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Best rookie postseason performances

@JonathanMayo and @GoldenSombrero and @JimCallisMLB
September 24, 2020

Contributions from rookies can do wonders for a team during the regular season. They’re even more valuable in the playoffs, when a player’s production and performance can potentially make or break a series. It’s for that reason that the postseason can also serve as a coming-out party for a rookie

Contributions from rookies can do wonders for a team during the regular season. They’re even more valuable in the playoffs, when a player’s production and performance can potentially make or break a series.

It’s for that reason that the postseason can also serve as a coming-out party for a rookie player who capitalizes on the moment, catapulting him and his team into the national spotlight. A look back at some recent postseasons reveals plenty of players who fit that bill, many of whom have gone on to enjoy successful, accolade-filled careers.

Hall of Famer Chipper Jones helped lead the Braves to a World Series title in 1995, when he finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year race. Ichiro Suzuki, a future Hall of Famer, paced the Majors in hits (242) and stolen bases (56) and led the American League in batting (.350) as a rookie during his 2001 MVP campaign. The Mariners won a record-tying 116 games that year before losing to the Yankees in the ALCS.

In terms of pitching performances, John Lackey and Francisco Rodríguez took center stage during the Angels’ 2002 World Series win over the Giants. Liván Hernández did the same in 1997, when, at age 22, he became a household name by pitching the upstart Marlins past Cleveland in the World Series. Of course, the same can be said about 21-year-old Madison Bumgarner’s performance for the Giants in the 2010 Fall Classic.

How do those rookie postseason performances stack up against the all-time best for every franchise? Our MLB Pipeline crew dug through baseball’s postseason history to find out.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Blue Jays: Aaron Sanchez, RHP (2015)
Sanchez, Toronto’s first-round pick (No. 34 overall) from the 2010 Draft, dominated out of the bullpen during his first big league exposure in ’14, notching three saves and posting a 1.09 ERA over 24 appearances. And even though injury issues forced the Blue Jays to move Sanchez from the starting rotation to the ‘pen at the midseason mark in 2015, the right-hander thrived in the role down the stretch, posting a 2.39 ERA over his final 30 regular-season appearances. Facing the Rangers in the ALDS, Sanchez appeared in each of the series’ five games without allowing an earned run, even earning the win in Game 5 to send Toronto to the ALCS.

Orioles: Mike Boddicker, RHP (1983)
Boddicker had made his big league debut back in 1980, but didn’t establish himself in the big leagues until 1983, when he finished third in American League Rookie of the Year voting after leading the league with five shutouts and finishing with a 2.77 ERA. He kept it going in the postseason, earning ALCS MVP honors thanks to his complete game, five-hit, 14-strikeout masterpiece in Game 2 against the White Sox. He threw one more complete game in Game 2 of the World Series against the Phillies, allowing just one unearned run as the Orioles won the title in five games.

Rays: David Price, LHP (2008)
A year removed from being drafted No. 1 overall, Price reached the Majors as a September callup and made five appearances (one start) en route to a spot on Tampa Bay’s postseason roster. He was unhittable out of the bullpen against the Red Sox in the ALCS, earning the win in Game 2 and the save in Game 7 to send the Rays to the World Series. He went on to close out Game 2 of the Fall Classic against the Phillies, netting Tampa Bay its only win in the series, before finishing the postseason with a 1.76 ERA and eight strikeouts over five appearances.

Red Sox: Hugh Bedient, RHP (1912)
Famed for striking out 42 batters in a 23-inning semipro game in 1908, Bedient became the first Red Sox rookie to win 20 games when he did so four years later. He allowed a single unearned run while outdueling Christy Mathewson in a complete-game 2-1 victory in Game 5 of the World Series, then battled the Hall of Famer to a 1-1 tie through seven innings in Game 8. Bedient departed with a no-decision before Boston won the championship with two runs in the bottom of the 10th. A crowd of nearly 25,000 gave him a hero's welcome when he returned home to Falconer, N.Y., after the Series.

Yankees: Charlie Keller, OF (1939)
If the award had existed at the time, Keller would have been the World Series MVP in 1939. He batted .438/.471/1.118, setting a still-standing rookie Fall Classic record with a 1.658 OPS as the Yankees swept the Reds in four games. He tripled and scored the winning run in Game 1, homered twice in Game 3 and homered and later knocked out catcher Ernie Lombardi on the decisive play in Game 4. A career .286/.410/.518 hitter, he was on a Hall of Fame path before World War II and a congenital back issue shortened his career.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

Indians: Gene Bearden, LHP (1948)
The knuckleballing Bearden won the regular-season tiebreaker against the Red Sox that put the Indians in the 1948 World Series, helping lead Cleveland to its most recent championship. Bearden tossed a five-hit shutout to win Game 3 and recorded the final five outs to earn the save in the Game 6 clincher.

Royals: Yordano Ventura, RHP (2014)
Kansas City’s rebuilding effort came to fruition in 2014 as the club reached the postseason via a Wild Card berth before winning its first of two straight ALCS to advance to the World Series. Ventura, who had posted a 3.20 ERA in 183 innings as a rookie during the regular season, turned in four strong starts in October, including tossing seven innings of one-run ball against the Angels in the Division Series and seven scoreless frames against San Francisco in the WS. The Royals won each of Ventura’s postseason starts that year, with the right-hander going 1-0 with a 3.20 ERA in 25 1/3 innings overall.

Tigers: Justin Verlander, RHP (2006)
Verlander went 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA to garner AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2006, two years after the Tigers had drafted him No. 2 overall out of Old Dominion. His regular-season performance was key in helping Detroit reach the postseason that year, and the same goes for his outings against the Yankees (ND, 5.1 IP, 3 ER) and A’s (W, 5.1 IP, 4 ER) in the Division and Championship Series, respectively. Verlander didn’t fare as well in the World Series, losing Games 1 and 5 against St. Louis, though his overall performance in the postseason certainly offered a glimpse of the right-hander’s potential ahead of a 16-year career highlighted by a pair of Cy Young Awards, an MVP and eight All-Star selections.

Twins: Chuck Knoblauch, 2B (1991)
Knoblauch was in the Twins' lineup all year and was a nearly unanimous choice for AL Rookie of the Year. He didn’t slow down in the postseason, hitting .350/.435/.450 in the ALCS as the Twins beat the Blue Jays in five games, then posted a .308/.387/.346 line as the Twins beat the Braves in a thrilling seven-game World Series battle. Knoblauch also stole 6 bases and his sacrifice in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 7 moved Dan Gladden, who scored the winning run, to third.

White Sox: Dickey Kerr, LHP (1919)
Of the three starters Chicago deployed in the 1919 World Series, Kerr was the only one not implicated in the Black Sox scandal. He won both of his starts with complete games, a three-hit shutout in Game 3 and a 10-inning affair in Game 6. After his playing career ended, he managed Stan Musial in the Cardinals' system and helped him maximize his potential as a pitcher and aided with his transition to a full-time outfielder.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

Astros: Yuli Gurriel, 1B (2017)
Gurriel was a force in his first playoff action, batting .529/.556/.706 in a win over the Red Sox in the 2017 American League Division Series. The Yankees kept him in check during the AL Championship Series before he delivered crucial homers off Yu Darvish and Clayton Kershaw in the World Series, helping the Astros win their lone championship. All told, he batted .304/.342/.522 with 10 extra-base hits in 18 postseason games.

Angels: Francisco Rodríguez, RHP (2002)
The legend of K-Rod began when the 20-year-old reliever came up in mid-September and struck out 13 over 5 2/3 shutout innings to end the regular season. That was enough for the Angels to make sure he landed on the postseason roster. He appeared in 11 games total across three levels as the Angels won it all in ’02, winning two ALDS and ALCS games apiece in relief and then appeared in four World Series games. Overall, Rodríguez struck out 28 in 18 2/3 postseason innings.

Athletics: Wally Schang, C (1913)
Schang began what would be a 19-year big league career with the Philadelphia A’s in May of 1913 and finished eighth in MVP voting after hitting .266/.392/.415 and throwing 48 percent of potential basestealers behind the plate. He turned it up a notch in the World Series against the Giants, hitting .357/.438/.714 with seven RBIs. His two-run triple in Game 1 gave the A’s a 3-1 lead, he then added a homer in an 8-2 Game 3 victory and drove in four of the A’s six runs in a 6-5 Game 4 victory.

Mariners: Ichiro Suzuki, OF (2001)
Not your typical rookie after years of starring in Japan, Ichiro took the AL by storm in his rookie season, taking home both Rookie of the Year and MVP honors. After winning the batting title he went 12-for-20 (.600) as Seattle beat the Indians in the ALDS in five games. He only went 4-for-18 in the ACLS, but still finished with a .421/.488/.474 line with seven runs scored, three RBIs and three steals.

Rangers: Mitch Moreland, 1B (2010)
After going 3-for-15 in the 2010 American League Division Series, Moreland led the Rangers in hitting (.389) during the AL Championship Series and then really took off in the first World Series in franchise history. He batted .462/.533/.769 in the Fall Classic, where his three-run homer in Game 3 gave Texas its lone win. He hit .348/.400/.500 overall in 15 playoff games that fall.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

Braves: Chipper Jones, 3B (1995)
Jones’ rookie season would have been in 1994 had a knee injury not kept him out for all of that season, instead starting his Hall of Fame career in earnest in 1995, finishing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting by hitting 23 homers and driving in 86 runs during the regular season. He enjoyed the postseason spotlight that fall, hitting .364/.446/.618 over 14 games, a stretch that included five doubles, three homers and eight RBIs as the Braves beat the Indians in six games for the only World Series ring Jones would earn.

Marlins: Livan Hernandez, RHP (1997)
In their fourth year of existence, the Marlins hoped to make a splash and enhance their marketability to South Florida's Hispanic community when they signed Hernandez, a Cuban defector, to a then-stunning $4.5 million contract in February 1996. A year later, he was named MVP of the National League Championship Series and the World Series as the Marlins captured their first championship. In the NLCS, he won Game 3 with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief and Game 5 with a Championship Series-record 15 strikeouts. He wasn't as sharp in the World Series but beat Orel Hershiser in Games 1 and 5 to finish the postseason with a 4-0 record and 3.18 ERA.

Mets: Noah Syndergaard, RHP (2015)
Acquired with Travis d’Arnaud from the Blue Jays in the December 2012 R.A. Dickey trade, Syndergaard made his big league debut in May 2015 and quickly established himself as a rising star with his electric stuff and flowing blonde locks. He went on to finish fourth in the NL ROY race that year, registering a 3.24 ERA and 10.0 K/9 over 150 regular-season frames, and became a household name as he helped lead the Mets to a National League title. The then-22-year-old right-hander was at his best late in the postseason, tallying an NLCS victory over the Cubs (5.2 IP, 1 ER, 9 K) and another against the Royals in the Fall Classic (6 IP, 3 ER, 6 K).

Nationals: Victor Robles, OF (2019)
Robles made his big league debut at age 20 in 2017 and was on the Nats' Division Series roster that year, but he really made a contribution in Washington's 2019 World Series run after a regular season that saw him finish sixth in NL ROY voting. His overall line (.220/.273/.366) doesn't jump off the page, but he went 3-for-8 with a homer and a pair of RBIs in the Nats' four-game sweep of the Cardinals in the NLCS and provided a pair of highlight-reel catches in the World Series.

Phillies: Lonnie Smith, OF (1980)
Smith first arrived in Philadelphia in 1978, but made his first real contribution two years later when his .339/.397/.443 slash line (with 33 steals) over 100 games landed him third in NL Rookie of the Year voting. He only got one start in the NLCS and went 3-for-5 overall in the series win over the Astros, but got much more playing time in the Phillies' World Series win over the Royals, going 5-for-20 with a double and two runs scored, giving him a .333/.360/.375 with four runs scored and a stolen base during the 1980 postseason run.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

Brewers: Brandon Woodruff, RHP (2018)
Woodruff hadn’t started a game since June 10 when he took the mound as Milwaukee’s NLDS Game 1 starter and delivered three hitless frames against the Rockies. And even though he was moved back into a long-relief role for the Brewers’ NLCS matchup against the Dodgers, Woodruff still posted a 1.93 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings across three appearances in the series, the longest of which (Game 5) lasted 5 1/3 innings. He also homered in the series, taking Clayton Kershaw deep to center field in Game 1.

Cardinals: Pepper Martin, OF (1931)
Martin posted five straight multihit games to open the ‘31 World Series and finished the series with a .500 average (12-for-24) and five extra-base hits, including a homer. The 27-year-old center fielder also tallied five runs, stolen bases and RBIs apiece, helping the Cardinals defeat the Philadelphia Athletics in seven games. He went on to win another World Series title with St. Louis in ’34.

Cubs: Jorge Soler, OF (2015)
The Cubs wouldn't end their 108-year World Series drought until the next year, but their 2015 club featured two of the best rookie player performers ever in Soler (.474/.600/1.105) and Kyle Schwarber (.333/.419/.889). Soler posted a 2.341 OPS in the National League Division Series, socking key home runs in Game 2 and 3 victories, and a 1.250 mark during a Championship Series sweep at the hands of the Mets.

Pirates: Babe Adams, RHP (1909)
Adams actually began his career with the Cardinals in 1906 before joining the Pirates a year later, but it was in 1909 that really got his big league career going, with a 12-3 record and 1.11 ERA over 130 innings. The long-time Pirate then won -- and completed -- all three of his World Series starts, allowing just four earned runs on 18 hits over those 27 innings of work as Pittsburgh beat Detroit in seven games. Quick tidbit: Adams returned to the World Series with the Pirates in 1925, at age 43, to get another ring near the end of a career that saw him collect 194 wins.

Reds: Don Gullett, LHP (1970)
Gullett was just 19 when he joined the Big Red Machine bullpen in 1970, winning five games, saving six more and finishing with a 2.43 ERA over 44 games. He picked up two saves as Cincinnati beat the Pirates in the NLCS (3 2/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 K) then allowed just one earned run in 6 2/3 World Series innings as the Reds were beaten by the Orioles. Gullett finished the postseason with a 0.87 ERA and .171 BAA.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

D-backs: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B (2011)
Going from Double-A to the Major Leagues wasn’t an issue for Goldschmidt, as he posted an .808 OPS with eight home runs and 26 RBIs in 48 games after making his debut on Aug. 1. Facing the Brewers in the NLDS, the former eighth-round pick (2009) hit a homer in Games 2 and 3 of the series, including an opposite-field grand slam as part of a five-RBI performance in Game 3, and recorded multiple hits three of five games in the series. The D-backs dropped the series, 3-2, but Goldschmidt made a statement by slashing .438/.526/.813 in 19 trips to the plate.

Dodgers: Larry Sherry, RHP (1959)
Sherry overcame being born with clubfeet and languished for six years in the Minors before coming up with a slider and making the Dodgers in July 1959. He delivered 7 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to win the first game of a regular-season tiebreaking series against the Braves, then became the first player ever to earn a win or a save in all four of his club's wins in a World Series. He won Fall Classic MVP honors after allowing just one run in 12 2/3 innings, including 5 2/3 scoreless frames against the White Sox in Game 6 to wrap up the franchise's first title in Los Angeles.

Giants: Madison Bumgarner, LHP (2010)
Bumgarner worried the Giants when his fastball velocity dipped to the mid-to-high 80s at the end of the 2009 season and sat in the mid 80s the following spring. But he concluded 2010 with eight shutout innings to beat the Rangers in Game 4 of the World Series, one day before the franchise finished off its first championship since moving to San Francisco. Bumgarner also came up big in the National League Division Series (winning the clincher with six strong innings against the Braves) and Championship Series (a decent Game 4 start plus two critical scoreless relief innings in the Game 6 finale).

Padres: Rubén Rivera, OF (1998)
Rivera batted .281 in 51 games with the Yankees during the 1995-96 seasons but still had rookie eligibility when the Padres acquired him in April ’97 in the Hideki Irabu trade. The 23-year-old outfielder appeared in only 17 games with San Diego during the regular season, batting .250 with one extra-base hits in 22 trips to the plate, but he swung the bat well in the postseason, even turning in a 4-for-5 performance with two doubles and an RBI against the Yankees in the Fall Classic.

Rockies: Ubaldo Jiménez, RHP (2007)
The Rockies had made the postseason just once, in 1995, prior to 2007, when Jiménez made 15 regular-season starts to help them win 90 games and earn a Wild Card berth. He gave up just one run over 6 1/3 innings in his NLDS start against the Phillies, an eventual 2-1 win to finish off the three-game sweep. The Rockies then swept the D-backs in the NLCS to reach their first World Series, with Jimenez yielding just one run over five innings in Game 2, won 3-2 in 11 innings. Jiménez and the Rockies ran into the Red Sox buzzsaw in the World Series, with the right-hander getting saddled with the Game 2 loss. Overall, he finished the postseason with a 2.25 ERA and .196 BAA over 16 IP.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly MLB Pipeline Podcast.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly MLB Pipeline Podcast.