The Longest Active Individual Playoff Droughts: Hitters

It's hard to believe one of baseball's best hitters has never played in the postseason. (via Keith Allison)

It’s hard to believe one of baseball’s best hitters has never played in the postseason. (via Keith Allison)

Last time, I looked at the five active relievers and the five active starters who have played in the most career games without ever appearing in the playoffs. This time, the 10 position players who have languished in the regular season for the longest.

10. Daniel Murphy – 773 games since 2006 debut with Mets

Since I’m organizing this list by total games played — and not, say, total service time — it’s possible that there’s a backup catcher or two who have been around the majors longer without tasting the playoffs. But this is definitely a surprise: the major league player who has played the 10-most games without making the playoffs is still under team control. Murphy will be a free agent following the 2015 season, at which point he will be able to discern how much playing for a winner matters to him once the offers start flying around.

In 2008, Murphy’s rookie year, the Mets won 89 games, finishing a scant game behind the Brewers for the (one) Wild Card spot. Those Mets finished three games behind the Phillies, only to see their division rivals storm all the way to the World Series championship. Since then, it’s been a remarkable string of “blah” for Murphy and the Mets: the team has won between 70 and 79 games in each of the six seasons since. Let me check out the FanGraphs projecting standings here…ah, yes, the Mets are projected to win 78 games in 2015. Perfect.

9. Will Venable – 820 games since 2008 debut with Padres

Just like Murphy, Venable is entering his sixth year of service time, having spent his whole big league career with a very bland, vanilla team. The Padres have landed between 70 and 79 wins in five of Venable’s seven seasons in San Diego, the exceptions being a 63-win 2008 and a 90-win 2010 that, alas, bore no fruit.

We’ve all seen that new general manager A.J. Preller is trying his best to end the Padres’ — and Venable’s — long postseason drought, and doing so would really help change up what’s been a pretty boring franchise history for the Friars. San Diego hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006, hasn’t won a playoff series since 1998, and has made the playoffs on only five occasions total since its inception in 1969.

You don’t quite think of Venable as a franchise cornerstone player (he was a seventh-round draft pick who didn’t debut until age 25), but with his 12.4 career WAR, he is within striking distance of overtaking Greg Harris (15.7 Padres WAR) and Ryan Klesko (15.9 Padres WAR) on the Padres’ Baseball-Reference Wall of Greats.

8. Carlos Quentin – 834 games since 2006 debut, has played for Diamondbacks, White Sox and Padres

The one player whom Preller has been unable to move this winter, Quentin is due the Padres’ fourth-highest salary in 2015 despite cracking 100 games played in just three of his nine big-league seasons. Both the 2007 Diamondbacks and the 2008 White Sox made the playoffs, but Quentin had to watch from the dugout because of, yup, injuries. What’s more, in 2008 Quentin finished fifth in the American League in MVP voting. He launched 36 homers that season, which is more than he’s managed during his first three years with the Padres (33).

Well, maybe now we know the source of all of Quentin’s famous aggressiveness — he just has a lot of angst in his system from missing the playoffs when they were oh-so attainable for him. If Preller’s new-look squad does manage to make it to October in 2015, it’s far from a lock Quentin will be there with the rest.

7. Scott Hairston – 923 games since 2004 debut, has played for Diamondbacks, Padres, A’s, Mets, Cubs and Nationals

Hairston must have felt that he was about to enjoy annual trips to the postseason when the Diamondbacks won the 2001 World Series a few scant months after drafting him in the third round. When Hairston actually made his debut for the Diamondbacks, it was for the 2004 version of the team that limped to a 51-111 record despite still having Randy Johnson and Luis Gonzalez in town. In the time since then, Hairston has been teammates with each of the preceding three players on this list, and he was also on the Oakland A’s in 2009, which just so happened to be one of the five losing seasons in Billy Beane’s 17-year tenure.

As a member of last year’s 96-win Nationals, Hairston was nonetheless denied an opportunity to trod the playoff grass. Perhaps that is as close as Hairston will get: after his second straight sub-replacement year, Hairston remains a free agent with spring training already underway.

6. Adam Lind – 953 games since 2006 debut with Blue Jays

Now that the onerous streaks of futility in Pittsburgh and Kansas City have been busted, I’m sure attention will drift north of the border, where the Blue Jays haven’t made the playoffs since Joe Carter’s triumphant walk-off. So what’s a dude like Lind supposed to do when the Blue Jays select him in the draft, and then what’s he supposed to do when those same Blue Jays offer to buy out his arbitration years and beyond in 2010?

Since that same 2010 year, each of the other four AL East teams has won the division (the Yankees repeated in 2011 and 2012), while the Blue Jays’ best finish was an 83-win third place last season. It’s hard to blame Lind and his 110 career wRC+ for that quiet run of mediocrity. For a player who has been with the same organization for a decade, Lind was dealt away quite casually to Milwaukee for Marco Estrada early this winter. In 2015, the Brewers are projected to battle it out with the Reds for the NL Central cellar.

5. Chase Headley – 966 games since 2007 debut, has played for Padres and Yankees

Again, what’s a guy to do? Headley was drafted by San Diego back in 2005 and was traded away only this past summer, nearly a decade later, when just a few weeks of team control remained on his contract. In free agency this winter, Headley signed a four-year pact with the Yankees, as perennial a winner as there ever was. So New York missed the postseason the last two years: the Yankees still finished with a winning record in both campaigns. In fact, the Yankees haven’t had a losing record since all the way back in 1992, when Buck Showalter was their spry, 36-year-old rookie manager.

Since Headley became a full-time player in 2009, he has been outpaced in WAR by only four other third basemen: Ryan Zimmerman (due $68 million over next six seasons), David Wright ($107 million over six), Evan Longoria ($121.5 million over nine), and Adrian Beltre ($34 million over two). Those deals make Headley’s four-year, $52 million deal look like a heck of a bargain. He’ll be hoping the Yankees can turn some of that rare resource — saved cash — into productive players that will, at long last, help Headley reach the land of milk and honey.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

4. Ryan Doumit – 980 games since 2005 debut, has played for Pirates, Twins and Braves

Before the Braves limped to their 79-83 finish last season, Doumit no doubt thought he was about to be a part of a team with a winning record. That doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment, except: Doumit has never been part of a winning baseball season in the major leagues. In fact, the Braves’ 79-win season is a far cry above 65.7 wins, which is the average number of games Doumit’s teams won during his first nine seasons in the majors. Actually, the Braves’ 79-win season is a far cry above 72 wins, which was the previous high Doumit experienced (with the 2011 Pirates). There is this, at least: the team Venados de Mazatlan, with which Doumit spent part of his winter in 2006, compiled a 38-27 record. (Although having Adrian Gonzalez around no doubt helped matters.)

Still a free agent, Doumit just might end his big league career under an uninterrupted avalanche of losing. But hey, he earned $22.1 million while doing it; things couldn’t have been all bad.

3. Edwin Encarnacion – 1,207 games since 2005 debut, has played for Reds and Blue Jays

Although Encarnacion’s career has gotten more powerful as time has gone on, he’s still bumped into two long playoff droughts, one in Cincinnati (1996-2009) and the still-active winning famine in Toronto. Over the last three seasons, Encarnacion has hit more home runs (112) than everybody except Miguel Cabrera (113) and Chris Davis (112), and he’s in the top 10 in walks, offensive WAR and Runs Created over the same stretch. Even when you factor in Encarnacion’s relatively anonymous early-career production in Cincinnati, he is still 21st in home runs since his 2005 debut.

The Blue Jays have a $10 million team option for Encarnacion in 2016 that increasingly looks like quite the bargain. If the Blue Jays fizzle again, it’s a factor that could delay Encarnacion’s potential arrival in the postseason by yet another year.

2. Jose Bautista – 1,250 games since 2004 debut, has played for Orioles, Devil Rays, Royals, Pirates and Blue Jays

Yup, that Blue Jays drought is looming ever larger as this list progresses. The early, wayward part of Bautista’s career is an exhaustive tour of the awful teams of the mid-aughts. Having never played above High-A previously, Bautista debuted in 2004, bringing him inside losing clubhouses in Baltimore (78-84), Tampa Bay (70-91) and Kansas City (58-104). From there, it was on to the 2005 Pirates, where he was teammates with fellow droughters Doumit and Paul Maholm, as the team finished 67-95.

These are not the first entries in a superstar’s resume — unless that superstar is Bautista, in which case they are. Since his first full season with the Blue Jays in 2009, Bautista has out-homered all hitters save Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols, has been walked more than all hitters save Joey Votto, and has irritated more umpires than anybody.

After he received a $14 million contract for 2015, the Blue Jays hold a $14 million team option for Bautista in 2016, which is an Encarnacion-level bargain for a player who has topped 6.0 WAR in three of the last five seasons. If the Blue Jays can’t enter the playoffs with two of the greatest contemporary sluggers on extremely team-friendly deals, well, that’s not very good.

1. Alex Rios – 1,586 games since 2004 debut, has played for Blue Jays, White Sox and Rangers

Remember, like, 18 months ago, when Rios was one of the most coveted players for a contender to snap up at the 2013 trade deadline? Hmm, guess that seems a bit silly now — not to mention that it feels like destiny that the team that ended up with Rios that season, the Rangers, missed the playoffs despite putting together a 91-win season.

From Bautista to Quentin to Lind to Vernon Wells to Matt Lindstrom, Rios has shared clubhouses with a huge percentage of the league’s most prominent droughters. Amazingly, Rios’ team has finished with a winning record in six of his 11 seasons, but the postseason has evaded him each and every time.

As much sorrow as there no doubt has been in Rios’ career, he can take solace in this: 49 other players have compiled more career games than he and never made the playoffs. Rios also can find hope in this: as a new Kansas City Royal, he has a very real opportunity to bust his drought in this, his 12th big-league season. His journey starts now.

References & Resources

  • Compiled with assistance from the indispensable Baseball-Reference Play Index.

Miles Wray contributes sports commentary to McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Ploughshares, The Classical and Hardwood Paroxysm. Follow him on Twitter @mileswray or email him here.
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7 years ago

If we take the phrase “longest playoff drought” to mean “most games since last playoff appearance” rather than “most games, career, no playoff appearancess”, then players such as Jose Reyes (1010 games since last playoff appearance, with the ’06 Mets) and David Wright (1125 games, ditto) would make the list.

Marvin Jones
7 years ago

I am a Met fan. Please don’t remind me.