True Saves and BSS – a Statistical Evaluation of Closing Games

One of the most often maligned statistics in baseball today is the “save.” Proponents of the statistic say it is a good indicator of how well a pitcher can finish games in high pressure situations. Detractors state that it is a statistic that means nothing, since the most important reliever in any given game varies. One time it is the closer, the next time it’s the middle reliever who gets the team out of a jam left by the starter. Detractors also point to the fact that a pitcher who comes into a game with his team up by three runs, nobody on base and two men out in the ninth inning and gets the final out gets a save. 40 of those per season hardly inspire All-Star thoughts.

The truth is probably somewhere in between; closing a game out can be difficult and high-pressure, but it can also be a piece of cake in other situations. So in an attempt to find something closer to the truth, I am going to try and work out a new definition of a save, dividing current saves into TS true saves and BSS, where the last S stands for save.

The first thing that comes up when looking at saves is that a player could give up two runs in a single inning and still get a save (since the tying run needs to be in the hole or closer). An MLB reliever should not be giving up two runs an inning, so any time a player enters with a 3 run lead or more, it isn’t a TS situation. In fact, a major league reliever should not give up a run every inning they pitch. So if a pitcher enters the final inning of a game with his team up by two or more runs and nobody on base; that is no longer a true save situation. The underlying logic is that any pitcher in the bullpen, even the worst of all the pitchers, will give up fewer than two runs in the majority of their innings. So now single-inning saves exist only in one-run games if the bases are empty.

Now, if a pitcher needs to get less than a full inning’s worth of outs (three), the rules are different. If the pitcher only needs one out, the tying run must be on third base for it to count as a TS situation. If the pitcher needs two outs, the tying run must be on second base or farther for it to be a TS situation. Again, for a three out situation, it must be a one run game if the bases are empty.

For the very specific situation where a closer needs three outs and they possess a two run lead, the tying run must be in scoring position. That means 2nd/3rd, or bases loaded would all qualify as a TS situation if the closer gets three outs.

Saves can also be earned in situations where a pitcher is earning more than three outs. I do not think a three run lead should ever be blown in a decently-pitched baseball game, so there is no TS situation where a pitcher has a three run lead upon entering. Even if they entered with the bases loaded, they would still have to give up at least one HR or two hits to lose the lead, and at that point, that pitcher has no longer done their job. So a three run lead when a pitcher enters a game means that there is no TS opportunity. Any save earned is purely the BS variety.

If the save is four outs, it must be a single-run situation unless the tying run is in scoring position, the same logic as a three-run situation. The reason for this is that after one out, the closer gets an effective reset. For example, if Brian Wilson enters a game with 2 outs in the 8th inning and the bases loaded and a 2-run lead, it seems dire. But if he can get a single out, then the bases become empty and he needs only three outs with a two run lead; a situation which, on its own, would be a BSS opportunity. So four outs or three outs are about the same degree of difficulty.

If the save is five outs, a lead of 3+ still creates a BSS situation, regardless of the number of runners on base. If the lead is 2+ runs, the tying run must be on base when the closer enters.

Finally, if a pitcher needs to pitch two complete innings, any lead less than three runs qualifies as a true save situations, even if there are no base runners. The reason for this is that a quality start is defined as 6+ IP and 3 or fewer ER. This works out to an ERA of 4.50, or a run every two innings. So two innings pitched giving up one run is quality start material, and should qualify as quality save material as well.

So let’s recap:

Closer needs to get 1 out:

-Tying run must be on third for the save to count.

Closer needs to get 2 outs:

-Must be a one run game and tying run must be in scoring position for TS

Closer needs 3 outs:

-Must be a one run game unless:

-Two run lead and tying run is on second. (2nd/3rd or bases loaded)

Closer needs 4 outs:

-Identical to 3 outs.

Closer needs 5 outs:

-One run game or

-Two run game where tying run is already on base.

Closer needs 6 outs:

-Any lead that is less than 3 runs.

Once this is published, I will begin to look at this season’s closers to see who is actually shutting games down in crunch time and who is padding their stats in easy situations. The ‘save’ is a misleading statistic, but that doesn’t mean there is no truth in the basis for the stat. In this new separation, true saves and BSS, I am hoping to get closer to that truth for a better evaluation of closers and their abilities.

My name is Peter Souders and I am a frequent contributor to both the YCN and Yahoo Sports. I have written a vast number of baseball articles that vary from the past to the present and scout out the future. I can be found on Twitter @PeterSouders where I welcome all comments.


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