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Of Saves and Holds
2007-04-06 00:37
by Ryan Armbrust

This is the pitching portion of the boxscore from the A's 4-3 win over the Angels on Thursday night:

What stood out to me in that snippet of statistics was that Calero was credited with a Hold while Duchscherer was given a Blown Save. Huh?

At first, I thought that I was reading it wrong. Calero got one out while giving up a run on two hits and a walk. Duchscherer pitched an inning and two-thirds and gave up nothing at all. How does that bestow a Hold on an ineffective pitcher and brand an effective one with a Blown Save? It's all in how the arbitrary stats were designed.

To get a "Hold", all one must do is enter the game with a lead and record at least one out without surrendering that lead. Even though the run that tied the game belonged to Calero, it didn't cross the plate until he was already hitting the showers.

Duchscherer came into a one-out game with three of Calero's gifts on the basepaths. He got a fly-out and a pop-up to end the inning, allowing only one of the three inherited runners to cross the plate. He blew the save by having the bad luck to follow Calero, basically.

This is just the latest example of a lengthening string of evidence that Holds and Saves are among the more overblown stats in all of sports. Sure, pitching effectively in the ninth inning of close games is something to be noted, but is the save rule -- in its current form -- the best way to accomplish that? Isn't it more telling to just use ERA, WHIP, batting average against and inherited runners to measure reliever effectiveness?

I tend to disregard save totals for the same reason I tend to ignore win-loss records; it's a pitching stat that depends heavily on the score of the game, as influenced by the pitcher's offensive teammates. That element tends to taint what we're trying to measure in the first place -- pitching effectiveness.

How would you change the save and hold rules? Or would you keep them as they are? Get rid of them entirely?

2007-04-06 01:43:12
1.   Ken Arneson
I certainly wouldn't get rid of saves and holds; I like having a counting stat for closers and middle relievers, which serve as the equivalent to wins for starting pitchers.

But you're right in that it's clearly Calero who blew the save, not Duchscherer.

If you wanted to make the stat more accurate, you'd probably use something with win probabilities. But I think that's probably too complicated.

If I were to suggest a simple change, it would be that a blown save would go to the pitcher who let the tying run get into scoring position. So if Duchscherer replaces Calero up by one with a runner on second and lets the runner score, Calero gets the blown save. But if Duchscherer lets a runner on first base score, then it's Duchscherer's fault, and Duchscherer gets the blown save.

2007-04-06 05:25:54
2.   Josh Wilker
I don't know anything beyond the most basic idea of Win Shares, but I imagine they reflect the relative worth of a middle reliever better than holds. If it's a counting stat that's needed (rather than an average like WHIP), Win Shares would seem to be the one that'd be the most accurate. Is there any chance of that becoming a common stat?
2007-04-06 10:10:54
3.   Ken Arneson
3 I doubt Win Shares will ever be a commonplace stat, because it's far too complicated to calculate. I can calculate BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, ERA, and WHIP, but I have no idea whatsoever how Win Shares are calculated.

Sometimes a stat like that can take hold, like Quarterback Ratings in the NFL, but that's quite rare, and probably only happens in the absence of some other measurement.

I think we're stuck with saves and holds and blown saves, and we have to tweak what we have.

2007-04-06 10:11:38
4.   Eric Enders
I don't know, I kind of like the holds rule the way it is. I mean, when you get down to the core of it, a reliever's job is not to put up a good ERA -- it's to protect a lead. Duchscherer did the former but not the latter in that game. Sure, the odds were tremendously against him, but that's something that I would think would tend to even out over time. Next time it'll be Calero getting screwed and Duke getting a cheap hold.

And Duchscherer really has nothing to complain about regarding this game -- he got credit for a vultured win, for chrissakes.

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