For example, on their way to pummeling the Giants 12-1 yesterday (July 18, 2007) the Chicago Cubs put up a 5-spot in the bottom of the 5th inning. In so doing, the small bears from the windy place sent nine batters to the plate and used up about 30 minutes of clock time.
That was apparently ample time for starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano to cool down and tighten up. So with a nine-run lead and the Archie Bell cued, manager Lou Pinella decided to pull his ace and replace him with Sean Gallagher (incidentally, if the name isn’t Irish enough, he comes from Boston).
The Cubs’ offense tacked on 3 more runs in the bottom of the 8th, just in case there was a Cubs-esque collapse looming. Not out of the realm of possibility as Gallagher was making just his fifth appearance and it is the Cubs.
No such luck for the Giants. Gallagher worked four innings and gave up just one run.
And for that Gallagher was credited with a save.
There’s a rundown for what it takes to earn a save on a Wikipedia page here. And just skimming the criteria, they seem pretty reasonable. But really, given all of the possible perversions, the save might be either the dumbest or the second dumbest stat in baseball (a win for a pitcher being the other semi-finalist in the competition)
Doesn’t “save” imply that something was at some point in danger? The final margin of victory for the Cubs was 11 runs. This Gallagher guy was staked with a cushion of nine runs before getting it padded with three more, you know, just in case.
So he gets a save simply because he didn’t blow an 9 run lead? The Giants hadn’t scored 9 runs in the previous week*.
On the other end of the scale (and weighing it down quite nicely) is what happened to White Sox closer Bobby Jenks. In the first game back after the All Star break, the White Sox took a 9-2 lead over the Orioles into the bottom of the ninth. The White Sox bullpen—a veritable gallimaufry of suck—proceeded to give up five runs and put a man on first when Jenks was summoned to face the tying run now stepping into the batter’s box.
But there were already two outs. So, Jenks threw all of one pitch, got a ground ball out, and got a save.
Throwing one pitch shouldn’t get you eligible for anything besides an ejection. And even then you’d have to hit somebody with it. Hell, Jenks burns more calories eating. And while the outcome was in jeopardy—the basic criteria that should disqualify Gallagher—that was only the case after a near epic collapse in the ninth.
Along the same lines, it usually happens several times a year where a team enters the ninth with a five run lead. Because it’s not a save situation, the closer doesn’t start the inning. The reliever who does take the ball ends up getting a couple of outs but in the process loads the bases.
So, the manager sensing the imminent collapse, finally brings in the closer. He gets out of it, and gets a save (the tying run is on deck in this instance). Basically because the closer doesn’t give up a grand slam, then give up a solo shot to the next batter, that’s a save. Again, stupid.
If you can give up back-to-back jacks (one of which is a granny) and you still aren’t losing, that’s not a save. Well technically it is, but that’s the problem. It shouldn’t be. Anything you can accomplish by being only marginally better than Bruce Chen shouldn’t get you anything besides a reprieve from unemployment.
Now, if you come in with, say, a one-run lead and runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out and you get a couple of K’s, that’s a save. Throwing one pitch? Maybe if it leads to a triple play with the bases juiced.
In order to fulfill the basic tenets at work here—that they outcome should be in jeopardy and that the closer should have to, you know, actually work under pressure—I think something more like following would be better in capturing what the term “Save” seems to imply:
1) If there are two or fewer outs remaining, the tying run has to be on base for it to qualify as a save situation.
2) If there are between three and six outs remaining, entering with a lead of two-runs or fewer qualifies it as a save situation.
3) If the team starts the ninth (or the final inning of an extra inning game) with a 5-run lead or greater it cannot qualify as a save situation (for this last one, MLB might want to consider an alternative statistic like “Avoided Implosion” for when a team works itself into then out of a jam).
Without thinking through all of the possible scenarios, I imagine there are holes in the above that allow for strange outcomes—it’s more of a sketched out starting point than a fully thought out solution—but as the rules are now, saves are easier to get than Devil Rays tickets.
And like Mr. Winger, I think it sucks.
[*Ed Note: That was intended to be hyperbole, but after the fact I looked it up for fun and in the week since the All Star break, the Giants had only scored 18 runs, and seven of those (more than a third of the total) came in an 8-7 loss to the Dodgers]