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Randy Arozarena’s stupendous October in 2020 could have new baseball fans thinking that the young player has a great start to breaking career home run records one day. Yet, older fans would remind newbies to look into this question: Do postseason stats count in career stats in Major League Baseball?
Postseason achievements are not counted by MLB in players’ career statistics, which are an accumulation of performance numbers during regular-season play. However, players do have career postseason statistics kept, only separate from the regular career numbers.
Arozarena hit 10 home runs in 20 games over 4 postseason series in fall 2020 for the Tampa Bay Rays, setting the all-time record for a single postseason. Despite the feat, his career home run total to start the 2021 season remains at 8.
The performances for MLB players are separated and always have been. Why is that?
Regular Season vs. Postseason Stats in Baseball
Baseball officials and fans weren’t always enamored with records, career or otherwise. That changed slowly, after Ty Cobb accumulated so many hits, and Babe Ruth hit so many home runs. Then, these seemingly unapproachable ceilings were established.
So numbers were counted and watched. However, there was the question of the (then) 4 to 7 extra games played by 2 teams at the end of the season to determine a champion between the final regular-season leaders of both leagues, the National League and American League. (This was long before there were divisions and more playoff series).
Somewhere along the line, those postseason statistics were separated and not tossed into a player’s career numbers. Among the possible reasons, two get mentioned most:
- Dissimilar play. Playing in postseason games means, generally, much tougher competition considering the excellent pitchers and defenders most good teams need to reach the World Series. The intensity level, media and public attention, and general stress make playing in these games much more difficult than the many regular-season matches.
- Unfair. Not all players get an opportunity to play in postseason games — especially before 1969 when only 2 teams made the postseason (World Series) every year. For instance, Hall of Famer Ernie Banks never played in the postseason with his Chicago Cubs. Compare that with the 41 played by Babe Ruth, or the record 158 postseason games played by Derek Jeter (an entire MLB season’s worth!). Many argue that it’s not fair to penalize players just because they played for crummy teams.
This is especially amplified today with expanded playoff formats. Prior to 1969, only 2 teams made the postseason. That year doubled the number, and it remained 4 until the leagues were split from 2 to 3 divisions, and adding a wild card team so 8 teams total qualified for postseason play. In recent years, second and even third wild card teams were added, increasing the number of playoff series and games.
Players fortunate enough to be on the teams that go far in the playoffs — and who play a lot in those games — now rack up the postseason games, innings, and … records.
What if Postseason Stats Counted?
Many fans over the years have done the math to see who would be career leaders in any number of categories if regular- and postseason stats were one and the same. The answer is, hardly any change, especially for those at the top. Consider:
Career Home Runs
Barry Bonds would still be the all-time leader, with 771 (he hit 9 postseason homers in 48 games), still ahead of Hank Aaron’s 761 (6 homers in just 17 postseason games), and Babe Ruth’s 729 (15 in 41 games).
Again, the Hit King remains Pete Rose, with a new total of 4,342 (tacking on 86 postseason knocks). Rose played in a lot of playoff and World Series games, whereas Ty Cobb played in just 17, adding 17 hits for a total of 4,208. (Some would argue that Ichiro Suzuki’s hits when he played in Japan should count for his career totals, but that’s a topic for another article).
No one is close to Nolan Ryan’s 5,714 strikeouts over a 27-year career, so it’s futile to even do the math here. However, the pitchers ranking 2 and 3 serve as an example of how rankings might shift down the line if postseason stats counted overall:
2. Randy Johnson, 4,875 Ks
3. Roger Clemens, 4,672 Ks
Add Postseason Ks:
2. Randy Johnson, 5,007 Ks (in 19 games)
3. Roger Clemens, 4,845 Ks (in 35 games)
So … the gap narrows but does not change the overall ranking. Note how Clemens had the great fortune of playing for good teams that not only qualified for the postseason, many of them went through several series and into the World Series. Johnson played in 1 World Series.
This is a statistical category that really penalizes pitchers who spent most of their career on losing teams. Not only is their career wins total minimized by lost opportunities as their team either did not score enough runs, or let in too many with poor play — but they also didn’t get as many postseason chances.
It is interesting that the top 7 pitchers in career wins all collected their Ws well before the expanded playoffs — with Cy Young’s untouchable 511 at the top. The lowest of the 7 is at 361 wins (Kid Nichols), just 6 ahead of the regular season total by Greg Maddux (and 7 ahead of Clemens). So let’s take a look at the list if postseason wins counted:
5. Pud Galvin, 365
6. Warren Spahn, 363
7. Kid Nichols, 361
8. Greg Maddux, 355
9. Roger Clemens, 354
With Postseason Wins:
5. Spahn, 367 (4-3, in 3 World Series)
6(t). Maddux, 366 (11 wins, in 23 series!)
6(t). Clemens, 366 (12 wins, in 24 series!)
8. Pud Galvin, 365 (no postseason play)
9. Nichols, 363 (1 World Series)
Clearly, there’s a case that two all-time great pitchers, Galvin and Nichols, would be penalized just for the bad luck of being mostly on poor teams. The all-time leaders in career wins are often bunched up with totals not far apart, like Steve Carlton’s 329, or the 324 by Nolan Ryan and Don Sutton. Counting postseason wins would shift the rankings around — if only they were counted.
It is interesting to note that in all the postseason play, Hall of Famer Greg Maddux was only 11-14 — hinting at how much harder it is to pitch in the postseason. (Clemens finished at 12-8, perhaps indicating that hard-throwers fare better in postseason games, than an off-speed/control pitcher like Maddux).
Question: Who held the home run record for a single postseason prior to 2020?
Answer: Barry Bonds, Nelson Cruz and Carlos Beltran, with 8. Corey Seager of the Los Angeles Dodgers joined them in a tie for second, with 8 in the same 2020 postseason when Arozarena shined for the other team.
Q.: Do stats from single-game playoffs count in career statistics?
A.: Yes. These “tie-breaker” games are considered an extension of the regular season. For instance, the 1 game between the Red Sox and Yankees in 1978 counted as if it was the 163rd game — and Jim Rice is credited with playing 163 games that season. Actually, the record for games played in a season is 165, held by Maury Wills of the Dodgers in 1962, when he played every regular-season game, then all 3 in a playoff series against the San Francisco Giants to determine the National League champion (the NL used 3-game series until 1969).
Tie-breakers differ from today’s 1-game “play-in” round, which are considered between two teams that earned a playoff berth, and as such those stats are postseason only. Besides those, there have been 16 tie-breakers in MLB history — 4 series and 12 single-game matches. The decision to count those statistics helped Matt Holiday claim the highest average and the runs batted in title in 2007, by playing the 1-game tie-breaker.
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