When a team is leading and a relief pitcher is called in, the “Saves” metric is used to evaluate his effectiveness. We hear the term “saves” thrown around all the time in baseball. But what is the precise definition of save?
Well, it’s a bit tricky, but a pitcher is credited with a save when he meets the following conditions: (1) He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his club; and (2) He is not the starting pitcher and/or pitcher credited with the win. He must also qualify under one of the following conditions: (a) He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs; or (b) He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, or at bat, or on deck; or (c) He pitches effectively for at least three innings.
This metric clearly is related to how many games a team wins and how many runs a team scores. Danny Graves for the Cincinnati Reds has saved a whopping 26 of the 32 games his team has won this season. Meanwhile, the Dodgers Eric Gagne has saved just 14 of the 28 games his team has won. Is Graves better than Gagne? Well, let us note that Gagne has converted a major league record 76 saves dating back to 2002. So of course Graves is not better than Gagne. But Graves has more saves because he has been the beneficiary of more save opportunities (as defined above). Gagne has converted every save opportunity presented to him this season, but his team has not given near the amount of opportunities Cincinnati has offered Graves.
We generally believe that the “Save” metric is overrated. Major League Pitchers should be able to come into the final inning and hold a lead (especially if its three runs) most of the time. In our opinion, the better metric for handicapping purposes is blown saves.
Cleveland Indians’ bettors should know this agonizing stat better than anyone. As of early June, their team has converted a meager 5 of 17 save opportunities this season (29%)! The Tribe might be sitting in the AL Central’s top spot if they had a stopper like Gagne. As alluded to above, the better metric for evaluating closers is blown saves rather than total saves. In percentage terms, this is simply the number of saves that a team fails to convert divided by the number of save opportunities. The Indians, for example, have blown a staggering 71% of their saves opportunities this season (12 saves blown divided by 17 save opportunities).
To put this into perspective, here is MLB’s Average and Median blown save percentages, as well as the NL’s and AL’s Average blown save percentages as of June 1, 2004.
MLB Average 33% Blown Saves
MLB Median 33% Blown Saves
NL Average 31% Blown Saves
AL Average 35% Blown Saves
So for evaluation purposes, a Blown Save ratio below 33% would be factored as better than average. The higher it goes, the worse it comes.
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