May 21, 2017


Everything You Thought You Knew About Baseball Might Be Wrong : Confused by revolutionary new baseball stats such as WAR, wOBA, WPA, and FIP? With the book 'Smart Baseball,' Keith Law explains, in way that fans can finally understand, the new numbers redefining the game. (Kyle Sammin, MAY 19, 2017, The Federalist)

The save is among the newest of the old stats, invented in 1960 by a Chicago sportswriter and codified in baseball's rules in 1969. The intent was valid: an effort to demonstrate the value of relief pitchers, who were by then beginning to play a larger role in the game. But the narrowness of the stat, in only rewarding the last pitcher in a game and doing so largely independent of their actual performance, replicates many of the problems of the pitcher-win metric. Instead of measuring how well the pitcher performed against the batters he faced, the rules of the save assign a mystical importance to the final inning and reward all pitchers who finish the job equally, whether they dominate their appearance or just barely squeak by.

What's worse is the way the save has changed the way the game is played. Any measurement that changes the thing it is measuring diminishes its own value as a metric, and there is none worse in that respect than the save. As Law explains, the elevation of the closer over middle relievers has created the appearance a stratification that the data do not bear out. Managers routinely save their best pitcher for the ninth inning when their lead is between one and three runs--the conditions that the rules define as a save opportunity--rather than for the highest pressure situations, where his services might be more needed.

Facing the heart of the opposing lineup in the eighth inning might be a more important situation than facing the bottom hitters in the ninth. Pitching in the ninth when the score is tied might be more important than pitching in extra innings with a lead. But the conventional wisdom that has grown up around late-game bullpen management is that the best relief pitcher is your closer and closers must get saves. Managing to a stat is like teaching to a test. The more you do it, the less valuable the metric is, and the less value is being imparted to the ultimate product: winning games.

Just watch the way Terry Francona deploys Andrew Miller.
Posted by at May 21, 2017 8:19 AM