. He's led five teams into the World Series and two teams out of it. Furthermore, I seem to recall at the beginning of the month him saying not to say the Cardinals are out of it...and they still aren't.