Postseason Helps Highlight Regular Season

It has become almost second nature this postseason for sarcastic Twitterists such as myself to mock certain mainstream writers who have seemingly used each plate appearance to tell us how much impending free agents have gained or lost on their upcoming contracts. And while I don’t think that postseason play has positively or negatively affected the financial standing (at least from a contract perspective) of any the players in this postseason, it will undoubtedly effect the reputations and/or legacies of some players. While there is still baseball left to be played, I thought we could take a look at six players in this World Series whose postseason performance has served to highlight the excellent, but underrated performance they put up throughout 2011, and how it may help them moving forward.

Lance Berkman needs to be taken seriously as a Hall of Fame candidate. Having been on teams that made deep runs in the postseason each of the past two seasons, in addition to his postseason moments in 2001, 2004 and most importantly, 2005 with Houston, Berkman has likely drawn the attention of some mainstream voters who might look to discount or not fully appreciate Berkman’s statistical resume. And it’s an impressive resume. Despite often playing substandard defense, Berkman has put up six seasons of 6+ WAR in his career, and now stands 65th all-time in wRAA and 70th in wOBA. Looking at more basic stats, Berkman is 36th all-time in on-base percentage, 30th in slugging percentage and 19th in OPS. His resurgent 2011 season has already formed the framework for his Hall of Fame candicacy, and no matter which side of the statistical spectrum you would like to focus, Berkman’s case is worthy of debate.

The debate should almost be over for Adrian Beltre. Looking at the career fielding leaderboards, we can see that while Adrian Beltre probably will never surpass Brooks Robinson as the greatest fielder of all-time, he should land comfortably in the top 10, and may even pass Roberto Clemente to become the greatest Latin fielder of all-time. As Larry Granillo mentioned the other night on Twitter, Beltre’s Hall case will likely be tied to that of Scott Rolen, but really they should both be first-ballot Hall of Famer’s. While Rolen holds a significant WAR edge on Beltre at this point, Beltre is four years younger, and will likely approach, if not surpass Rolen in the next four years, given good health.

Allen Craig deserves to have a full-time role. While noting that I have been one of the main boosters of the Allen Craig Fan Club, Craig has shown himself worthy of a larger role next season. He has been patient at the plate, and while he may not be the most fleet of foot, he has been one of the RedBird’s best hitters all postseason. Certainly if Craig played for an American League team, his .399 wOBA this season would have been recognized a lot sooner. On the Cardinals, it wasn’t and a full-time role still may not be there, especially if they resign Albert Pujols. If they do, expect to read approximately 4,000 stories this offseason speculating on whether or not Allen Craig should be traded for pitching help.

Napoli is one of the best catchers in the game. Mike Scioscia may still be right about some of the softer sides of Mike Napoli’s catching ability, but after having witnessed Napoli’s performance this postseason, it’s hard to see how they matter in the grand scheme of things. Napoli flew under the radar this season, despite posting the seventh-best wOBA of the past five years (min. 400 PA). That has ended in these playoffs, as Napoli has come up with meaningful hit after meaningful hit, and pushed Texas closer to a World Series than ever before even while he is pushed lower and lower in the batting order. Now, he will probably never hit as well as he did this season (.444 wOBA’s don’t grow on trees), but if Napoli can duplicate the rate statistics he put up in 2008 (.273/.374/.586, .399 wOBA) over the course of a full season, with a 30-35% caught stealing percentage from behind the dish, it will be hard to call Napoli anything other than “All-Star.” Maybe Scioscia really should have kept working in the reactor core after all.

Everyone now knows the name of Marc Rzepczynski, lefty killer. After a rocky start, the pitcher known as Scrabble has thrown 6 1/3 great innings for the Cardinals out of their bullpen this postseason. His dominance in the NLCS led a lot of writers to suddenly credit the Cardinals’ bounty in the Colby Rasmus trade as one of the main reasons the team made the Fall Classic, and Scrabble was a big reason why they did so. His 2.20 xFIP against lefties this year was ninth-best in the game among relievers, though few noticed this during the regular season. While he did allow the big hit to Napoli in Game Five, he shouldn’t be held accountable for it as he never should have been put in that situation. After that at-bat, he may never again have a chance to be a starting pitcher, but there are worse things in life than being a valued LOOGY with an awesome nickname.

Ian Kinsler should be an MVP candidate. Kinsler is a two-time All-Star who has twice garnered MVP votes, but he has never placed higher than 20th and has always seemed to fly under the radar on his own team, as larger personalities like Michael Young and Josh Hamilton have taken center stage. This postseason has been no different, as while Kinsler has done his job setting the table — he has drawn 12 walks in the Rangers’ 15 postseason games — guys like Beltre, Napoli and Nelson Cruz have delivered the highlight-grabbing home runs. Kinsler quietly put up the best season of his career this season with 7.7 WAR, the highest mark on the Rangers this season and one that only Beltre and Hamilton can top from a career standpoint. Kinsler is one of the chief reasons the Rangers are back-to-back pennant winners, and it’s time he started getting recognized as such.

There are others who merit mention of course. While Alexi Ogando has already locked up ace status on the All-Ugly Team, he is also drawing national attention for his ridiculous fastball-slider combo. Another duel tonight from Colby Lewis and Jaime Garcia may cement both as “money pitchers” (though Lewis and his 2.22 postseason ERA may have earned that label already), and even though he isn’t in their class offensively, we are probably going to hear Elvis Andrus mentioned along with Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez in the mainstream media whenever the “best shortstop in the game” question surfaces over the next year or so. And let’s not forget how we will be bludgeoned all winter with how magnificent Pujols is. But while players who started the postseason with a lesser profile like Berkman, Beltre, Craig, Napoli, Rzepczynski and Kinsler may not stand to gain any financial gain from their 2011 postseason experience, they certainly have shown those outside the statistical community that they deserve acclaim higher than their previously established levels.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times and a writer and editor for FanGraphs. He has written for the Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

8 Responses to “Postseason Helps Highlight Regular Season”

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  1. j6takish says:

    While Scott Rolen will probably never get the HoF cred that he deserves, it’s worth noting that Adrian Beltre is on pace for 3000 hits and 500 homers, provided he can stay healthy.

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    • j6takish says:

      “On pace” was a bad choice of words. Both have a decent chance of happening….but he has to be incredibly healthy and consistent the rest of his career, two traits that don’t exactly describe him as a player

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    • James says:

      Not to mention 3Bs have poor chances of getting into the Hall….

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  2. chuckb says:

    The Cards should probably try and trade Allen Craig for a young middle infielder this offseason if they re-sign Pujols. Signing Berkman keeps him on the bench for another year and they have huge holes at both SS and 2B. He is definitely a really good hitter who belongs in RF next season but the Cards instead gave that role to Berkman so the Cards should use that asset to plug the holes they have.

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  3. Scout Finch says:

    How did Berkman only sign a one year extension ?

    Especially in light of Aubrey Huff getting a 2 year job last year.

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  4. Elwin says:

    I could be wrong, but I think the correct way to compare fielding across positions is to add the positional adjustment to the fielding value. Which would put Ozzie Smith 15.5 runs above Brooks Robinson.

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