Saves: The Most Overrated Stat in Major League Baseball

Andy RAnalyst IMarch 15, 2009

On Sept. 13, 2008, Rodriguez broke Bobby Thigpen's saves record for a single season with 58. The following day, I jumped onto YouTube to watch a video of the record-breaking moment and couldn't help but look at some of the comments people had written.

Many of the comments were along the lines of, "K-Rod is the best closer in Major League Baseball." As a huge Joe Nathan fan, I was a little ticked off. I rattled in my head a number of players who I thought were better, such as: Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera, Brad Lidge, and Joakim Soria.

I thought to myself, "What makes a guy the best closer?" I started breaking down each pitcher's performance for the current year. Here's a quick look at six of the best closers in the league (BEST, WORST).

Brad Lidge: 1.95 ERA, 69.1 IP, 92 K, 35 BB, 1.23 WHIP, 41/41 save opportunities

Joe Nathan: 1.33 ERA, 67.2 IP, 74 K, 18 BB, 0.91 WHIP, 39/45 save opportunities

Jonathan Papelbon: 2.34 ERA, 69.1 IP, 77 K, 8 BB, 0.96 WHIP, 41/46 save opportunities

Mariano Rivera: 1.40 ERA, 70.2 IP, 77K, 6 BB, 0.67 WHIP, 39/40 save opportunities

Francisco Rodriguez: 2.24 ERA, 68.1 IP, 77 K, 34 BB, 1.29 WHIP, 62/69 save opportunities

Joakim Soria: 1.60 ERA, 67.1 IP, 66 K, 19 BB, 0.86 WHIP, 42/45 save opportunities

Lidge posted an astounding 100 percent in save opportunities. Nathan kept teams off home plate for a 1.33 earned-run average.

Papelbon had arguably the worst season of the six, but has the most intimidating stare in the majors. Rivera is a beast year-in and year-out, showing outstanding control posting only six walks.

Rodriguez broke the saves record. Soria showed promise and dominance posting the second best WHIP.

Even though Rodriguez broke the saves record, he did so posting a less than stellar 89 percent save percentage. His 69 opportunities were 23 more than the next closest person.

I don't judge a closer on saves or blown saves. I judge on ERA and WHIP. Those are the two most important categories for a closer. Keeping people off the basepaths is what a closer is meant to do.

That is why Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan are the two best closers in the league, hands down. I could care less about how many saves a guy gets.

So why exactly do I say saves are overrated? Here's an example.

Example A) A player gets a save when he comes into the game in the bottom of the ninth inning with a three-run lead with two outs and two strikes and throws one pitch.

Example B) A player gets a save when he comes into the bottom of the seventh inning with bases loaded and no outs. He manages to get out of the jam without allowing a run. He goes on to pick up the next six outs in a row all while preserving a one-run lead.

That is precisely why I hate saves. If the MLB wants to use saves as a way to judge a closer's effectivness, use a different method.

Change the rules required to get a save. Instead of a maximum of three runs, change it to two. There is something wrong when a player is thrown into Example B and gets the exact same reward as a player in Example A.

How about another example. Does the name Wes Littleton ring a bell? He picked up a save in the most lopsided game in MLB history with the Rangers blowing out the Orioles 30-3 on August 22, 2007. What exactly did Littleton save? Nothing.

While Rodriguez did break the saves record, it boggles my mind as to why he was even considered in the MVP discussion.

Any writer who voted for Rodriguez needs to be fired and removed from the world of journalism. He didn't even save 90 percent of his games and his ERA was good, but not great for closer.

Writer's voted for Rodriguez for breaking the most overrated stat in the game. That is just wrong.

While a closer is put under tremendous pressure to finish a game, by no means should he be judged by the number of saves he has accumulated. If Brad Lidge were to continue his dominance and get 69 save opportunities and get every one of them, I still wouldn't vote him for MVP.

So what should the MLB do about the "saves" stat? Here's a couple things that have to be met:

  • Decrease the minimum amount of runs required to get a save from three to two.
  • Require at least 2 outs
  • If the offense gives a closing pitcher more than a three run lead between innings, the save is wiped out

Number three, for example: A closing pitcher comes into the top of the eighth inning with a one run lead and retires the side. In the bottom of the eighth, the home team scores five runs. The closing pitcher should no longer be eligible for the save, regardless if he gives up four runs and still ends the game.

Other rules can stay the same. Throwing one pitch and getting one out and a save is a little cheap. A save should be a hard-earned stat, not a one pitch fluke.

I know this will ruin years of stats for saves, but it would start a new era, a more accurate one. No way should a guy who gives up two runs in the ninth get the same reward as a guy who gets four outs while keeping a one run lead intact.