Friday, April 27, 2012

Saves are a stupid statistic...except...

...when you cannot convert them. Most thinking baseball writers abhor the save statistic. It is akin to touting batting average as the best way to tell who the good hitters are. And this post is not going to say those writers are wrong. Taken on a whole, the save statistic is not the best statistic. Probably WPA is a better way to evaluate relief pitchers. But the thing is, games are being lost in the last inning or two at a frantic pace this season. Take the Miami Marlins for example. They have five blown saves in seven opportunities. If you give the Marlins those five wins back, they are 12-6 and among the leaders of the NL East. Instead, they are 7-11 and in last place.

Here is the thing: Scoring has become at a premium in baseball. Runs are down again this season for the third season in a row. Teams are giving up an average of 3.78 runs per game. That is down from 3.91 runs per game a year ago which is down from 4.04 runs per game the year before that and 4.28 the year before that. The games are tighter. More games are coming down to the last couple of innings and what happens in those last couple of innings is determining who wins.

For all the grief he is getting, Bobby Valentine is correct. Many games are won and lost in the last couple of innings. As someone who picks games every day, the blown save is a killer and they are very noticeable. Saves are being converted at a rate of 65 percent this season. The converse of that is that there is a 35 percent fail rate. Last year, saves were converted at a 68 percent rate. In 2010, that rate was 69 percent. So, yes, teams are failing to convert the saves more often than in the past.

Among their many problems so far this season for the Angels, a glaring one is their bullpen, especially in tight games. They have converted only one of five save opportunities. That is killer. Other teams struggling at the back end of games are the Marlins, Giants, Cardinals, Dodgers, Royals and Astros. As good as the starts have been for the Cardinals and Dodgers, some of that momentum is slowed by converting close games at the end.

Some of the surprise teams this season are the Orioles, Nationals and Mariners. All three are closing the deal at the end of the game. The Tampa Bay Rays were thought to have a huge question mark at the back end of their bullpen. But Fernando Rodney has been amazing and they have an 86 percent success rate in closing the deal. That is a huge reason for why they are one of the top two teams in the AL East. The Orioles have ten saves already! The Mariners have only blown two saves thus far.

Another statistic to look at is inherited runners. When a manager goes to the bullpen with runners on base, those relievers have to somehow shut down the opposing team. Most of the time, it works. League-wide, only 28 percent of inherited runners are scoring this season. The Angels and Red Sox, two teams that have struggled out of the gate, lead the majors by allowing 45 percent and 43 percent of those runners to score respectively.

Saves is a statistic that is lightly regarded among analysts of the game and this post is not going to dispute that. What is glaring, however, is that teams that fail to convert them have a lot of wind taken out of their sails. With runs at a premium, when you have a small lead at the end of a game, you have to hold it. When you cannot, the results are devastating. Just ask Ozzie Guillen.

1 comment:

Jonathan Mitchell said...

Great article! You know I loathe the save stat, and the "proven closer theory" could be the reason there are so many blown ones. Heath Bell isn't the best reliever on the team but he gets the call because he is proven and it's the 9th inning.

I prefer, like you said, WPA for relievers as well as Shutdowns, Meltdowns, and RE24.