Sunday, October 5, 2008

More on the Single-Season Saves Record

If you've followed the 2008 Major League Baseball season at all, you're aware that Francisco Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Angels set a new single-season record for saves. Rodriguez wound up with 62 saves on the year, breaking Bobby Thigpen's 18-year-old record. However, some people have trivialized his accomplishment, pointing to his eight saves gathered in appearances of less than one inning as evidence that he had an easier road to the record than other closers. This easier road supposedly comes about because those short saves can be earned with a four or five run lead and only having to retire one or two hitters is less impressive than having to retire three or more. I'm sure there's other reasons that picking up short-outing saves is frowned upon.

Either way, I wondered who would hold the record if you threw out saves earned in appearances lasting less than one inning. If pitching at least one full inning was retroactively made a requirement of picking up saves, would Rodriguez still have set a single-season record? Here's what the new leaderboard would look like:

Most Saves in a Single Season
(min. 1 IP to earn a save)

1John Smoltz200254

Francisco Rodriguez200854
3Eric Gagne200353
4Bobby Thigpen199052

Eric Gagne200252
6Mariano Rivera200451
7Randy Myers199350

Trevor Hoffman199850
9Dennis Eckersley199247

Jeff Shaw199847

Mariano Rivera200147

Jose Valverde200747
13Trevor Hoffman200645
14Lee Smith199144

Rod Beck199344

Jeff Brantley199644

Eddie Guardado200244

Mike Williams200244

Billy Wagner200344

Francisco Cordero200444

Chad Cordero200544

Bob Wickman200544

So it turns out that Rodriguez is still atop the list. He's no longer alone, however. Smoltz in 2002 was credited with 55 saves, but one of them was earned by pitching only one-third of an inning. I wonder if anyone brought up Bobby Thigpen's five short saves when he set the saves record in 1990. Eric Gagne in 2002 has the record for most saves in a season without one lasting less than one inning in length.

So where does Francisco Rodriguez's eight saves of less than one inning rank all-time? It turns out that his is one of 56 seasons with eight or more such short saves in a single year. Here are the thirteen seasons with ten or more:
  • Bill Henry, 1961 - 11
  • Sparky Lyle, 1971 - 10
  • Dave Giusti, 1972 - 10
  • Don Stanhouse, 1978 - 10
  • Jeff Reardon, 1983 - 10
  • Dave Smith, 1985 - 10
  • Todd Worrell, 1987 - 10
  • Jeff Russell, 1989 - 10
  • Steve Farr, 1991 - 10
  • Steve Olin, 1992 - 10
  • John Wetteland, 1993 - 10
  • Mike Henneman, 1996 - 10
  • Rod Beck, 1998 - 10
It's interesting to see how many of those seasons took place in the 70's and 80's, the good old days of closers going more than an inning to pick up saves. I guess some people didn't get the message.

So, when you hear about Francisco Rodriguez's single-season saves record meaning less because he had eight saves lasting less than an inning, remember it's not a big deal. If those saves were taken away not just from him but from everyone, he still would be a recordholder. Not only that, but while eight of those saves is a relatively high total, Rodriguez is hardly alone in getting that many.


Bopperland said...

OK, so why did MLB institute the save (other than to deflect attention away from the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award)? It was basically one of recognition. Fielders have the Gold Glove and Silver Sluggers (although pitchers are also granted a GG). Pitchers have the Cy Young, which almost always goes to a SP. What did closers and middle relief have in terms of recognition? Nothing! Let's make up the Save and Hold.

The fundamental question still remains - how do we properly recognize the roles and effectiveness of non-starting pitchers? I'm surprised that the utility fielders and pinch-hitters of the world haven't lobbied for similar stats and awards!

Theron Schultz said...

Actually the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award is based partly on saves and was first awarded after the save rule was implemented. If starters aren't finish games as often and you've got guys going a couple innings to close out games, it makes sense to create something to reward those relievers. Boom, you've got the save. Holds are goofy and contrived.

Pinch hitters wouldn't get an award because they don't often matter beyond the inning (or even at bat) they pinch-hit in, apologies to Lenny Harris. You do hear a lot about how so-and-so has X pinch hits or is one of the best pinch hitters around, so they kind of get recognized somewhat. Utility fielders could lobby for an MLB equivalent of the NBA's sixth man award, I guess.

Anonymous said...

I have followed baseball for 40 years. When Thigpen set his record there was NO mention of the length of saves. He was credited accordingly for someone who set a major league record. MLB has always had a stat called Games Finished (GF) crediting the pitcher who was on the mound when the game ended. I'm guessing that the saves rule was developed to give extra credit to someone who finished off a close victory rather than just lumping everyone together regardless of the score situation at the end of the game.

Anonymous said...

Prior to the Rolaids Relief man award, Sporting News designated a Fireman of the Year in each league. The winner was defined by adding each pitchers save and relief win totals.

Anonymous said...

The difficulty of a save should be measured not by how long the reliever pitched, but by how many men were on base when he came into the game and/or where the tying run was. For example, if a reliever came in with 2 outs, the bases loaded, his team is up by one, and got the out, that is a pretty significant performance.