We’ve already seen some mighty impressive displays of pitching prowess in this year’s postseason, including Chicago Cubs hurler Jake Arrieta’s complete game shutout in the National League wild-card game last week and New York Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom’s seven-inning, 13-strikeout performance against the L.A. Dodgers on Friday. Not only have these performances been dominating, but a few of them even rank among the best playoff starts in their franchises’ histories.
We can measure this using Game Score, a statistic that summarizes a pitcher’s value using his innings pitched, strikeouts, walks, hits and runs allowed. For each active playoff team, here are the best postseason starts since 19511 (as rated by Game Score), with red dots denoting each franchise’s top game score of the time period and blue dots marking the best of this year.2
For a group of franchises all vying for baseball’s greatest prize, there’s been a pretty wide spread in the quality of their postseason pitching over the years. The Cubs are a case in point: Arrieta’s sublime showing in the play-in game rates as the single best game score in franchise history,3 which is why the Cubs’ dot is purple. But that wasn’t exactly a high bar to clear. Chicago, like the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals, hasn’t traditionally benefited from great starting pitching in the postseason.
Meanwhile, franchises such as the Texas Rangers, headlined by Cliff Lee’s superb 2010 playoff run, and the Mets, with Tom Seaver dominating in 1969 and 1973, have been buoyed by plenty of masterful postseason starts over the years. And the single best postseason Game Score ever produced for these franchises belongs to the St. Louis Cardinals, in the form of Bob Gibson’s 1968 World Series Game 1 shutout (which featured an absurd 17 strikeouts against only one walk).
Every team hopes to get that kind of transcendent pitching in the playoffs, though many of this year’s playoff teams have never seen anything close. But with the array of Cy Young candidates on the remaining teams, we may yet see a performance to rival Gibson’s famous start and rewrite a team’s postseason record book in the process.