In one form or another, the majority of posts at this site are based on some type of leaderboard. Highest average velocity among qualified pitchers, lowest ground-ball rate among qualified batters: these are the sort of distinctions that attract the attention both of writers and readers — and even illustrate the game’s trends towards one pole or another.
Generally speaking, when Mike Trout appears on a leaderboard at FanGraphs, it’s because he’s exerted his excellence in yet another way. Currently, for example, Trout possesses the top batting line among all active players and also the second-most baserunning runs among active players and the second-highest WAR total among all major-league batters ever through age 25.
One capacity in which Trout hasn’t been able to exert his excellence, however, is team success. During his time in Anaheim, Trout has made the playoffs on just one occasion. It was in 2014, and his Angels were swept out of the playoffs promptly. The Angels have had some decent seasons during Trout’s career — they won 89 in 2012, 85 in 2015, and they also currently have a winning record. Odds are, however, that Trout is about to finish his sixth full season as the best player in baseball, and he’s never won a single game in the playoffs. That’s odd.
We know that baseball is a team sport, and even when one-third of teams make the playoffs every year, one player can’t do it alone. Every player is very much reliant on his team. Even Mike Trout.
If it seems unusual that a player of Trout’s stature has failed to win even a single postseason game, that’s because it is. To provide a little context before taking a more historic approach, below is a table featuring the best position players by WAR since Trout exhausted his rookie eligibility in 2012. I’ve also included the total number of postseason games each player has won during that time.
This is one of the few bad leaderboards on which Trout’s name appears. Since becoming an MLB regular in 2012, Trout has recorded double the WAR of all but 10 players. Of those 10 players, Paul Goldschmidt is the only one (besides Trout) not to win a playoff game. Arizona will get an opportunity this season to address that issue — and, of course, Goldschmidt himself recorded two playoff with the Diamondbacks in 2011. Of the top-20 position players since 2012, the only others not to win a playoff game are Giancarlo Stanton and Kyle Seager. With expanded playoffs, good players generally get opportunities to appear on a winning club at some point, and reaching a playoff series generally means winning a playoff game.
That hasn’t always been the case, of course. It’s a lot easier now to reach the playoffs and win a game than it was before divisional play began in 1969. Also, prior to free agency, a player had little power to choose his employer. A talented player on a bad team might remain on that team forever.
Accordingly, we might expect to find quite a few historical players who produced fairly illustrious careers without anything to show for it. We know about the players like Ted Williams or Ernie Banks who never won a World Series. Are there more great players who never even won a single postseason game? Yes. But not as many as you might think.
|Paul Waner||74.7||Pirates/Swept in 27 WS|
|Luke Appling||72.7||White Sox|
|Dick Allen||61.3||Phils/White Sox, Swept in 76 NLCS|
|Billy Williams||60.4||Cubs/Swept in 75 ALCS on A’s|
|Richie Ashburn||57.4||Phillies/Swept in 1950 WS|
Mike Trout has risen quickly up the overall WAR Leaderboards. He already ranks 131st by that measure among all position players over the last 100 years. So, despite having not even yet completed his age-25 season, he already rates as one of the top players never to have won a single postseason game.
He’s joined by Paul Waner, Luke Appling, and three Cubs Hall of Famers. There are a few players who bounced around on competitive teams, but simply weren’t there in the right years. The Tigers, for example, won a World Series about five years before and five years after Harry Heilmann was there.
Given his talent and youth, Trout is likely to ascend this leaderboard quickly, but probability suggests he won’t remain on it forever. At some point, he’ll make the playoffs and win a game. There are simply too many opportunities and the Angels seem too likely to spend. If nothing else, Trout himself will have the opportunity to pick a new employer in a few years’ time.
While Trout might escape the confines of that leaderboard, we can go a little further to see how Trout compares specifically to those players who’ve competed since playoffs expanded. The table below shows all active position players with at least 50 WAR, total playoff games won, and total playoff games won during their first six seasons.
|Name||G||WAR||Playoff Wins||Playoff Wins Through
Six Full Seasons
Six Full Seasons
Here’s where we observe just how rare Trout’s situation is. Outside of Trout, the 10 active players with at least 50 WAR all recorded at least one playoff win over their first six seasons. The good news for Trout is that most players increased their playoff-win total after those first six seasons, as well, doubling the previous total on average. Even if we drop the threshold to active players with 40 WAR, we find that only Hanley Ramirez and Joe Mauer went without playoff wins in their first six seasons. Only Mauer has still failed to record one, with the Twins sporting an 0-9 record in the playoff games in which he’s participated.
Now, none of these players were as good as Trout has been over the last six years, so if you were looking for comps in that sense, we just aren’t going to have any. Only Albert Pujols and Chase Utley are anywhere near Trout, and David Wright is the only other player even within 20 WAR. We can go back a bit further, though, and find a group of players more comparable to Trout, even if Trout is still head and shoulders above.
The table below features all those players who recorded at least 50 WAR through their age-30 seasons since 1969. Trout still has five more seasons to add to his total, but generally speaking, these are players who are going to be on something close to an inner-circle Hall of Fame track. Again, we will look at playoff wins in their first six seasons and beyond.
|Playoff Wins||Playoff WIns Through
Six Full Seasons
Six Full Seasons
|Ken Griffey Jr.||7319||73.9||7||0||34.9|
Again, nobody matches up with Trout when it comes to production in their first six seasons. Gary Carter was on some Montreal teams just before they got really good and actually won in the playoffs following his seventh season, before winning the World Series with the New York Mets in 1986. Many of players here competed during a time when only four clubs qualified for the playoffs — including Ken Griffey Jr., for example, who also won his first playoff game after his seventh season.
This Mike Trout situation is a real anomaly. It’s pretty clear that Mike Trout’s lack of a postseason win isn’t Mike Trout’s fault — and, if certain events in 2014 had unfolded differently, we might not even be talking about this. However, just because it isn’t his fault, that doesn’t mean that Mike Trout’s lack of playoff success isn’t a little bizarre. Mike Trout is the best player in baseball and has been for more than half a decade, yet he hasn’t won a playoff game. Almost all other players in his position throughout history have. It’s weird.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.