Bemoaning the save rule


I hadn’t heard this until today, but apparently Jerome Holtzman, the sportswriter credited with inventing the save, passed away last weekend. Today, Colby Cash of the National Post takes a look at the rule’s origins — Holtzman wanted to prove that a reliever’s 18-1 record was highly deceptive, so he created an equally deceptive statistic.

There’s not a whole ton to the article, as Cash goes on to make an analogy to public policy. Yippee! But there is this one takeaway quote:

By 1980 the idea of the “closer,” a role that gives a team’s best reliever the narrowly defined job of protecting a lead at the end of the game, had taken over. As countless researchers have demonstrated, and as elementary logic indicates, this is a suboptimal use of talent. Teams are no less likely to blow late leads in the “closer” era than they were before, and a team’s most effective reliever should almost certainly be allowed to come into tied games, in which an extra run saved by good pitching has the highest possible value.

Instead, a team like the Yankees uses a Rivera to protect relatively safe two- or three-run leads, but lets ties be decided by guys who can’t hoist Rivera’s jock. Why? Because the “save” has come to define what it was originally meant only to describe: Since we measure relievers by saves, saves must be what they do. Q.E.D.

Q.E.D. Indeed.

Categories : Death by Bullpen
  • Adam

    jerome holtzman and tony la russa were spies sent from the future to destroy modern bullpen usage. what the future has against the way bullpens should be operated i don’t know, but i get this information from an impeccable source.

  • DP

    I dunno if this has been mentioned yet (it probably has) but, the Yankees are the first team (disabled list included) to have 7 teammates with 200+ HR: A-Rod, Giambi, Sexson, Pudge, Abreu, Posada, Jeter.

    • Joseph P.

      This has to do with the save rule how?

      • Adam

        i think it was a satire about the save. in response to a post about the inventor of saves he was trying to point out the most ridiculous statistic that he himself could think of.

        • Joseph P.

          Ah, good one. I missed that. Dense is me.

        • DP

          Haha well something like that. I’m just bored and decided to point out a pointless stat.

          • Thurman

            That’s some deep shit though Adam…

            • dan


            • tommiesmithjohncarlos

              In a related story, I just got off the phone with Jonathan Swift, and he told me that babies are delicious.

  • dan

    86% of the comments on this thread are not about the save rule. Shit, now its 88%.

    • Thurman

      So how bout that save rule.
      Your thoughts….

      There you go Dan

  • dan

    David Pinto drops some knowledge:


  • Casey

    The argument about Mo is faulty though as his numbers clearly demonstrate that he is not slightly but substantially better in save situations, or even in mop up duty, than he is in tie games.

    It’s probably just a coincidence or “one of those things” but he’s a bad example for bemoaning the save stat.

    • Thurman

      But don’t you think that his problem may have something to do with the importance a save has been assigned. If no one invented saves as a stat, do you think Mo would perform as badly in “non-save” situations?

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos

        Exactly. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Many modern closers perform differently in save situations and non save situations precisely because we have created and labeled the situations as such… we treat them differently, so they do.

        There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, on their part or ours, unless we (and they) have gotten it backwards and assigned greater import to the less critical situation.

        I agree that we (and they) have.

        • Casey

          I really don’t think that’s the case at all. Mo wants to succeed in every situation in which he enters the game.

          I don’t think he feels any better walking off the mound after locking down a save than he does when he is headed to the dugout having just provided the Yanks with a chance to pull out a W in the bottom of the 9th.

          If Mo was equally as bad in mop up situations as tie games there might be something to it. But he is just not the same in tie games, and noone in their right mind who understands the game looks at save situations as being much more important than a hold in a tie game. Particularly not the guy charged with keeping his team alive in those tie games.

  • Joltin’ Joe

    While it’s not limited to closers, I think something comparing WHIP and ERA would be good, for example, ERA/WHIP (“Baserunner Efficiency”?) so that we can see who is really best at preventing runs from scoring.

  • DP

    I apologize in advance for a non-save related post: Karstens, 6 scoreless innings in Wrigley Field. The NL: where AAAA pitchers revive careers.

  • Yankee1010

    Does anybody know if the picture Betemit has of Girardi is him screwing a sheep or a goat? In some ways, Betemit is to Girardi as Enrique Wilson is to Torre (granted, Betemit at least has a little power). Betemit is 0-3 against Santana with 2 Ks. I can’t wait to see the Betemit back-foot-ending-up-in-front-of-the front-foot swing tonight.

    Exactly why did the Yanks get Nady?

    • DP

      Where do you see the lineups? I use but they usually don’t have it up until an hour before..

      • Yankee1010

        It’s on LoHud right now –

        Wilson Betemit, your 1B batting 7th.

        • DP

          OK thanks, well it says there that Nady has a sore right quad (available to pinch hit). Also, at least Betemit is better from the left side—better then when Giambi gets benched for a RH Betemit. And (from that) Bruney’s back, Britton sent down, yet again.

          • Yankee1010

            That makes it a little better. That wasn’t on the original post.

            • steve (different one)

              no, we should immediately assume Girardi is too stupid to realize that Nady is better than Betemit.

              • Yankee1010

                You’re right. It’s not like Betemit doesn’t play too much with his .248/.275/.400 hacktastic ways.

                • steve (different one)

                  and anything that happened before Nady joined the team is relevant to your argument, how?

  • LiveFromNewYork

    If there were no saves then there would be no “Mariano can’t pitch in a non-save situation.”

  • Old Ranger

    Nady, slight pulled Quad…day to day. Per LoHud. 27/08??

  • Realist

    The “save rule” has infact caused an overflated sense of a save….back in he day, Goose pitched 3 innings to “save” a game, same with Lyle….plus other non Yankees, Rollie Fingers, etc…

    The rule made heroes out of zeros and Mo is definately not one of them. His presence is and should be held in awe as he has done it better and more consistent than the majority of so called “closers”.

    • Realist

      The funny thing is how many people on here remember when the rule was initiated? Not many I am sure………………baseball has changed quite abit from the game I watched in the 70’s as a child…..not all for the good ;-)

  • Rafi

    I hate to say it, but couldn’t this year just be a small sample size? I know that it looks like every tie game he pitches in he gives up a run, but here are his career splits(per Baseball Reference):


    Sv Situ 555 501 16 20 469 624.2 1.90 461 142 132 24 125 14 560 28
    in non-Sv 265 199 47 24 0 325.2 2.51 262 100 91 20 97 16 316 7

    The difference in era(and a lot of other rate stats I didn’t copy-baa, opsa) show similar numbers. Just something to keep in mind

  • Michael T

    Speaking of stats, here is a nice article to ponder regarding some leading-edge fielding stats.

    It confirms what my eyes tell me: that the Yankees have cost themselves several games this year on defense. According to this methodology, the Yankees defense has collectively cost them 49 runs relative to an average team. That is probably an 8-10 game swing.

    The worst offender by far is Bobby Abreue, who accoounts for over half of that himself by rating the worst defender in baseball at -27 runs. I doubt that he is much better than a few runs on offense so the Yanks are essentially paying him $16 million to be worst than average all things considered.

    Other notables from the full spreadsheet attached which has data on every player.

    -Damon is the only defender on the team meaningfully above average (as an LF)

    – Jeter really hasn’t been that bad, actually a few runs positive

    – Giambi is indeed awful, but as you would suspect it is hard to do so much damage on D as a firstbaseman that you can’t offset it with s good bat. As bad as Giambi has been this years (-9.8 runs) he more than makes up for this relative to having a good field/no hit 1B like Minky or (god forbid) trotting out Andy Phillips or Miguel Cairo there jlike Joe Torre did.

    – Cano is only modestly positive which doesn’t synch with my observations as he seems to get to lots of balls.

  • A.D.

    In reality they should make the save something that an official scorer can determine. So that if rivera comes in the 7th in a bad situation or if it is a key situation, and then the game blow open then throw it to someone else, Rivera the save.

    In reality the save as we know it saves the Joe Torre’s of the world of destroying the best relievers, and instead the middle of the road guys