Mariano Rivera pitching in July 2011 for the New York Yankees
"Top of the ninth. Two outs. Yankees lead the Phillies 4-0. Runners on first and second. Rivera was brought on to pitch to Utley. Rivera's got a 1-2 count on him. Here's the pitch. Cutter, SWUNG ON AND MISSED AND THE BALL GAME IS OVER! Yankees win it 4-0, Sabathia picks up the win, Hamels takes the loss, and Rivera picks up his 18th save of the season."
Really? A guy pitching with a four-run lead and two outs comes in, faces one batter and gets credited with a save? Why not give a starting pitcher a win because he threw a strike to one batter? I admit that my example might be exaggerated a bit, but the point stays the same: saves are far too easy to come by in baseball.
The rules of major league baseball state that a pitcher is credited with a save if: he is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his team, he is not the winning pitcher, is credited with at least one-third of an inning pitched and the lead is no more than three runs when the pitcher enters the game (my example still works because the runners on base are counted as potential runs; therefore, the score of the game is potentially 4-2, which is less than three runs).
So, again, a closer can enter a game with a three-run lead, nobody on base and two outs, face one batter, get the out and get a save. Doesn't that seem a little childish? Like giving every 5-year-old who plays tee ball a trophy for participation?
Trevor Hoffman, the MLB all-time saves leader, pitched for 18 seasons in the big leagues. In 10 of those seasons, he averaged less than an inning per appearance. Dennis Eckersley, sixth all-time with 390 saves, averaged less than an inning per appearance in five of his 12 seasons as a full-time closer.
So, how does one go about fixing the system? All it would take would be two rule changes. One, all saves must require a closer to pitch at least two-thirds of an inning. I could easily say one full inning, but I decided to compromise with myself.
Two, the lead when a closer enters a game must be either two runs or fewer, eliminating three-run lead saves. Much like rule No. 1, I could have easily said the lead can be no more than one run, but nobody is perfect, so I'll allow closers room to allow one solo home run and still get the save.
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