Who is saving the day?

Joe Maddon knows value when he sees it - Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Another look at which relievers contribute most

Modern relief pitching often revolves around one set of arbitrary criteria: the save situation. Although there a variety of ways the criteria for a save can be met, the most common results when a relief pitcher enters the game when his team is leading by three or fewer runs. When a pitcher enters under this circumstance, he will receive a decision: a hold, save, or blown save. A pitcher earns a save when he enters the game in a situation meeting the given criteria and finishes the game (that is, record the final out of the game) without relinquishing the lead. A hold is identical to a save except that it occurs before the game ends. Holds, for whatever reason, are not considered equals with saves. Teams value relievers with high save totals much more than relievers that accumulate holds.

What makes this interesting is the blown save statistic. A pitcher is stuck with a blown save whenever he enters the game in a save situation and fails to retain his team's lead. A reliever who would normally earn a hold for pitching the eighth inning is charged with a blown save if he allows the tying or go-ahead run(s) to score.

Pitcher

Save Situations

Holds

Saves

Blown Saves

Closer

41

0

34

7

Setup Man

41

36

2

3

Consider the hypothetical pitchers above. These are not real stat lines but not unrealistic. Using only these more "traditional" statistics instead of Win Probability Added or Wins Above Replacement, one could make the case that the "setup man" was more valuable to his team than the closer. It does not make sense that a save should be considered more meaningful than a hold solely because of when each occurs. Further, high leverage situations are just as likely to arise in earlier innings as in the ninth inning and the statistic that measures the failure to convert a save situation is a "blown save," regardless of whether success would have lead to a save or hold. Given modern managers' reluctance to use closers prior to the ninth, often the holds earned by the relievers other than the closer are more difficult than the "saves" later in the game.

The table below compares relievers in the Rays' bullpen this season.

Pitcher

Save Opportunities

Saves

Save Percentage

Fernando Rodney

41

33

81%

Joel Peralta

3

1

33%

Jake McGee

5

1

20%

Stop and consider what the table above actually says about the performance of the relievers this season. The only piece of information that this table really gives is which pitcher is pitching at the end of games.

Pitcher

Save Situations

Blown Saves

Saves + Holds

Appearances with Runners on

High Leverage Appearances

Fernando Rodney

41

8

33

10

29

Joel Peralta

39

2

37

13

40

Jake McGee

30

4

25

19

26

The table above does not distinguish between holds and saves, and shows how uninformative the save statistic is when evaluating a reliever's performance. This table paints a much different picture of the bullpen in usage and in effectiveness. If saves and holds were treated equally, Joel Peralta would appear to be Joe Maddon's first choice out of the bullpen. It is certainly possible that Joe Maddon is using this logic when choosing which reliever to use. While Rodney got the lion share of attention last season, Peralta quietly lead the AL in holds (37), giving Rodney the ability to convert saves later in the game.

When saves and holds are used together, the save gains value as a statistic. Instead of measuring a pitcher's conversion rate in save opportunities, pitchers should be measured in save situations. It is much easier to gain information on how a bullpen is managed and which reliever is the most effective when using this strategy.

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