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Randy Arozarena’s stupendous October in 2020 may have nudged new baseball fans to believe the outfielder has a great start to breaking career home run records one day. Yet, older fans will remind newbies to look deeper into it ~ namely, the question of whether or not postseason statistics are counted in a player’s career stats in Major League Baseball?
Answer: 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 remained at 8.
The performances for MLB players are separated, and always have been. Why is that?
Let’s start by breaking up MLB action into its true 3 parts.
What is the ‘Regular Season’ in Major League Baseball (MLB)?
The top level of professional baseball in the United States really has 3 so-called “season” when separate standings are kept or champions crowned: Spring Training; the regular season; and postseason.
The regular season is the meat of MLB action, essentially the regular, real play. The other 2 seasons are special additions, before and after regular league play.
The first of the special seasons, spring training, occurs before a regular season begins, usually from mid-February to near the end of March annually. The intent is for players, coaches, teams, umpires, and others involved with regular games to get in the shape required to do so.
The second is the postseason, which today is a tournament of the top-finishing teams to crown a champion. In this tournament, both the National League and American League name champions, who then face each other for the global title in the World Series.
The regular season of Major League Baseball is basically 6 months (26 weeks plus a few days), consisting of 162 games total, lasting from the end of March or early April into the first days of October.
The postseason occurs after the regular season concludes, usually by the end of the first week of October, and continuing to the end of that month, and sometimes even into November. The MLB has no games whatsoever in December and January.
While the regular season has games scheduled on specific dates (and times), game dates can be modified or even canceled in the postseason depending on unforeseen factors like the weather, disasters, or teams winning a series early (before the maximum number of games).
For instance, most vital MLB postseason series are set up so whoever wins 4 games out of a maximum of 7 games today, wins. So if Team A wins 4 games and Team B wins none, games 5, 6, and 7 are unnecessary and therefore canceled.
Currently (through 2023), a minimum of 26 games must be played in an MLB postseason. If every game went to the very end? The maximum is 43 postseason games.
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 field 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. They are entirely different contests.
- 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 MLB’s postseason. That year doubled the number, and it remained 4 until the leagues were split from 2 to 3 divisions, with an added wild card team so 8 teams total qualified for postseason play.
In recent years, second, and more, 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:
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 games!)
6(t). Clemens, 366 (12 wins, in 24 series games!)
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).
Starting in 2012 and expanded greatly in 2022, the MLB added single-game “wild card games” for teams that did not win their division.
These games are relatively controversial. It is almost impossible to determine which baseball club is better by a single game. Proponents note that with these “play-in” games, clubs that don’t often make the postseason have more of a chance ~ even if it means only a single game played.
In games between only wild-card-qualifying teams, the winner moves on to play another opponent, and the losing team no longer plays that year.
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 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).
Q.: Do All-Star game stats count in career statistics for players?
A.: Statistics accumulated by players in All-Star games are not counted in the official career statistics of MLB players. They are accumulated together, so players who have played in the exhibition game can have “career All-Star Game” statistics; the league has records for play in just All-Star games. By the way, spring training statistics also do not count toward a player’s career numbers.
Q.: Why did the MLB add so many playoff series?
A.: To let more clubs participate in the postseason, mainly. For about 7 decades, the MLB’s postseason consisted of 4 to 7 games total: World Series play between the A.L. and N.L. winners. The playoffs we’re used to today started in 1969, and from 2012-on the MLB has tinkered with more teams qualifying as “wild card teams,” or non-division-winners with the best record.
Q.: Why should more MLB teams make the playoffs?
A.: A couple of reasons. Primarily, to give more hope to teams near the end of the long and grueling 162-game series, which maintains interest in games in some cities and therefore more revenues for the clubs and league. Before that, teams could win leagues or divisions weeks before season’s end, therefore eliminating almost all clubs from championship play. Not so today, with a big monthlong tournament, created mainly to generate more revenue for everyone involved.
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