What Exactly Is A ‘Save’ Anyway?

Texas pitcher Shawn Tolleson, center, closes out the ninth inning for a save in the Rangers' 4-1 win during the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. the Texas Rangers major league baseball game at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, on Monday, June 15, 2015. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)

Thanks largely to the decision of the late Jerome Holtzman, a 2004 inductee into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame, baseball knows what a save is. Or, at least baseball thinks it does.

Holtzman suffered a stroke and made his way to the great press box in the sky on July 19, 2008. He took 82.007 days of baseball knowledge with him.

Three days later, Bruce Weber briefly detailed Holtzman’s creation of the save in The New York Times.

“In 1959, Mr. Holtzman, then covering the Chicago Cubs, invented the statistic known as the save, which helps measure the effectiveness of relief pitchers, “ Weber wrote. “Mr. Holtzman’s notion was that if a pitcher entered a game with a lead and had to face the potential tying run, and he then held the lead and finished the game, he should be credited with a save.”

“Mr. Holtzman introduced the save in The Sporting News,” Weber continued. “In 1969, it became the first new official statistic acknowledged by Major League Baseball since the run batted in, in 1920. The requirements for a save have since been modified, but it has become a staple of baseball broadcasts, barroom arguments, and statistical reports.”

Shall we then enter our barroom argument?

According to the Weber interpretation of the Holtzman definition to the statistic in question is a relief pitcher must check four boxes before earning an outing of record.

  1. Enter a game with a lead
  2. Face the potential tying run
  3. Hold the lead
  4. Finish the game

Let us also not forget that 1969 was a different era for starting pitchers. According to Baseball-Reference.com, not only did Gaylord Perry lead the league with an absurd 325.1 innings pitched, but nine pitchers tossed 300.0 or more innings. Bob Gibson tossed 28 complete games, with seven others going the distance in 20 or more.

The ’69 MLB saves leader, Ron Perranoski finished the season with 31 saves, 119.2 IP and 52 games finished in 75 appearances. Perranoksi, who finished his 13-year career with 178 saves after a baseball-reference recalculation of prior seasons, recorded just shy of five outs (4.58) every time he took the ball during the ’69 season.

In comparison, Baseball-Reference tells us that in 2015 Clayton Kershaw led the league with 232.2IP and six pitchers completed a league-high four games.

It also tells us that Mark Melancon’s 51 saves were tops in the MLB. Melancon needed 43.0 fewer innings (76.2) to record his 20 more saves in three more appearances (78) than Perranoski in the year the save became an official statistic.

They really just don’t make pitchers like they used to, but that’s for an entirely different – more scotch-less draft beer – type barroom.

Dictionary.com, because Webster’s is for the scotch room, gives seven definitions to all that can be considered a save – four of which apply to the backend of the Texas bullpen.

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In the seventh inning of an eventual 7-5 win over the Astros, Jeff Banister elected to call on the young right arm of Keone Kela. Over in the dark corner of the barroom, next to the jukebox playing millennial pop anthems sang by the daughters of country stars, already sits a crowd that has begun to call – and grow –  for the 24-year-old with a live arm to be thrust into the ninth inning role.

However, the Ranger skipper is utilizing the definition-No. 7 approach, found on the aforementioned online dictionary, when it comes to Kela  – “to treat carefully in order to reduce wear, fatigue, etc.”

Could Kela do the job? Probably so, but, as we clearly saw Tuesday when he gave up back-to-back two-strike home runs to Jose Altuve and George Springer, the youngster tends to press with two outs. He needs time to mature.

After a Kela walk of Carlos Correa, the move was made to bring Jake Diekman into a situation that checks three of Holtzman’s four boxes.

With the Rangers leading by two, the Astros had a runner on first base and the tying run at the plate. Three pitches later, it was a Diekman strikeout of Tyler White that ended the inning with the lead intact.

Definition No. 1 states that a save is considered a save when someone can “rescue from danger or potential harm, injury or loss.” Diekman did all of the above.

Sam Dyson then came on in the eighth inning with a three-run lead to, as definition No. 2 states, “keep safe, intact, or unhurt; safeguard; preserve.”

Shawn Tolleson capped the crucial game one win over the ‘Stros with definition No. 3 – “to keep from being lost.”

Kela was saved. Diekman saved. Dyson held. Tolleson closed.

There is a case to be made that saves no longer occur in the ninth inning, partly because they were never intended to be a one-inning ordeal. In 1969, the average save took five outs. A save “the old fashioned way” requires recording the final six outs regardless of the score.

Pitch counts, an increase in UCL tears and overuse at an earlier age have all contributed to the shortening of outings by starting pitchers. If a game needs to be saved in the seventh inning, so be it. If it needs to be held in the eighth and ninth inning afterward, those jobs are just as important.

But a game can be lost in one inning, much in the same way that it can be won. A pitcher should then, in theory, be able to save a game in any one inning after a starting pitcher exits. Think of it as a “no-rules bullpen.” Which is exactly what Banister refers to his ‘pen as.

After all, there is a reason the ninth-inning guy is referred to as a closer, not a saver, right?

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Travis M. Smith
Travis has been a baseball fanatic since birth, and, according to his parents and multiple other reports, at the sophisticated age of three had the near-superheroic ability to regurgitate the statistics of every member of the 1992-93 Texas Rangers. The 2015 Tarleton State graduate dabbled in baseball at the collegiate level before falling into journalism. He works full-time as the managing editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light while moonlighting as an "expert" in the fields of coffee, tacos and big-kid beverages.

One comment

  • I like it. I’ve long been of the opinion that the definitions of pitching stats need to be revamped. The “save” is at the top of the list, but also “win”… why can a guy pitch 4 2/3 inning of fantastic baseball but get taken out (for whatever reason) and get nothing while the guy who comes in and pitches one out gets the win? That’s stupid. The win should go to the pitcher who was the pitcher of record at the time the final lead was taken regardless of innings pitched or the point in the game, and all other pitchers get holds or saves or closes or whatever we want to call them. I’m probably in a minority on that front, but I don’t care.

    I like the idea of “hold” and “close” as the names of reliever stats, but I don’t know how we make a “close” less convoluted and more concrete than the “save” is now.

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