Stat of the Week
by Peter Liubicich
This post was written by Peter Liubicich on June 18, 2012
Posted Under: Stat of the Week

An experience every baseball game has had is sweating out close games in the 9th inning of a team’s win.  When people think of closers today, the most obvious names are Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon and Heath Bell.  Protecting a 1-run lead in the 9th inning is one of the most pressure packed jobs in baseball and pitchers who are expected to pitch 70-80 innings a season can be compensated up to $15 million.  If you look at the list of closers today, however, some of the names on there are not familiar to the average baseball fan, showing a move away from highly compensating closers and teams allowing a successful reliever take over that role once their closer wants to receive a larger contract.  We will look at this more in depth with the Oakland A’s on Thursday.

So to effectively analyze saves, we will first need the definition which is found as Rule 10.19 in the MLB’S The Rules of Scoring under Saves for Relief Pitchers:

“A save is a statistic credited to a relief pitcher, as set forth in this Rule 10.19.

The official scorer shall credit a pitcher with a save when such pitcher meets all four of the following conditions:

(a)    He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his team;

(b)   He is not the winning pitcher;

(c)    He is credited with at least 1/3 of an inning pitched; and

(d)   He satisfies one of the following conditions:

(1)    He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning;

(2)    He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, or at bat or on deck (that is, the potential tying run is either already on base or is one of the first two batters he faces); or

(3)    He pitches for at least three innings.

Now that all of the specifics for how to receive a save is settled, let’s look at the pitchers who have fulfilled all of these requirements the most in their career:

Mariano Rivera, 608

Trevor Hoffman, 601

Lee Smith, 478

John Franco, 424

Billy Wagner, 422

I quoted Scott Barzilla last week for the reason why RBI is not a sufficient statistic to evaluate a player since it is a team based statistic, he also offers criticism of the save:

“Many baseball analysts question the wisdom of putting considerable money on a closer.  The save is one of the most overrated statistics in baseball.  There is a big difference between retiring the side with the bases loaded and no one out and getting three outs with a three-run lead.  Both can result in a save.”

Barzilla brings up a good point as the save does not measure the severity of the situation when a relief pitcher enters a game and therefore a reliever with 50 saves that were with three run leads are not as impressive as a reliever with 30 saves but all came in situations where the tying run was on base.  However, while that argument is true it is not often when a closer always enters games when the team has a three run lead and you can see their effectiveness in tight situations through the amount of Blown Saves they have and using more advanced statistics such as Leverage Index.

On Thursday we will look into what the Oakland Athletics have done with closers the past few years and also evaluate the difference between old school closers like Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter with the modern day closer like Jonathan Papelbon and Heath Bell in terms of innings pitched, ERA and strikeouts.

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