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Baseball Debates: Is the Save Stat Good for the Minnesota Twins and the MLB?

Baseball Debates: A new series of posts that raise debatable questions about the wide world of baseball. Each post will pose a question, argue both sides of the debate and then let you, the reader, have the final say. Let’s get to it!

Welcome back to another installment of Baseball Debates. Up for debate this week is the question of whether the Save stat does more bad than good for the MLB. Although there are a couple of ways to earn a save, the most common way is for a closer to finish off a win in the ninth inning with a 1-3 run lead. Conventional logic suggests that saving your closer for a save situation in the 9th gives you the best chance to win games, but it also locks managers into a strict way of using their bullpens to bridge the gap between starters and closers. So now Puckett’s Pond is asking, Is the Save Stat and the Bullpen Hierarchy that it Creates a Good Thing for Baseball?

For

  • Not every pitcher can deal with the pressure in the ninth inning with the game on the line so the save stat lets GMs and Managers know who they can throw out there to protect a lead.
  • Sure, “Proven Closers” blow some save opportunities every once in a while but any fan would rather see a trustworthy face with a long save history on the mound with a lead in the ninth rather than a faceless newbie. Keep situational lefty vs. lefty, etc. bullpen calls for earlier in the game; a closer always best knows what to do to finish out a game.
  • Baseball is a huge mental game and relief pitchers need to know their roles so they can be mentally prepared to enter the game. The save stat creates an organized, necessary hierarchy in the bullpen that allows relievers a chance to get ready for their appearance a few innings in advance if the situation looks right. Imagine what might happen if you asked all of your relievers to be ready to come in and pitch in the 8th one day, the 6th the next, and then the 9th the day after that. Their heads might not be ready to pitch because they are never comfortable in the bullpen and can’t anticipate when they might be needed to enter the game.
  • Without the Save (and Hold for that matter), relievers could only be compared to starting pitchers with standard pitching stats that don’t mean as much since they barely pitch over an inning in any game. The MLB needs some extra way to value relief pitchers since they are often instrumental in winning a baseball game.

Against

  • A one run lead can be lost just as easily in the 8th inning as it can be in the 9th but the save stat dictates that the manager will hold back his closer to pick up the save. The closer on any team is traditionally the best pitcher in the bullpen so when the game is on the line, the best relief pitcher should be facing the best opposing hitters. The save forces a lesser pitcher to possibly protect a one run lead against the 3-4-5 heart of the order in the 8th while the closer gets to feast on the bottom of the order in the 9th.
  • In a tied bottom of the ninth or later, an away manager is much more likely to save his closer for a possible save situation in the next inning (that might never materialize) than have his best pitcher try to prevent a walk-off win.
    • Take for example this August 31st Minnesota Twins game at the Texas Rangers where the score was tied 1-1 entering the bottom of the ninth and Caleb Thielbar started the inning, got two outs, and left the game with runners on 1st and 3rd. Then Ron Gardenhire called on Josh Roenicke, who walked his batter and got pulled, and then Brian Duensing, who gave up the winning single. Glen Perkins would have been a huge upgrade over either of those two pitchers but as the closer in a non-save situation he never entered the game.
  • Naming a Closer commonly leads to other rigidly defined roles for the rest of the bullpen like the seventh or eighth inning “set-up men.” A relief pitcher shouldn’t pitch a certain inning just because that’s their inning, they should pitch in an inning because it provides the team with the best chance at protecting a lead and winning the game.
  • The save puts a premium price on pitchers who have to get 3 outs just like any other relief pitcher. Why should a pitcher be paid way more for simply getting those outs in the last inning? The closer is typically the highest paid pitcher in the bullpen and sometimes one of the top paid players on a team. The save forces teams to allocate a bunch of money to a relief pitcher if they want a “proven closer.”
    • For example, Joe Nathan made $11.25 million each season from ’09 to ’11 for the Minnesota Twins and will make $10 million a season for the next two years for the Detroit Tigers.
  • Saves are just a counting stat that is largely situational and doesn’t really indicate a player’s worth. Having a bunch more saves than another guy doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a better closer, it could just mean your offense doesn’t provide as much cushion, or the pitchers before you let in more runs to put you in the position to get a save in the first place (the 1-3 run sweet spot). Was Baltimore Oriole Jim Johnson (50 saves) a way better pitcher than Glen Perkins (36 saves) in 2013 because he had 14 more saves? Not at all.

Now it’s your turn to vote! Leave a comment to support your decision or to let me know if I missed any important supporting or opposing points!

 

Is the Save Stat Good for Baseball?

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