Ranking postseasons: 1995-2011by Chris Jaffe
October 31, 2011
It was fun while it lasted. The 2011 postseason with its World Series for the ages is now over. Its end brings a question to my mind—where does it rank among all postseasons?
More specifically, where does it rank among other postseasons of the three-round era: LDS, LCS, and World Series. After all, it’s hard to compare a three-round postseason to those before with only one or two rounds. The third round has been around since 1995, so there’s plenty worth comparing it to.
Last week I debuted a system that figures out how good a postseason series was. It’s not perfect, but it works pretty well.
There’s no point in boring you with the math here—you can check the references and resources section at the end of the column for that. For now, let’s just note the factors that go into it. A postseason series can gain points for its length, number of potential elimination games, close final scores, comebacks, lead changes, late lead changes, extra-inning drama, walk-off wins, great pitching performances, and individual hitters who belt multiple home runs.
Late dramatics are essential, because nearly all memorable postseason games have them. If no one’s tying the game and/or taking the lead late in the game, it better have Don Larsen tossing a perfect game, or it won’t be remembered very well in baseball’s collective conscious. Barring some nearly unprecedented personal achievement, games are only recalled if there is late drama.
Before starting, please note that list isn’t meant to be the last word on the matter, but rather the first word. It’s a way or organizing the years, after which adjustments can be made. After all, no system can capture all the complexities and memories that occur.
With that said, below is the list of the last 17 postseasons, starting with the worst and working our way up to first. I’ll provide an overall score along with the score in each of the three rounds individually (overall score may not always appear to add up perfectly due to rounding issues):
17. 2007: 159.8 points. 6.7 World Series points, 66.3 LCS points, 86.8 LDS points.
A modern postseason must have at least 24 games. 2007 had 28, the fewest of any here. Five series were sweeps, including the World Series and NLCS. The ALCS went the distance and featured the Red Sox coming back from a three-games-to-one deficit, but virtually none of those games had any individual drama.
16. 2006: 162.7 points. 25 World Series points, 94.5 LCS points, 43.2 LDS points.
The 2006 and 2007 postseasons have by far the worst scores. This one actually has the worst overall LDS score. The 104 best-of-five postseason series in history average 35.6 points per series. The 2006 LDS averaged fewer than 11 points per series. The 2006 postseason as a whole averages fewer points per game than 2007 or any ohter postseason here.
The Cardinals and Mets staged a nice NLCS, but that was it for 2006. The 2002 and 2006 playoffs are the only two postseasons here with no extra-inning games.
15. 1998: 209 points. 26 World Series points, 88.5 LCS points, 94.5 LDS points.
This postseason is more a great display of talent than anything else, as the 114-48 Yankees went 11-2 in October. Their sweep of the Rangers in the ALDS has the distinction of being the lowest scoring of New York's 72 postseason series; just three points.
14. 2010: 240 points. 14.5 World Series points, 96.7 LCS points, 128.8 LDS points.
Halladay: only the second man to toss a postseason no-hitter.
The highlights were the rounds the Giants won en route to the final round. They played 10 postseason games against NL foes, and seven were one-run decisions. Three times the winning run scored in the last inning.
There was a lot of great pitching. This postseason earned 24 points from games in which opposing teams were held to few hits.
No other year here has more than 14 such points. Yes, that is largely because of Roy Halladay's no-hitter, but that wasn't the only great pitching performance.
(Not ranked. 1981: 247 points 28.7 World Series points, 30.2 LCS points, 128.8 LDS points).
What’s this doing here? Well, though the institutionalization of three rounds of playoff baseball only began in 1995, it did happen once before, in 1981.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn created a split season due to the players’ strike, and that led to eight playoff teams.
That said, since its LCS were only best-of-fives, it’s not fair to rank directly to the more recent ones, so I’m leaving it un-numbered.
As it happens, the first ever LDS were great, still ranking as the third best overall LDS score.
Three of the four went the full five games. In one, the Brewers rallied from a two-game-to-none deficit to the Yankees to force a fifth game (which Milwaukee lost). The Astros-Dodgers showdown had a pair of walk-off wins in their encounter, including one in extra innings. It scores 81.3 points, still the NLDS best.
13. 2002: 259.2 points. 80.3 World Series points, 69.3 LCS points, 109.5 LDS points.
This had a great World Series but not much before then. It’s combined LCS and LDS scores rank ahead of only 2006 and 2007.
On the bright side, the 2002 postseason scores the best of all postseasons in points gained from comebacks within a game. That’s appropriate, as the World Series is famous for the Angels coming back from a 5-0 deficit in Game Six to force a Game Seven (which they won).
Random news: 2002 is the only postseason in the wild card era with no shutouts. It also had zero extra-inning games.
12. 2000: 259.8 points. 61.3 World Series points, 66 LCS points, 132.5 LDS points.
Forty times, a best-of-seven postseason series has lasted exactly five games. Of those, the 2000 Fall Classic scores as the second-best, trailing only the 1988 World Series. Each game in the 2000 World Series was decided by two runs or fewer. It even had a ninth-inning comeback leading to a walk-off win in extra innings.
The LCS were 2000’s weak points. They weren’t bad, they were just ... there.
11. 2008: 273.2 points. 38.7 World Series points, 131 LCS points, 103.5 LDS points.
The Red Sox saved this from being the worst postseason ever. They played in two series that earned 179.3 points. The rest of the postseason got fewer than 100. In fact, the ALCS that Boston lost to Tampa was worth more points by itself (110.3 points) than all non-Boston games combined.
The highlight was the ALCS, with Boston rallying from a seven-run deficit in one game to help force a Game Seven after losing three of the first four games. The lowlight was the Dodgers’ sweep of the Cubs in the NLDS, easily the lowest score ever for a series where the team with the better regular-season record lost in the postseason.
10. 2005: 280.2 points. 81.3 World Series points, 71 LCS points, 128 LDS points.
Scott Podsednik in 2005: Zero regular-season homers, one World
Series walk-off homer.
Each of the games was individually tense and exciting, most notably an amazing 14-inning marathon in Game Three. It also featured a walk-off home run, and a hard-fought 1-0 win.
Not only was it by far the best four-game sweep ever (runner up: the 1914 World Series at 54 points) but the ’05 World Series actually scores higher than any other four-games-to-one postseason series. It was that good.
And it’s a good thing the Series was so exciting, because the 2005 postseason’s LDS and LCS each rank 12th-best overall for their respective series.
In fact, the 2005 postseason features the worst postseason series ever. Of the 263 postseason series in baseball history, only one scores zero points: St. Louis’ 2005 NLDS sweep of the Padres.
This is a perfect series to have the lowest score. The Cardinals were a 105-win dynamo, and San Diego—at 82-80—was the least-bad team from the sad sack NL West. That series deserves the lowest score.
9. 1996: 309.2 points. 44 World Series points, 109.7 LCS points, 155.5 LDS points.
This is right in the middle, which makes sense. It had some really nice moments, but other postseasons had better ones. It had some dull parts, but wasn’t as dull as others.
The Yankees-Rangers 1996 ALDS is an overlooked gem. Those teams would meet up in some very one-sided ALDS later in the decade, but their 1996 encounter was a fierce one.
8. 2001: 320 points. 134.7 World Series points, 62.8 LCS points, 123.5 LDS points.
Mariano Rivera has more great postseason moments than anyone
else but, ironically, his most famous one might be his failure in
Game Seven of the '01 World Series.
Aside from the Series, the 2001 postseason ranks 14th of the last 17 Octobers. Those earlier series had their moments, but they don’t score so well here.
Maybe the most famous moment was Derek Jeter’s flip to the plate to nail the non-sliding Jeremy Giambi in Game Three of the ALDS, but those little nuisances fall through the cracks of my rough and imperfect system.
7. 2009: 333.5 points. 35.3 World Series points, 142.3 LCS points, 155.8 LDS points.
In theory, this was one of the more competitive World Series of recent times, because it was the first one to go six games since 2003.
However, there wasn’t much drama in the games. Aside from Game Four, they were all wrapped up early.
The real highlight was the Yankees-Angels ALCS, which scores at 93.8 points, the best score of all the 49 postseason series the Yankees won.
Back-to-back games went into extra innings, and both ended in walk-off wins (one for the Yanks, and one for the Angels). In the Yanks' extra-inning win, they had to tie the game in the 11th before emerging victorious two frames later.
6. 1997: 335 points. 75.7 World Series points, 123.7 LCS points, 135.7 LDS points.
Great postseason factoid: The most lead changes to occur in one postseason series is eight, and it occurred in the 1997 World Series. All lead changes occurred in games the Marlins won.
Cleveland led in all seven games. They’re one of only five teams to lead in every game in a World Series that went the full seven. The others are the 2002 Giants, 1975 Red Sox, 1926 Cardinals, and 1925 Senators. Incredibly, the Cards are the only one to win the world championship.
5. 2011: 340.3 points. 107.7 World Series points, 78.5 LCS points, 148 LDS points.
David Freese: Even if he never picked up a bat again, he'll
never be forgotten.
So it has to rank high, right? Well, no. The 2011 ranks seventh overall among all LDS, sixth if you want to exclude 1981.
While there were a lot of really good moments in the 2011 LDS, there were few really great moments. The moments most likely to make a game stick out are walk-off wins, taking or tying the lead in the ninth, and extra-inning play.
Eighteen of the 19 LDS games had none of those items. Game Five of the Brewers-Diamondbacks series had the score tied in the ninth before Milwaukee pulled off the walk-off win in extra innings.
Otherwise, there were a lot of close games, but without much extra zing that scores well here.
Many of the LDS peaked in their last game, but this system doesn't differentiate between a great Game One and a great Game Five.
The 2011 LDS probably rank a little too low, but the ranking makes some sense. It had the most solid batch of LDS, but other years had more spectacular ones—and spectacular trumps solid.
Moving on, the NLCS scores as the worst series of the entire postseason: 16.3 points. Yeah, makes sense. The ALCS scores well with a pair of extra-inning games and a walk-off grand slam.
The World Series made this postseason, though. When the Rangers went ahead in Game Six 7-4 and appeared to be near their first franchise world championship, my system calculated the World Series’ overall value at 46.7 points. If nothing else happened the rest of the way, it would score as the 51st-best World Series of all-time.
Instead, something happened. When David Freese hit his walk-off home run in the 11th inning to force a Game Seven, the worst the 2011 World Series could score was 105.7 points, fifth-best ever. It wound up fifth, 107.7 points. Ahead of it are the 1991, 1975, 2001, and 1924 World Series. It's also the 13th-best postseason series ever.
4. 1999: 376.3 points. 47.7 World Series points, 186 LCS points, 142.7 LDS points.
As readers of last week’s column might remember, the 1999 NLCS scores as the greatest postseason series ever. There’s a good argument to be made against that ranking, but there’s no denying that match-up between the Braves and Mets was fantastic, culminating in an unlikely pair of walk-off wins—Robin Ventura’s grand slam single, and Kenny Rogers’ walk-off walk to Andruw Jones.
That series is what propels 1999 to fourth place. The 1999 LDS ranks seventh since 1995, the World Series places ninth, and the ALCS was nothing really special. An average best-of-seven series scores 52.7 points, and the 1999 NLCS finished 94.6 points above that. So if the 1999 NLCS was average, 1999 would rank ninth overall since 1995.
3. 1995: 406.5 points. 77.3 World Series points, 59 LCS points, 270.2 LDS points.
The first intended LDS (as opposed to 1981’s improvised one) is still the best, and it is so by a mile. It’s 270.2 points in the LDS top the runner-up by more than 50. The 16 LDS since then haven’t even averaged half its score.
The star LDS series was the legendary Yankees-Mariners matchup that scores as the fifth-best postseason series of any sort, an amazing achievement for a best-of-five series. Among other things, this series set the all-time record with 13 times the trailing team came back to tie the score or take the lead. No other series had that happen more than 10 times.
But there was more to the 1995 LDS than the Mariners and Yankees. The Braves and Rockies had a fun NLDS that saw late lead changes in all but one of their games. Its 75.7 points hasn’t been topped by any NLDS since.
Oh, and the 1995 World Series is one of the most underrated ever, with five one-run games in six contests. Of the 23 World Series that lasted exactly six games, 1995 scores as the third-best (just behind 1992 and 1993—quite a roll six-gamers had).
The entire postseason saw more extra-inning drama than any other. Seven games went into overtime for a total of 19 innings. Twice a team fell behind in the top of the extra frame only to tie it in the bottom half, forcing the game onward. On a third occasion, the team didn’t just tie in the bottom half of the inning but won it outright. (Naturally, that occurred in the Mariners-Yankees duel.)
2. 2004: 440.8 points. 15 World Series points, 238 LCS points, 187.8 LDS points.
The last two postseasons shouldn’t surprise anyone. The 2004 ALCS is the stuff of legend, as the Red Sox became the first and only team to rally from a three-games-to-none deficit to win the series, posting a pair of walk-off victories in the process. Meanwhile, overlooked in this, the 2004 NLCS is the only series of the three-round postseason era to feature a pair of walk-off home runs.
Here's how good 2004's LCS were: The combined score of the World Series and LCS is the highest of any postseason in the wild card era despite its World Series being a complete snoozer. In fact, its 253 total points from the LCS onward is the second-best of any postseason in the divisional era, trailing only 1986. If you're curious, 1986 scores at 304.8 points. Yeah, that was one nice postseason, that 1986.
1. 2003: 453.2 points. 59.7 World Series points, 175.3 LCS points, 218.2 LDS points.
Aaron Boone, forever to be known as Aaron F. Boone
in New England.
The 2003 ALCS made Aaron Boone famous in Game Seven (or infamous, if you live in Boston).
That said, my system gives 2003 “only” the third-best LCS combo since 1995, but the second-best LDS games. Boston’s five game victory over Oakland is primarily responsible.
In a series full of close games and featuring a pair of extra-innings contests, Boston came back from a three-games-to-two deficit to advance. This LDS scores as the third-greatest best-of-five series ever, behind only the 1995 Mariners-Yankees ALDS and the 1980 Astros-Phillies NLCS.
That said, 2003’s LDS score wasn’t just the result of Boston’s triumph. Other series had their moments, most notably Florida’s tough triumph over the Giants in four games. Of the 34 best-of-five series that lasted exactly four games, it has the sixth-best score.
In fact, while this doesn't affect the score at all, I believe the Marlins-Giants NLDS is the only postseason series to end with a guy thrown out at the plate.
J. T. Snow was the tying run when he tried to score from second on a two-out single. Snow crashed into Marlins catcher Ivan Rodriguez, but Pudge held on to the ball. Instead of tying the game, the NLDS was over. Yeah, nice series.
Lastly, while the 2003 World Series wasn’t one of the all-time greats, it was a solid, quality series that lasted six games. The 2003 postseason doesn’t rank in first place because of it, but it does fall out of first due to it, either.
In 2003, 14 games were decided by one run, and nine more by two runs. No other postseason can top 2003’s quantity of close games. What’s more, many weren’t decided until later. Five contests were walk-off wins, two by homers. Overall, the entire 2003 postseason had 38 games, a record tied by 2011.
The 2003 postseason featured seven extra-inning games and some of the best action in the history of the eighth inning. Seven times, the trailing team tied the score in the eighth; six times a team took the lead in the eighth. Not much happened in the ninth innings in its games, but this postseason had enough else going on to make up for that.
Yeah, 2003 is the winner—so far. Who knows, though, perhaps 2012 will be even better.
References and Resources
All info comes from Baseball-Reference.com.
As for the formula itself:
Most of this is straightforward, except for the math on comebacks. I did the most research there and so spent more time on its math. Let’s save that for last and do the easier stuff first.
A series gets five points for every elimination game after the first one. (Since all series have to have at least one elimination game, it’s no achievement to have one).
A one-run game is worth three points, plus an additional point if the final score is 1-0. A two-run difference is worth one point.
A walk-off win is worth 10 points, plus an additional five points if it’s a walk-off home run. (Walk-off homers are the only part you can't find just by looking at the overview for a postseason series on its given page at Baseball-Reference.com.)
If a team ties the score in the ninth inning, it’s six points. If they take the lead, it’s seven points. Thus, if a team is down by a run entering the ninth and takes the lead, that’s 13 points total—six for tying and seven for the lead. Technically, a game can get 26 points in one ninth inning. If a 2-1 game entering the ninth becomes 3-2 after the top of the frame, and then 4-3 after it, that’s two ties and two leads taken in the ninth. (Plus whatever additional points you can get for the walk-off hit). No single ninth inning has ever generated 26 points, but it’s possible.
If a team ties the score in the eighth inning, that’s three points. If they take the lead, it’s four separate points. Thus, a team can get seven points if it goes from a one-run deficit to a one-run lead in the eighth. If both teams rally for the lead in the eighth, that’s a maximum of 14 points.
If a game goes into extra points, that’s three points. To that, add four points for every inning beyond the ninth. If a team falls behind in the top half of an extra inning and ties it in the bottom of the frame, that’s five point. If they take the lead, that’s an additional five points.
A series also gets points for its length. Here’s how it breaks down for a best-of-seven game series: 15 points for a full seven games, five points for six games, three points for five games, and no points for a sweep. For a best-of-five series, it’s 10 points for going the distance, two points for going four games, and none for a sweep.
For the handful of best-of-nines (1903, 1919-21 World Series), an eight-game series gets five points, and seven games is worth three points. That accounts for all of those series.
For great pitching, a shutout is worth two points, plus an additional point if it’s a complete-game shutout. A no-hitter is worth 10 points, plus an additional 10 if it’s a perfect game. Holding the opposing team to one hit is worth five points; a two-hitter is three points; one point for a three-hitter; and a half-point for a four-hitter.
An individual player getting three homers in a game nets seven points. If he gets just two homers, it’s two points.
Now for comebacks. There are three steps for it.
First step: The math here depends on progressive addition. Combing back from a one-run deficit is worth one point. Coming back from two runs is worth an additional two points, three in all (1+2). A three-run comeback is worth three more additional points, six in all (1+2+3), and so on. The biggest comeback in history is from an eight-run deficit, and that’s worth 36 points (1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8).
Second step: The above is nice, except there are two types of comebacks. Some just tie the score (erasing the old lead) and the other has the formerly trailing team take the lead. The latter is given extra points. Actually, it’s double. If a team trailing by one takes the lead, give them an extra point. If a team trailing by two runs takes the lead, give them an additional three points (1+2, again). And six additional points for taking the lead from a three-run deficit (1+2+3) and so on.
Third step: OK, the above steps are nice but lead to a huge problem—the points from comebacks overwhelm the overall scoring. Simply put, there are too damn many points floating around. Total comeback points based on this are 5,063, which would be a third of the overall score. Yeah, that’s too much. So the third step is simple—take all the above and divide by three. (This is why there are fractional scores, but oh well).
For example, look at the biggest comeback in postseason history. In the 1929 World Series, the A’s trailed the Cubs 8-0, but won 10-8. That’s 36 points for the comeback, and an additional 36 points for taking the lead. 72 points in all—until you divide by three. That leaves that comeback with 24 points.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.