Abolishing Savery

I stole this title from a recent article in Sports Illustrated written by Joe Sheehan which really got me thinking.  The main point of the story- it's time to get rid of the save stat.  Why?  The question of more importance; what is its purpose anymore other than dictating how managers use their bullpen and not in a productive way?  Let me explain...

Sheehan starts out with the example from a few weeks ago, a game between the Phils and Marlins.  With a pinch hitter and then the top of the order due up, Phils manager Charlie Manuel brought in Chad Qualls (career 3.76 ERA and a $1.15 million salary) to protect a two run eighth inning lead.  Qualls got into a two-out, two-on jam, yet Manuel let him face one of the most dangerous power hitters, Giancarlo AKA Mike Stanton.  Qualls did strike him out and, by the book, Charlie brought in Jonathan Papelbon (2.33 ERA, $11 million salary) to start the ninth against the weak 5-7 hitters.  Why was it done this way?  Shouldn't Papelbon have been in there in the 8th (in a higher pressure situation)?  Qualls could have come in and mopped up the ninth against the bottom of the order.  Sheehan states that with the advent of the one inning save specialist, the stat has become more cause than effect.

The biggest positive of eliminating the save rule would be a reversal of the trend toward less and less work from more and more relievers Sheehan says.  The one inning closer begat the one-inning setup man, which begat one-batter matchup guys.  Eliminating the closer would free managers to use their best pitchers in the biggest spots and also balance rosters and payrolls.

How do you measure relievers without the save, Sheehan asks?  The same way we've learned to measure starters without leaning on W-L.  Statistics should tell the story of what happens, not write the story and the save does the latter.  Eliminating it would force managers to get back to using relievers in a way that wins games, rather than builds a stat count.

That's Joe Sheehan and my opinion, what's yours?


  1. I think pitchers need an identity to some degree. The really good closers have that mentality like I'm the last line of defense in our battle. The setup guy knows he's the conduit between the starter and the bull closer. Baseball more than most sports is a mindset kind of game for the players. I think they identify with their role and it helps them be more effective. A bullpen by committee approach would lessen that drastically. I get the point that Papelbon should have been in there against Stanton. I guess I don't understand why "good" closers can't pitch more than 1 inning. I know they typically throw gas and you don't want to kill their arms. A guy like Verlander throws high 90s cheese and does it for 9 innings. Papelbon can't pitch 2? Maybe invest in 2 closers then.

  2. I see Tom's point but I agree with Ken in principle... the save stat is the nature of the beast. Relief pitchers are fickle beasts; as Mc mentioned, they need an identity but I think that letting a stat carve out an identity is inefficient. The situation should be the identifier... rather than saying, "You're only going to pitch in save situations," tell the Papelbon's of the world, "you're going to be our highest leverage inning guy." When the pressure cooker is at its hottest, that's when you use that guy. But as long as "saves" exist... as long as that's the bar which relievers are measured against... the premium closers will continue to go unused in close games at critical situations after blown holds situations.

    I don't understand why good closers are only allowed to go one inning, either. I don't know who dictates that... are there studies that show relief pitchers are exponentially less effective in 6-out situations? Rollie did it...


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