The Lost Art of the HOLD

Peter SchillerCorrespondent IApril 7, 2009

PEORIA, AZ - FEBRUARY 24:  Heath Bell #21 of the San Diego Padres poses during photo day at Peoria Stadium on February 24, 2009 in Peoria, Arizona. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

It’s time to give the set-up men their own statistic again. Let’s reinstate the Major League Hold. After all, ESPN still lists it in their box scores.

Seriously though, something needs to be done, statistically speaking, to differentiate a set-up man from a specialist (in just to face one batter). In some cases, a Hold can be even more important than a save (in my opinion).

Look at it this way, what situation would you rather have your best reliever pitch in? A ninth inning against a team’s 7-8-9 hitters or in the seventh or eighth inning of a close game with the 3-4-5 hitters due up? Which scenario is more important?

Unless you’re facing the 2008 (don’t laugh, wait until it gets warmer) Tigers, Indians, or Yankees; I’d rather bring in my best RP to face the 3-4-5 hitters and then throw my second- or third-best RP for ninth-inning clean up duty.

By now, some of you might be asking, “What on God’s green earth is a Hold anyway?”. Well, according to Baseball Prospectus:

A Hold is credited any time a relief pitcher enters a game in a Save Situation, records at least one out, and leaves the game never having relinquished the lead.” (as found in their Glossary; also seen as “HOLD”, “H” or “Hld”).

Others, after reading that definition, might then be led to ask, “Ok, not I know what a HOLD is, but can you clarify what a save opportunity is while you’re at it?” Sure, but this time we’ll look to ESPN’s MLB Statistics Glossary which states:

A Save opportunity is when a pitcher 1) enters the game with a lead of three or fewer runs and pitches at least one inning, 2) enters the game with the potential tying run on base, at bat, or on deck, or 3) pitches three or more innings with a lead and is credited with a save by the official scorer.”

Does that help? Good! Now let’s move on.

This is where guys like San Diego’s Heath Bell, the Dodger’s Jonathan Broxton, Boston’s Hideki Okajima, the D’Back’s Brandon Lyon, Washington’s Jon Rauch and the Indians' Rafael Betancourt stand out above the rest. This will probably mean higher salaries for these men, but it may just be worth it. They may start getting close to “closer” type money if this happens.

Another option, written about by ESPN’s Jason Stark last year entitled, “Time to amend the save stat” (look for it in his archives, Here) would call for the tweaking of the Hold and calling it a STOP, but I tend to like calling it a Hold.

I also do not agree with most of what Mr. Stark writes in this article, but it did get me thinking on the topic, which is a good thing. I do, however, think that the Hold stat, as it is currently, could be improved.

Another good piece, this time written on the “Save,” also led to me writing this article. “Evolving the Save Rule” by then-Baseball Prospectus author David Pinto was written back on Aug. 8, 2007, in his weekly spot called, “The Big Picture.”

David Pinto’s Baseball Prospectus archives can be found by clicking Here. He now writes periodically for The Sporting News Online, Here as well as on his own blog, Baseball Musings.

You can read more from Peter Schiller at his blog, Baseball Reflections.