I have enjoyed watching some of the playoff games this year, even if the Astros aren't involved. But it does lead to some nostalgia about the Astros of Playoffs Past. The playoffs give rise to much commentary about clutch play, in terms of players rising to the playoff occasion. Cardinals fans wonder why mid season trade hero Matt Holliday can't break the .700 OPS mark in the playoffs, and the normally god-like Albert Pujols hasn't hit a HR in his last 80-some at bats. And we all know about the running commentary painting A-Rod as "unclutch" and Jeter as "clutch." A-Rod's 1.5 OPS in the just completed Minnesota series may put him on the way to shutting up his critics.
And, yes, I realize that playoff stats may not tell us much about "clutch," because the sample size is always small. But good performers in the playoffs can and should get their meaure of fame and recognition. And that leads me to wonder who is the best Astros' hitter in post season play.
Let me start off by comparing three iconic hitters who have worn the Astros' uniform in more playoff games than most any other Astros position player.
Playoff Stats (BA/OBP/SLG/OPS)
Berkman .321, .426, .566, .992
Biggio .234, .295, .323, .618
Bagwell .225, .364, .321, .685
The "killer B's" of Berkman, Biggio, and Bagwell have all logged well more than 100 playoff plate appearances for the Astros. And the struggles of Biggio and Bagwell in the playoffs was frequently discussed during their career. However, clearly, Lance Berkman has been a dominant offensive player in the playoffs. His 6 HRs in 25 games is a nice mark. And Lance's .992 playoff OPS is somewhat higher than his .967 career OPS, even though arguably this shows that he has played at approximately the same level as his regular season performances.Now I will extend the comparison to some players with somewhat smaller sample sizes with the Astros in the playoffs.
Terry Puhl 43 AB .855 OPS
Carlos Beltran 46 AB 1.5 OPS
Chris Burke, 28 AB .982 OPS
Jeff Kent 47 AB .896 OPS
Ken Caminiti 17 AB 1.526 OPS
Tony Eusebio 24 AB 1.006 OPS
Terry Puhl's OPS would look even better if it is put in the context of a lower run environment era. B-Ref doesn't provide OPS+ numbers for the post-season playoff stats, but my rough estimate is that Puhl's .855 OPS is probably similar to a .900 OPS by the more recent players. Carlos Beltran and Chris Burke both had one huge playoff season with the Astros. Beltran's playoff campaign with the Astros tied Barry Bonds for most HRs (8). Burke had a big, never to be forgotten, walk off HR. Caminiti had a big 1999 playoff series with the Astros. Eusebio was mostly a role player and pinch hitter for several years, but he did very well in the playoffs during limited playing time. Kent had a big walk off HR for the Astros in the 2004 NLCS (which I saw in person), but overall he has been very good in the playoffs over 7 playoff seasons with 4 teams. Kent has a .849 OPS in 185 playoff at bats.
While one could make an argument for Beltran as the best Astros' hitter in the post season, he only played in one playoff season as an Astros hitter. Clearly, Beltran is the best Astros hitter, in terms of a single playoff season. Beltran's performance that season shows up on a number major league leaderboards. But I don't think one season earns hiim the honor of the Astros' best playoff hitter. (Of course, you may disagree, and I could see why.) Caminiti, Eusebio, and Burke don't have enough at bats with the Astros in the post-season to warrant a claim of "best." So, my conclusion is that Berkman currently qualifies as the Astros' best post season hitter. He is followed by Terry Puhl, but a big gap separates Puhl and Berkman, particularly in terms of at bats in the playoffs.