Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Still Grappling With the Meaning of a Save

Yesterday in this space, Trevor Hoffman's career was pondered concerning his place in baseball history. Since that post, many other writers have written of Hoffman's career. Many believe he is a first-ballot Hall of Fame player. Others are in this writer's boat in not knowing how to quantify what 601 saves are worth. It's frustrating to only have Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to go by. Yeah, there are other stats similar to WAR to measure a player's worth over the course of his career, but they all do similar things. Hoffman's 30.7 accumulative WAR doesn't get the pitcher far in the valuation question. Are there other ways to look at it?

One method comes to mind but the Fan isn't sure it makes sense. But here goes. Hoffman pitched just slightly above one inning per appearance for his career. It's close enough to call it a one to one equation. He saved 601 games. Another way to look at that figure is to say he had a hand in one-ninth of the win. one-ninth of 601 equals 66.77 wins (601 divided by 9). Hoffman also won 61 games in his career. Again, crediting him for one-ninth of those wins gives him 6.77 (61 divided by nine) more wins bringing his total to 73.54 wins.

Now let's compare that total to what Jake Peavy has done for his career, most of which was with Padres. Peavy has won 102 games, but you can't credit him for the entire game because he averaged 6.77 innings (why is that number coming up so much?) pitched for those wins. So if you divide the 6.77 by 9 for the percentage of the game Peavy pitched, it comes to 75.185185 percent. Multiply that with the 102 wins and you get 76.68 wins.

Granted, this doesn't take anything into account on when Peavy pitched and didn't get a win and Hoffman when he pitched without getting a save or a win, but it does seem to give us the value of Hoffman's saves plus wins against Peavy's wins and Peavy's wins come out ahead. If Peavy finished his career tomorrow, nobody would talk about him being a Hall of Fame player despite his one Cy Young Award.

Just to be fair to Hoffman, let's do the same exercise for Mariano Rivera and A. J. Burnett. What? Bear with the Fan. Rivera's innings per appearance are enough over one-to-one to do more math. Rivera has averaged 1.176 innings pitched per appearance for his career. That comes to 13.1 percent of each game he pitched (rounding off the games to nine innings). If you multiply Rivera's 559 saves by that 13.1 percent, you get Mo 73 wins. You can then give Rivera credit for his 74 wins at a value of 1.75 innings pitched per win or 19.4 percent of a nine inning game. Multiply Rivera's 74 wins by 19.4 percent and you get 14.37 more wins for his total or 87.37 wins. That credited win total is higher than Peavy's (76.68) or Hoffman's (73.54).

Without boring you with the math again, A. J. Burnett's "adjusted" win total (ahem) comes to 85.77, a virtual tie with Rivera. NOBODY will ever argue that Burnett is a Hall of Fame player, but everyone will insist that Rivera is one.

The Fan doesn't know if this way at looking at the value of a closer's saves and wins holds any water. Frankly, the Fan's head hurts from doing all that math that may or may not make any sense. But even if you take the wins at face value and add it to one ninth of a win for each save, Hoffman would end up with a little over 127 career wins and Rivera would have won 158. Not too many pitchers have been voted to the Hall of Fame with that low a win total. Now where is that bottle of Ibuprofen?

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