As mentioned on the daily game picks feature, it has become increasingly difficult to pick games based on the starting pitchers who are matching up. A big part of the equation has become which teams can close out a game once they have a lead. If you are feeling that blown saves are more prevalent than in the past, your feelings are dead on.
Let's look at the past five years:
2005 - American League Save Percentage: 68%, National League: 68%. There were only two teams in the entire major leagues that had a save percentage less than 60%
2006 - American League Save Percentage: 68%, National League: 64%. There were five teams that had a save percentage less than 60%.
2007 - American League Save Percentage: 68%, National League: 67%. Again, there were five teams that were successful less than 60% of the time.
2008 - American League Save Percentage: 67%, National League: 62%. The number of teams that were successful less than 60% of the time jumped to eight.
2009 - American League Save Percentage: 63%, National League: 61%. An amazing 14 teams are currently under 60%. And four of those teams have been successful less than 50% of the time: Washington (37%!!), Houston (41%), Cleveland (47%) and Minnesota (46%).
Some things to consider here: First, only one guy can get a save in a game. So only one guy can be successful. The other guys get "Holds." But any pitcher from the seventh inning on can get a blown save if he loses the lead (under certain score and men-on-base situations). So any team's Save Percentage is going to be lower on average than the closer's statistics because more guys can blow a save than can record one.
Secondly, the National League has seen a decline over the last two years while the American League has been steady up until this year when it has dropped by a wide margin.
The Fan is going to propose a couple of hypotheses on why this trend is occurring. While the Fan would love to take the time and compile numbers to support the hypotheses (and thus make it to Wednesay Wangdoodles), the Fan just doesn't have the will to work that hard. Perhaps someone will take these thoughts and either prove them or disprove them. But here we go.
First, increasingly, the "set up" men in the bullpen are becoming a luxury item. Three of the four teams that are performing at less than 50% this year in Save Percentage are in the bottom half of the team salary statistics. Since these teams have less money to either keep successful pitchers or buy them, they rely more on castoffs, long shots and youngsters to round out the bullpen and hope something works. When it is successful, it's an amazing thing. When it's not, the failure can be spectacular.
Secondly, starting pitchers are on an increasingly shorter leash. To see a pitcher go beyond 100 pitches now is rarer than ever before. With many teams placing more emphasis on OBP than ever before, those starters are getting to their 100 pitch ceiling faster than ever. That places more need on the bullpen meaning that more guys have to work to get the same job done. The Fan would bet that the average pitcher appearances per game is up for many teams. The Fan tried to find this data but was unsuccessful without going to each teams and counting them all up.
Lastly (unless you want to get into the whole PED debate which pitchers no doubt participated in as much as hitters), the current vogue in almost all major league ball parks is the left, right, left parade as managers play the match up game. It seems that every game, a late inning pitching change occurs where a weak throwing lefty (who may or may not be over 40) comes in to face a left handed batter and throws four sweeping breaking balls outside and walks the guy. His day is then done (unless there is another lefty coming up) and he has to hope that the next guy in to pitch doesn't surrender that run.
The Fan would like to back up his theories with cold, hard facts, but will have to settle for someone else doing that legwork. The one fact that is incontrovertible is that Save Percentages are taking a beating and 14 out of 30 teams can't even be successful 60% of the time. It's early yet in the season (a little past the 20% mark), but if the trend holds true, it's going to be a long year for fans hoping that a lead is safe once their team is ahead.