Baccellieri: How Major League Baseball adopted the save — and changed the game forever

From Emma Baccellieri at Sports Illustrated on June 4, 2019:

By and large, baseball’s mainstream counting stats are self-explanatory, tangible events that look exactly like they sound. Anyone can see a home run, a walk, an RBI. There might be some fuzziness around the edges—you can quibble with the logic behind the pitching win—but the criteria are still straightforward. These numbers are clear, or as clear as they can be. They’re the building blocks of both the game and the boxscore.

And then there’s the save.

More an interpretative definition of an act than an act itself, and only possible under specific criteria, the save has not simply measured relievers’ performances. It’s shaped them. After Major League Baseball officially recognized the statistic in 1969, the save began to influence teams’ approach to relief pitching—“one case of baseball statistics actually changing strategy,” as Alan Schwarz wrote in his history of the sport’s stats, The Numbers Game. The “save situation” entered the lexicon, and it dictated the terms of use for closers. It created an entirely new standard by which to judge relievers, and, in turn, a new motivation for teams to pay them. Fifty years after its birth, the save has made millionaires and revolutionized relief.

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Originally published: June 4, 2019. Last Updated: June 4, 2019.