Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What Records Can Pujols Break?

When Albert Pujols banged five hits including three home runs in Game 3 of the Series he sent media statisticians scrambling for the record books. It was quite a performance, though his bat has been silent in the other games. Pujols had two home runs and ten RBIs in the Division and League Championship Series.

The Cardinal slugger is arguably the best hitter in baseball. He holds the distinction of having the highest lifetime batting average (.328) among current players. He's number 30 all-time and one of the very few in the top 100 who did not finish his career before 1940. (Ichiro Suzuki is up there too, just four spots back.) Farther down the list you'll find two other stars in this year's Series. Matt Holliday, stands an impressive 67th with a .315 career mark and Michael Young ranks 139th at .304.

Whether Pujols, Young, or Holliday set any other post-season single game records, it is highly unlikely that they or any other player will reach the career World Series records accumulated by New York Yankees such as Yogi Berra. It just ain't gonna happen.

Unless his team goes on an amazing streak - which is pretty unlikely with the number of teams there are now - there is no way that any current player can reach the World Series often enough to compete with Berra, Mickey Mantle, and their teammates.

With a lot of luck a player might last twenty years. Let's look at how often teams have made it to the Series in the last twenty years. The Yankees got there an impressive seven times. The Atlanta Braves made it five times, the Cardinals and the Phillies three times each. No other team has made it more than twice.

So let's see what kind of numbers recent Yankees have put up in those seven appearances. Derek Jeter, leading off or hitting second in just about every game over seven Series, has 156 at bats, 32 runs, 50 hits. Yogi Berra played in twice as many Series - an almost unbelievable 14. He had 259 at bats. That's half of a regular season. He scored 41 runs, had 71 hits -both records - and 39 RBIs. Mickey has him by one there. The only hitting records not held by Yankees are batting average, sacrifices, sacrifice flies (Joe Carter), and triples.

As for pitching records, over the Yankees' recent run Andy Pettitte started 13 games and won five. But Whitey Ford started 22 and won 10 - though he also lost 8. Ford pitched 146 Series innings (again, roughly half a season) and leads with 94 strikeouts - though he also leads in walks.

The only records Ford doesn't own are complete games and shutouts. Christy Mathewson had ten and four respectively. Mathewson's ERA was 0.97, one of the best, he had the fewest walks per game, and his WHIP is second best all-time. And talk about how playoff games have changed ... Christy averaged more than nine innings per start! As for top relievers, the leader is again a Yankee, but a current one. Mariano Rivera leads in appearances (24 games) and has a record 11 saves.

The only way a current player can be compared to the Yankees who dominated baseball for so long is to use division and league championship records. The recent Yankees again have an edge, making the playoffs year after year, but other teams have made it to the post-season fairly regularly too.

Counting playoff series Bernie Williams had 18 homers, equal to Reggie Jackson, but Williams had 80 RBIs while Mr. October had only 48. Manny Ramirez has posted some impressive numbers. In 111 postseason games he has a .937 OPS and hit a record 29 home runs (partly because he has the third most at bats) along with 78 RBIs.

Carlos Beltran has been a terrific playoff performer with 11 homers in just 82 at bats. His .817 slugging percentage and his 1.302 OPS are the best in playoff history. How does Pujols rank? In 56 games he has a .322 average, a 1.009 OPS, and 13 home runs.

Derek Jeter has the most games played, hits, runs, total bases, and is near the top in home runs. And he's played more than an entire season in the post-season, an amazing 637 plate appearances.

Lou Gehrig, "the Iron Horse", had 10 home runs, 30 runs, and had 35 RBIs - in just 34 games. His average was .361, his OBP .477.

Then there's the Babe. He had a 1.211 OPS and hit .326 with 15 World Series home runs - second only to Mantle who played in a lot more Series. Oh, and Ruth also has the third best ERA among pitchers with more than 30 innings. Talk about your all round player! He had 4 stolen bases too. Don't think of the Babe as always being the fat guy you see in newsreels, all of which were recorded in his last couple of seasons. He was a speedy fielder and runner for most of his career.

As for post-season pitchers, Andy Pettitte had 249 innings, 18 wins, 164 strikeouts - which would add up to a pretty good season. Tom Glavine is right up there with 218 innings, 14 wins, and a much better ERA - 3.42to Pettitte's 3.68. Speaking of ERA, Rivera's 0.83 (30 IP minimum) is going to be tough to beat. In case you're wondering, Koufax had a 0.95 ERA. Teammate John Smoltz excelled in the playoffs with 15 wins, a 2.67 ERA and 199 strikeouts. Then there's Curt Schilling, hard to forget his gutsy performances, with 11 wins and a 2.23 ERA.

In relief, well of course it's back to Mariano Rivera ... 88 appearances, an all-time best .772 WHIP, 39 saves, and an all-time best 0.74 ERA. Sounds like one of his seasons.

Of course if baseball expands the playoff format there will be more opportunities for post-season records.

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