There have been 1,672 save opportunities this season, of which 1,150 have been converted. Simple math reveals, then, that there have been 522 blown saves in 2012. Of those 522 blown saves, 321 (61.5 percent) have occurred before the ninth inning.
Now, to put any of that in the proper context, it should be examined what a blown save is. A blown save is charged to a pitcher who enters a game in a situation which permits him to earn a save, but who instead allows the tying run to score. Such a situation includes a pitcher entering the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitching for at least one inning, entering the game with the potential tying run either on base, at bat, or on deck, or pitching for at least three innings to close out a game.
To date, Marc Rzepczynski has five blown saves this season; he has pitched with a lead in the ninth inning or later five times, and only once in a save situation. Rex Brothers has five blown saves this year; he has pitched with a lead in the ninth or later five times and in only one save situation. Despite their lack of appearances with a ninth inning lead, both pitchers find themselves among the leaders for blown saves on the season, along with one-time closers Heath Bell, John Axford, and Santiago Casilla.
It occurs to me, then, that there may be a flaw in the blown save statistic. Essentially, dissimilar events are being compared within the same category. The solution I submit (for the approval of the midnight society) is to re-categorize blown saves occurring before the ninth inning.
To be clear, this isn’t meant to be any sort of referendum on saves or who should be eligible for saves. In fact, I have no issue with the save statistic. Its counterpart, though, seems to cast too wide a net. As it stands, blown saves don’t discriminate between closers and middle relievers. I think it is of little consequence to establish closers as one inning, the ninth, specialists. It seems odd to me to be measuring their failures with the same tool as other relievers. Seeking to redefine the blown save is simply a reaction to the modern use of closers.
I realize that I have discussed closers a great deal so far, when, in fact, my motivation for investigating this was to separate middle relievers from closers. It just seems to me, though, that the best means of properly explaining how and why to distinguish one blown save from another is by looking at the closer role first.
It stands to reason that losing a lead in the ninth inning or later is very different from losing a lead in the sixth to eighth innings. Quite frankly, losing a lead before the ninth inning still allows a team an opportunity, or multiple opportunities, to bat and, in theory, regain their lead. Losing a lead in the ninth inning or later does not guarantee such an opportunity, unless the home team has lost their lead. The consequence of a home team losing a ninth inning lead, though, is an extension of a game that should have otherwise ended. This is where I think the definition of the blown save should be directed. I propose that a blown save should be connected directly to a loss or the otherwise unnecessary prolonging of a game.
So, what to do with other lead losses that fit the current criteria of the blown save? I propose an added category to be called “blown holds.” Blown holds would cover blown saves taking place before the ninth inning. If completely redefining the blown save is too radical, then consider this an addendum to the category, an easier means of differentiating the timing of a lost lead. At the very least, such a statistical category would provide a more proper counterbalance to the mostly overlooked hold statistic.
To return to my original player examples, four of Rzepczynski’s five blown saves would be categorized as blown holds; the same would be true of Brothers. Both players pitch for teams with, relatively, stable closers. In fact, only one player, Jason Motte, has recorded a save for St. Louis. Both the Cardinals and Rockies have double digit blown save totals, though. St. Louis has blown 22 of 58 save opportunities; 14 of those blown saves have taken place before the ninth inning. Colorado has blown 30 of 62 save opportunities; 18 of those would now be considered blown holds.
The current blown saves leaderboard is littered with middle relievers who have had few or no legitimate opportunities to close out a game in a save situation. A leaderboard more befitting of middle relievers might be a hold percentage leaderboard. Hold percentage would, quite simply, be calculated by dividing holds by hold opportunities, which would be the sum of holds and blown holds. Particularly confounding must be Heath Bell’s success before the ninth inning, especially when contrasted with his ninth inning struggles.
Player Team Holds Blwn Hlds Hold Opps Hold % Randy Choate Mia/LAD 20 0 20 100% Grant Balfour Athletics 15 0 15 100% Juan Cruz Pirates 14 0 14 100% Ryan Mattheus Nationals 13 0 13 100% Andrew Miller Red Sox 13 0 13 100% Jerry Blevins Athletics 12 0 12 100% Joe Thatcher Padres 12 0 12 100% Heath Bell Marlins 12 0 12 100% Santiago Casilla Giants 10 0 10 100% Ryan Webb Marlins 10 0 10 100%
Player Team Holds Blwn Hlds Hold Opps Hold % Kameron Loe Brewers 6 5 11 55% Andrew Cashner Padres 6 4 10 60% Matt Albers Bos/AZ 8 5 13 62% Jesse Crain White Sox 9 4 13 69% Tim Collins Royals 9 4 13 69% Aaron Crow Royals 18 6 24 75% Fernando Rodriguez Astros 12 4 16 75% Chad Qualls Phi/NYY/Pit 13 4 17 77% Alexi Ogando Rangers 11 3 14 79% Rex Brothers Rockies 15 4 19 79%
*minimum 10 hold opportunities
It’s my hope that the introduction of the blown hold can help add some weight to the blown save statistic. While the blown hold can be seen more as hiccups in a game, perhaps the blown save can be viewed as truly detrimental to a team’s season. I believe differentiation can only be of help in this instance in the statistical narrative. Either way, this is a simple way of shaping the discussion about relievers who successfully, or unsuccessfully, hold leads.