Holds, Saves and Blown Saves
September 3, 2008 1 Comment
Francisco Rodriguez of the Angels, with 54 saves in 59 opportunities, is on his way to breaking the all-time single season record of 57, set by Bobby Thigpen of the White Sox in 1990. Percentage wise, the Phillies’ Brad Lidge is perfect, with 33 saves in 33 opportunities. On the opposite end, there are records such as those of Aaron Heilman of the Mets, 3 for 7 this year and 9 for 33 since 2004. It’s obvious Heilman can’t close games, with a record like that. No wonder Willie Randolph got fired. Right? Wrong!
Saves have become a statistic who’s leaders are as well known to the casual fan as the homerun leaders, and save percentage is one of the simplest computations in baseball statistics, but it has always contained an error that grossly distorts the value of middle relievers to the general public. It is easy to understand that the setup man isn’t in a position to get many saves, but save percentage has been held up by many, including the media, as evidence that certain pitchers routinely fail when handed a save situation, proof that they can’t handle the closer role.
A save is credited to a relief pitcher who is not the winning pitcher in a game won by his team, and finishes the game with 1. the tying runs at bat, on base, or on deck 2. pitches at least an inning with a lead of three runs or less or 3. pitches at least three innings. If a pitcher enters the game satisfying these conditions, and then allows the runs which gives up his team’s lead, that pitcher is the charged with a blown save. Save opportunities (SvOpp) are then defined as Sv+BS, and Sv% as Sv/SvOpp. It looks simple, but let’s dig a little deeper.
Some time after the save rule was introduced to give credit to those pitchers closing out victories, it was realized that middle relivers were not getting credit for their accomplishments in holding the leads which were then passed on to the closers. A Hold was then defined as coming into the game in a save situation, holding the lead, but not finishing the game. If the pitcher going for the hold allows the runs which give up the lead, he is charged with a blown save.
This is the crucial definition. The common perception is that save opportunities are only for closers, and if a pitcher has any blown saves they came when trying to close a game for a save. What actually occurs is that middle relievers, pitching in the 7th or 8th inning, when no one expects them to finish the game for a save, give up the lead, and because there is no such thing as a blown hold, get charged with a blown save. Where SvOpp = Sv+BS, BS now equals blown holds + blown saves. The equation becomes SvOpp = Sv+BS+BH, and Sv% is explicitly written as Sv% = Sv / (Sv+BS+BH).
Now we can see the error in the formula. Blown Holds are in the denominator, but Holds are not in the numerator.
Saves are a subset of holds, those that finish the game. A correct Sv% would not include Blown Holds, charging Blown Saves only when the pitcher was reasonably expected to finish the game.
Working with the numbers that are currently available, Hld% could be defined broadly as all Holds, incuding Saves. This is expressed as Hld% = (Hld + Sv) / (Hld + Sv + BS), the percentage of the time a relief pitcher was given a lead (subject to the provisions of the save rule) and then held that lead.
Let’s see how that changes our perception of various relief pitchers. Our poster boy for misinterpretation, Scott Linebrink, has 5 Saves and 29 Blown Saves from 2004-2008. Pretty bad? Let’s add in his 130 holds (2nd in the majors to Scot Shields 139) so that we now see that Linebrink has held the lead 135 times in 164 opportunities, a .823 Hld%. That is a hair below the MLB average of .837 over the past 5 seasons. The worst Hold% from 2004-2008, with 50 or more opportunities, is held by Ambiorix Burgos at .698. So even the “worst” at holding a lead does so 70% of the time.
Here are the top ten in Holds so far in 2008
and the top 10 in Holds 2004-2008
The top 10 in Hold% 2004-2008
and the bottom 10 in Hold% 2004-2008