There is an interesting relationship between the Hall of Fame and performance in postseason play. In baseball, whether you’re a starting pitcher or elite hitter, you’re able to build enough of a resume that even if by no fault of your own, you never even make the postseason, you’ll be remembered and treated with the same amount of respect.
A great enough QB will eventually lead his team into the playoffs (barring catastrophic surroundings). The best basketball player in the world can single-handedly carry his team into the playoffs. The best baseball player of our generation has missed the postseason in all but one season of his entire career. And it’s not like the Angles are a bottom-five organization in baseball. That’s just the nature of the sport.
Mike Trout is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and his postseason play or lack thereof is irrelevant. Félix Hernández was on his way to Cooperstown despite no playoff starts until basically falling off a cliff way earlier than anyone expected.
Postseason production may not be as big of a factor in Hall of Fame voting for baseball players, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come into play. If you can’t really deny hitters or starters, you’re left with relief pitchers.
The focus with previous entries to our series such as Russell Martin and Bobby Abreu was to highlight players with steady careers that managed to build at the very least borderline hall of fame cases.
The next player on our list is a worthy Hall of Famer with nothing borderline about it.
Billy Wagner is one of the best relievers in the history of the sport and a miniscule sample size in postseason play is the one thing keeping him from getting that honor.
A lot of the old-school mentality that’s entrenched with some of the voters really does a poor job with relievers. Hitters and starters don’t suffer the kind of treatment that Wagner does because of postseason failures.
Here are the career numbers for Billy Wagner in postseason play.
- 14 games - 11.2 IP - 3 Saves
- 21 Hits - 13 Earned Runs
- 2 Walks - 13 Strikeouts
- -0.87 WPA
Wagner pitched in eight different series between his time with the Astros, Mets, Red Sox, and Braves, and his team didn’t fare well, getting knocked out in seven of those. His 10.03 ERA surely didn’t help and although you can’t blame him solely for those exits, he certainly played a role in that.
Now let’s look at Wagner’s career.
- 908 IP - 2.31 ERA - 0.998 WHIP
- 225 Saves - 33.2 K% - 8.3 BB%
- .558 OPS - 29.1 WPA - 187 ERA+
Wagner is ahead of legends like Trevor Hoffman and Dennis Eckersley in major categories like ERA+ and K%.
There’s simply no analysis one can make to leave him out of the upper echelon of relievers in baseball history. The only thing to point to are those 11 2/3 innings in postseason play and to leave a worthy candidate out of Cooperstown over such a small sample size is appalling.
Outside of Mariano Rivera, one could make the argument that Wagner is the best reliever ever and certainly in the top five.