Few things in the sport mimic the pressures of the MLB playoffs, especially for the pitcher on the mound. One mistake can change the course of an entire game or series. Of course, it could also go the other way, as some of the best playoff moments in MLB history have been top-notch pitching feats.
It’s hard not to remember some of the best post-season pitching performances of all time. As hard as it is to pitch well during the regular season, dominating in the post season is quite another, which is why the best pitchers after the season are always held in high esteem.
Best MLB Playoff Pitchers
So who qualifies as one of the top MLB playoff pitchers? Is one great game enough or does a pitcher have to put together a long resume to be considered one of the best pitchers after the season?
There’s definitely room for both, so let’s take a look at some of the best post-season pitching feats and the best MLB playoff pitchers of all time.
10. Andrew Miller
Even in a losing attempt, Andrew Miller deserves endless credit for what he did for Cleveland during the 2016 postseason. He threw 19.1 innings in 10 appearances and posted a 1.40 ERA. He seemed almost unreachable during that stretch and was probably Cleveland’s greatest weapon during the playoffs.
However, Miller made it to the playoffs six more times between 2014 and 2020, racking up 38.2 postseason innings while conceding just four runs for a 0.93 ERA. Even if he hasn’t thrown as many innings as a starter, he was dominant in October.
9. Andy Pettitte
If nothing else, Andy Pettitte deserves credit for pitching in the postseason more than any other pitcher. After playing for the Yankees for so long, the southpaw holds the record for most postseason innings pitched with 276.2, as well as 19 playoff wins, which is more than anyone else in MLB history.
He was clearly not always at his best and had a lot of bad starts after the season. You could even argue that Pettitte was rarely dominant during the playoffs. But over 44 starts, he owns a 3.81 ERA that any pitcher would take under any circumstances, especially when facing lineups that made it to the playoffs.
8. Stephen Strasbourg
It may have only been one postseason, but Stephen Strasburg was brilliant at it. The Nationals were criticized for not pitching him during the 2012 postseason, but it paid off in 2019.
In six appearances, he was 5-0 with a 1.98 ERA. That includes 8.1 innings in Game 6 as the Astros were held to two runs while Washington was eliminated. People forget that he was just as good compared to his previous playoff starts in 2014 and 2017, making him 6-2 with a 1.46 ERA in his postseason career.
7. Jack Morris
Outside of Don Larsen’s perfect play, it may not get much better than what Jack Morris did in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. He threw 10 scoreless innings against the Braves while his team was eliminated, leading the Twins to a 1-0 victory. led.
Such a feat would be almost unthinkable today.
That was the fourth game Morris won during that postseason. He was also 3-0 with an 1.80 ERA with two complete games when the Tigers won the 1984 World Series. Overall, his 3.80 ERA over 13 playoff starts isn’t as good as some others, but in the World Series, he’s 4-2 with a 2.96 ERA in seven starts.
6. Jon Lester
Jon Lester has had an incredible career and was a regular in the post season. To be fair, he had some tough moments in the play-offs, but he was excellent in October early in his career and also well late in his career.
When the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, he was 3-1 with a 2.02 ERA over six appearances. Lester was just as good when the Red Sox won it all in 2013, 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA over five starts. Across 26 postseason appearances, Lester is 9-7 with a 2.51 ERA and his wins more than outweighed some of his tough moments after the season.
5. Madison Bumgarner
Madison Bumgarner was nothing short of heroic during the 2014 postseason, especially the World Series.
During his seven appearances in that postseason, he threw two complete-game shutouts while going 4-1 with an 1.03 ERA. He dominated Kansas City in Game 1 and Game 5, then came back with short halftime to throw five innings in Game 7 to get the save. You could say he almost single-handedly won the World Series for the Giants.
For the record, two years later, he threw a complete game shutout in the Wild Card Game in a winner-take-all situation, bringing his postseason ERA to 2.11.
4. John Smoltz
The fact that John Smoltz has worked as both a great starting pitcher and a dominant closer during his career puts him in thin air. His post-season resume reads the same way, especially since the Braves consistently made it to the playoffs.
Ironically, in the one year the Braves won the World Series, in 1995, Smoltz may have had his worst post-season performance. However, he also won multiple games in the playoffs in three different years, finishing his postseason career 15-4 with four saves and a 2.67 ERA in 209 innings with 199 strikeouts.
3. Bob Gibson
Oddly enough, Bob Gibson started and ended his World Series career with a few defeats. But in the seven games he pitched in between, he threw seven complete games, including two shutouts, and went 7-0. He was a force to be reckoned with during the 1967 World Series, winning three games against the Red Sox, including the decisive Game 7.
A year later he was almost as dominant, beating Denny McLain twice while allowing only five hits in each outing. However, he couldn’t quite finish Game 7 as the Cardinals lost. Nevertheless, he was 7-2 with an 1.89 ERA over his nine World Series-starts and struckout 92 in 81 innings.
2. Mariano Rivera
He was the greatest closer in baseball history and that includes the playoffs. Of course everyone remembers his failed save in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, but that’s mostly because he was otherwise automatic, even in the playoffs.
Mariano Rivera was part of five teams to win the World Series, winning ALCS MVP in 2003 in a year when the Yankees didn’t win the World Series and taking World Series MVP honors in 1999.
When all was said and done, Rivera equaled his famous shirt number with 42 postseason saves in his career, as well as the lowest ERA in postseason history at 0.70, which is more than 96 appearances and 141 innings. It’s safe to say we’ll never see a closer dominating the regular season or the postseason like Rivera did.
1. Sandy Koufax
Sandy Koufax’s post-season numbers are hard to match for any pitcher, although it was his incredible performances during the 1965 World Series that cement his legacy as one of the best post-season pitchers.
He threw a complete game shutout in Game 5 and did the same in Game 7 on just two days of rest, despite limiting the use of his curveball due to elbow pain.
Of course, that was only the fourth time he helped the Dodgers win a World Series and the second time he took home World Series MVP honors. Over the course of those four World Series, Koufax went 4-3 with an ERA of 0.95, threw four complete games and two shutouts on the main podium of the game.
There is no doubt that Koufax deserves to be at the top of the best MLB playoff pitchers ever.