Monday, July 17, 2006

Saves - Big Hoopla!

I'll go on the record and say this. "Saves are Bullshit!" No! No bullets at the end of it, Sayee. Just plain BS!

Well, as I was prepping myself over the last 2 weeks to blog this mess out of Baseball, in comes a phenomenal day in Baseball history. Its amazing that this went completely under the radar too. Saturday, July 15th 2006. The scorecards across the MLB full schedule included 11 blowouts and 4 walkoffs. Yep, that meant no saves credited in the majors across the board. The last time this happened was on Sep 15, 1978. Twenty Nine Years. 4700 days of Baseball when someone got a save. Wow! So much for a stat that I don't even like. Let me explain.

In my opinion, no other stat in Baseball, or any sport for that matter, has such a game changing effect on the outcome. Saves affect the way managers think. You'll never see a closer come in to pitch the 9th inning in a 4 run game. No matter if the opponents are the Yankees or Royals. But the moment a lead off batter gets on base, "Wild Thing" starts to play on the PA systems. All this simply owed to the fact that the 'book' identifies this new development as a save situation.

Let us say that its a tie game in the 8th inning with Jeter-ARod-Giambi-Sheffield coming up. We don't need a book to call it a close game. But still, you'll only see a Kiko Calero come in and not Huston Street. If I were managing, I'd rather have my best pitcher out of the bullpen try and mow down the heart of the line up, and keep my 2nd best option to beat Posada-Bernie Williams & Cano in the 9th. This doesn't even cross the managers mind. He'll promptly send in Kiko in the 8th and end up giving up the go ahead RBI to one of the mighty sluggers. Well, the closer is of no use now and he will just sit in the freaking bullpen and rot, while the 9th inning is taken over by the 3rd best pitcher out of the bullpen.

Very rarely a closer is used in non save situations. Its either that a closer hasn't pitched in the past 3-4 days and hence gets a workout in a blow out affair, or its extra innings. Extra innings are a bit dicey. Depending on when the game was tied, a closer might have already got his work done in regulation. If not, a home team closer is used only in non-save situations and an away closer more often than not is not reserved for saves no later than the 11th inning. I don't condone the closers usage in such rare occurances.

The role of the best relief pitcher in a team would have been different had it not been for the category 'Saves'. That is wrong. Stats could aid in planning strategies, but not directly affect a playcall. The Rivera's and the Hoffman's are still very highly rated in my ranks. Its the managers that I have a problem with.

Some other categories are also guilty of this, although to a lesser extent. Wins, chasing milestones like "Hitting for the Cycle", sitting out the final AB to ensure a .400 batting average for the season (I'll detail that story in another blog) etc.

Also, 'Saves' has made millionaires out of relief pitchers. Not that its bad, but I bet this whole thing was a creation of Rollie Fingers' agent, who saw the big picture many years ago. The end result was that the stat got its popularity, the closers and agents got their money, Dennis Eckersley went into the Hall of Fame, and everybody is happy. Except the fan who would have liked Huston Street to pitch the 8th inning.


Blogger dinesh said...

Nice post. But I don't necessarily agree with everything that has been said. Maybe the category saves has been "decorated" a little bit, but from what I see, a lot of the fuss is deserved. Also, it would not have been allowed to become such a big thing, had it not been real. Are you suggesting, that, you, who's baseball experience is limited to a colleague softball game, has had a brainwave that all the brilliant managers, ex-players, players, and fans of the game have not realized ? That sounds a little far fetched. Not to put you down at all, you have come up with some good ideas in the past. But this one, it's a little harder for me to buy.

To add to that, at the end of the 8 th inning, if it's a tie game, the closer walks in, heart of the order or not. That I thought was the thumb rule, except in about 25 % of the situations where he has been saved for later. To me, more than the category "saves", it's the one dominating out pitch that these closers posess, which finishes out the game for the team, which have brought them millions. I agree with you though, that, the category "saves" has added to their value.

6:03 AM  
Blogger Sriram said...


1. My 8th inning example was actually in the ""EIGHTH INNING"". Not at the end of it, like you have read it. Read the 4th stanza again.

If its a tie game in the 9th inning, you are right. Closers are probably going to be coming in, but I suggest you read my case more carefully because the situation is COMPLETELY different if you understand it correctly.

2. My knowledge of the game is not limited to playing softball. In fact, I don't even think that contributed much to my baseball IQ. Its more the following of the sport for so many years. Well, I never claimed that I had a brainwave that all the sport geniuses missed out on. I never suggested a brand new theory. Just peeved that stats (saves especially) have controlled game strategies beyond reason. That's all. Nothing fancy about it.

8:28 AM  
Blogger dinesh said...

"My knowledge of the game is not limited to playing softball. In fact, I don't even think that contributed much to my baseball IQ"

I am not undermining your IQ at all. In fact, for some one who's not played the game, you have a really good understanding. I was merely pointing out that you have not played the game. After all is said and done, one would have to give the edge (w.r.t issues like how difficult it is to play mcgrath on a certain pitch for eg) to Ravi shastri as opposed to a Harsha bhogle, simply because he has had a lot of experience playing in such wickets and against such bowlers.

So, as much as some things are given the media hype and are decorated, some things are given the importance because it's due. If it was indeed exaggerated, don't you think atleast one revolutionary manager (say an ozzie guillen) would have used his closer/best reliever in the 6 th inning ? Maybe there is more to it..

1:59 PM  
Blogger Sriram said...

No sweat! I wasn't offended.

I'm not asking you to use the best RP in the 6th or 7th inning. In fact, one would be stupid to do that.

Dinesh, We'll go nowhere if the argument goes like this: "your point can't be right, because the 'so-called experts' didn't try it earlier". On the other hand, I'd rather you agree or disagree with logical counter points pertaining to the case.

back to your point "some things are given the importance because it's due". Why didn't the folks between 1890 and 1970 think that closing a game was a big deal?

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok Ram, Let me shine some baseball knoweldge on you. 1st: Majority of MLB managers don't put the closers in until the 9th inning because they don't want the meat hitters to see more than one at bat against them. You can argue you all you want about that, but the fact remains that modern MLB'ers hitters can hit 1 ball pitchers after the 3rd or sometime their 2nd at bat(most closers are one ball pitchers)for example look a the amount of starting pitchers that last only 5 or 6 innings usually that is the top of the orders 3rd time in front of the starting pitchers. As for the comment about why didn't the early managers see the need for the closer? I have always wondered about that, so let me give you my opinion. In the 1890's and for a long time after, most sports as well as Baseball was more the commoners game, the working class folks. Which meant more mano vs mano and finish the job type mentality. Also there was only 8 teams and limited skilled players. Even the huge stars of the times had to work offseason odd jobs to make ends meet.(Hank Greenberg sold insurance, etc.) That along with the "Dead ball" era, Owners not wanting to pay a "specialist". (You have had to hear how bad the the owners treated the players back then, ie Babe Ruth!)Well I am rambling on now, but basically I think it was the stingiest of the owners pocket books, the pride of the player, not wanting to be known as a pitcher that can't go the distance and the lack of skilled players led to no need for a closer. I think that maybe Free Agency led to the closers role, wasn't that about the time that we started seeing the closer role? Charlie Finley and all that?

9:25 PM  
Blogger Sriram said...

Fair points, but let me clarify a few things..

1. Reg your 1st point, I very well know that most closers are 1 pitch guys and that they would probably not be effective 2nd time around. Never did I ask them to. I agree, but that's a side point, really. My thing was that most managers get sucked in by the definition of 'saves' to use or not use the best RP on the team. If not for the "saves" category, things would happen differently during end of games. That's what is wrong.

2. Good point about the way players were treated then, the low payrolls, blue collar mentatlity etc. So, are you saying more money has made these players lesser 'mano'. :-). probably true.

3. I'm not sure when freeagency started in Baseball, but I bet you are right that it had an effect on the closers role. Still, it only proves my point, that it is 'something' other than pure Baseball strategy that drove the need for closers.

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK Ram, I am not so sure that big league managers care about the "Save" as much as they care about a win. I think that they go with the "CLOSER" because he is the best chance to get the win. I think that pitchers and agents care about the saves category. I most definitly think that the ball players of yesteryear were tougher than they are today. I don't think that they were faster and stronger necessarily but for sure tougher. Those guys could chew nails. The played through hamstring pulls, back aches, blisters, hell they had to get paid. Could you see Bob Gibson not play because he had a hang nail? Hell no, that would piss him off more and make him more competitive. You don't have a point. You ugly and stupid. When will we see some football posts? Can't wait to see what you have to say about Corey Dillon vs. Laurance Maroney!

12:04 AM  

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