Silver: The save ruined relief pitching; the goose egg can fix it

From Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight on April 17, 2017:

Hall of Fame relief pitcher Richard “Goose” Gossage isn’t the biggest fan of the “Moneyball” revolution. Here at FiveThirtyEight, we don’t think his expletive-laced tirades about nerds ruining baseball have always found their target the way his fastballs once did. But on one point, he’s absolutely right: The save is a stupid [bleep]ing statistic.

Gossage recently lashed out against modern closers — including all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera — arguing that they aren’t used in the right situations and that cheaply earned saves exaggerate closers’ value compared to the pitchers of his day. “I would like to see these guys come into more jams, into tighter situations and finish the game. … In the seventh, eighth or ninth innings. I don’t think they’re utilizing these guys to the maximum efficiency and benefit to your ballclub,” Gossage said. “This is not a knock against Mo [Rivera],” he continued later.1 “[But] I’d like to know how many of Mo’s saves are of one inning with a three-run lead. If everybody in that [bleep]ing bullpen can’t save a three-run lead for one inning, they shouldn’t even be in the big leagues.”

Gossage is right about pretty much all of that. A pitcher probably shouldn’t get much credit for handling just the final inning when his team has a three-run lead. Moreover, the top relief pitchers today are less valuable than they were in Gossage’s heyday in the 1970s and ’80s. In large part, that’s because managers are trying to maximize the number of saves for their closer, as opposed to the number of wins for their team. They’re managing to a stat and playing worse baseball as a result.

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This page was last updated April 17, 2017 at 6:01 pm MST.