Monday, January 20, 2014

The top 5 postseason relievers ever

To complete the set of postseason lists (or at least the positive ones), here are the top 5 relievers of all time by Championship Probability Added. It’s a top-5 list rather than a top-10 because relievers haven’t been a major postseason factor for nearly as long as starters or position players, and because it’s harder for most of them to accrue as much positive value. (Negative value is much easier, but that’s for another post at another time.)

5. Will McEnaney
1975 NLCS
1975 WS
1976 WS

McEnaney was a bullpen piece for the Big Red Machine. He pitched respectably in the ’75 NLCS and ’76 Series, as you can see, and was unneeded in the ’76 NLCS. But his biggest moments were in the 1975 World Series, particularly the last two games.

In Game 6, McEnaney entered in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game, with nobody out and Red Sox on the corners. He intentionally walked Carlton Fisk to load the bases, then induced a fly ball from Fred Lynn. Denny Doyle tagged and attempted to score on the play, getting thrown out easily by George Foster. Rico Petrocelli grounded out to send the game to extra innings, McEnaney having escaped a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam without a single run scoring.

The Red Sox went on to win Game 6 anyway, forcing a seventh contest. The details of that game are covered in the Pete Rose section of the top 20 hitters post; the Reds rallied from behind and took the lead in the ninth inning. McEnaney was summoned from the bullpen and retired the Sox in order to preserve the one-run win and the Series victory, with Carl Yastrzemski flying out to end the game.

And that’s effectively it. McEnaney’s career postseason totals are 8 games, 12.2 innings, 3 runs (2.13 ERA), and 3 saves. He’s here because two of those innings came in some of the highest-leverage situations imaginable, and he pitched them well.

4. Bob Kuzava
1951 WS
1952 WS
1953 WS

If you thought McEnaney had a brief playoff career…

Kuzava pitched 4.1 innings in 3 playoff games. In one of the three (Game 5 of the ’53 Series), he gave up a homer to the notably power-light Jim Gilliam (it came with a large lead and therefore was of little consequence in the game’s outcome). Unsurprisingly, he appears on this list because of his other two outings.

The Yankees led Game 6 of the 1951 World Series 4-1 entering the ninth, putting them three outs from their third consecutive title. Johnny Sain was on the mound, having relieved Vic Raschi in the seventh and escaped jams in each of the two innings he’d pitched. The Giants quickly put him in another one, with three singles loading the bases and bringing the go-ahead run to the plate with nobody out.

Enter Kuzava. He allowed two of the inherited runners to score, but both of them came in on sacrifice flies (hardly the worst possible outcome of plate appearances by Monte Irvin and Bobby Thomson), then retired Sal Yvars to end the game and the Series.

Raschi got the start in Game 7 of the 1952 Series as well, and was holding a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh. But a single and a pair of walks loaded the bases with one out, and Kuzava was summoned to face Duke Snider (who popped out) and Jackie Robinson (who also popped out, albeit with Billy Martin having to dash in to make the catch at the last moment because nobody else was going for the ball). Kuzava then pitched a pair of routine innings to nail down the victory and earn his second consecutive save in a Series-clinching game, both times having entered with the go-ahead run at the plate or on base.

3. Mike Stanton
1991 NLCS
1991 WS
1992 NLCS
1992 WS
1993 NLCS
1995 ALDS
1996 ALDS
1997 ALDS
1998 ALCS
1998 WS
1999 ALCS
1999 WS
2000 ALDS
2000 WS
2001 ALDS
2001 ALCS
2001 WS
2002 ALDS

Mike Stanton is the third-best postseason reliever of all time? The man wasn’t even the best reliever on his own teams – he had one save in 53 career playoff games.

On the other hand, he also pitched 55.2 postseason innings with a 2.10 ERA, which is pretty good, especially for the ‘90s. He pitched in many series, and pitched well-to-very-well in most of them.

Stanton’s two best efforts are the World Series of 1991 and 2000. He pitched in five of the seven games in the ’91 Series, throwing 7.1 scoreless innings. That includes the tenth and eleventh innings of Game 3, which his Braves would win in the bottom of the twelfth. It includes the last two outs of the eighth and the entire ninth of the tied Game 4, which the Braves would win in the bottom of the ninth. It includes the seventh and eighth innings of the tied Game 6, which the Braves would lose in 11. And it includes a bases-loaded double play in the eighth inning of the scoreless Game 7, which the Braves would of course lose in 10. That’s 19 outs recorded without allowing a run, all of them coming with the score tied.

The 2000 Series was similar, the main difference being that it only lasted five games. Stanton pitched two scoreless extra innings in Game 1, and was credited with a win when the Yankees walked off in the bottom of the twelfth. He came on with a runner on and one out in the seventh inning of Game 4, retiring the next two hitters to preserve the Yankees’ one-run lead. And he preserved a 2-2 tie with a scoreless eighth in Game 5; the Yankees would take the lead in the ninth on a two-run single by Luis Sojo, and Stanton would earn his second win of the Series.

Those two series make up the majority of Stanton’s playoff value; his 9.1 innings of 0.00 ERA in the ’92 playoffs are worth nearly half of the remainder. He doesn’t have situations quite as momentous as McEnaney or Kuzava, but he pitched over 3 times as many playoff innings as both of them combined, and pitched them very well.

2. Rollie Fingers
1971 ALCS
1972 ALCS
1972 WS
1973 ALCS
1973 WS
1974 ALCS
1974 WS
1975 ALCS
1981 ALDS

Stanton’s career CPA total would have slipped him into the bottom half of the top 10 starters ever. Fingers’s would make him #1 among starters. His ALCS performance is not bad, but it’s obviously his World Series work that puts him this high, so we’ll focus on that.

The numbers: 16 games, 33.1 innings, 9 runs (5 earned) for a 1.35 ERA, 6 saves and a 2-2 record.

The major events:

Fingers made his Series debut in Game 1 of the ’72 Series, coming on in the bottom of the sixth with the A’s ahead by a run and the leadoff man having doubled. He pitched 1.2 innings, leaving in the seventh with a runner on and two outs and the lead intact; Vida Blue earned the save by working the rest of the game.

Four games later, the A’s led the Series 3-1 and the game 4-3, but Catfish Hunter was struggling enough early that they turned to Fingers in the fifth inning with a runner on and two outs. Fingers ended that inning with the tying run still on base, then threw perfect frames in the sixth and seventh. In the eighth, however, a walk, steal, and single allowed the Reds to tie the game, and a single, sacrifice, and go-ahead single by Pete Rose gave Fingers the loss in the ninth. It would be a blown save but for the fact that Fingers would actually have been credited with the win had he held the lead, since Hunter came out before the end of the fifth. Still, it was a very poor outing in WPA terms.

Fingers made up for the loss two games later. The A’s led Game 7 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth, but Hunter gave up a single to Pete Rose and Joe Morgan followed with a double against Ken Holtzman. With the tying runs in scoring position, Fingers entered and preserved the lead, allowing one of the inherited runners to score on a sac fly but keeping the crucial second one at bay. A scoreless ninth finished off the Series with the A’s victorious, Fingers having earned .462 WPA in the decisive win.

Fingers entered Game 1 of the 1973 Series in the sixth with the A’s ahead 2-1. He worked the next three innings without allowing a run, exiting in the ninth with one out and one on. Darold Knowles ended the game and earned the save, but Fingers’s 3.1 innings of scoreless relief to preserve the 1-run lead were much more important.

Game 2 saw the A’s rally to tie in the ninth, and Fingers pitched the tenth and eleventh to keep it that way. He finally allowed four runs in the twelfth, with only one of them being earned. Game 3 also went to extras, and this time the A’s held their fireman out until the lead was taken in the top of the eleventh; Fingers entered in the bottom of the inning after the leadoff hitter had singled, and finished off the victory.

The A’s led Game 6 of the Series by a run with two outs and runners on the corners in the eighth when Fingers came on to escape the jam, then finished the game with a spotless ninth. And in Game 7, Rollie replaced Holtzman in the sixth with a 5-1 lead and a runner at second, and maintained that score into the ninth before allowing an unearned run and being replaced once again by Knowles. That made two straight titles for the A’s, both of them helped along by prodigious Series efforts from Fingers – 24 innings and 3 earned runs between the two Series.

Oakland had less trouble in the ’74 Classic against the Dodgers, but Fingers pitched no less marvelously. He earned a win in Game 1 with the longest outing of his playoff career – 4.1 innings in relief of Holtzman, pitching from the fifth into the ninth and preserving a one- or two-run lead the entire time before giving way to Hunter with two out in the final inning. He earned relatively routine saves in Games 3 and 4 of the Series, and finished the affair with a two-inning, one-run save in Game 5.

Fingers pitched in three World Series, and enhanced his team’s chances of winning each of them by at least 24%. Had the A’s used an average pitcher for the same innings, they likely would not have won three titles in a row. That’s why he’s on this list, and it’s probably also why he’s in the Hall of Fame.

1. Mariano Rivera
1995 ALDS
1996 ALDS
1996 ALCS
1996 WS
1997 ALDS
1998 ALDS
1998 ALCS
1998 WS
1999 ALDS
1999 ALCS
1999 WS
2000 ALDS
2000 ALCS
2000 WS
2001 ALDS
2001 ALCS
2001 WS
2002 ALDS
2003 ALDS
2003 ALCS
2003 WS
2004 ALDS
2004 ALCS
2005 ALDS
2006 ALDS
2007 ALDS
2009 ALDS
2009 ALCS
2009 WS
2010 ALDS
2010 ALCS
2011 ALDS

Were you actually expecting a different answer? The man has 141 career postseason innings and has allowed 13 runs (11 earned), giving him a rather impressive 0.70 ERA. He has 42 playoff saves to only 5 blown. He is the all-time leader in saves in the World Series (11), the LCS (13), and the LDS (18). By CPA, he has 18 different series in which he enhanced the Yankees’ chances of winning a title by at least 5%, 7 in which he went over 10%, and only two in which he was harmful. He was deservingly named the MVP of both the 2000 World Series and 2003 ALCS, and could have been selected in a few other series as well. He pitched in 96 postseason games, and had WPAs of +.2 or higher in 27 of them; by comparison, his WPA was negative in only six.

However you slice it, Rivera is not just the greatest reliever in postseason history. He’s the greatest player in postseason history, and nobody else – reliever, starter, or hitter – is terribly close.

No comments:

Post a Comment