Not only has the save been cheapened, it has become a stat -- the only stat -- that affects managerial strategy.
"It really does," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels says. "Occasionally, the 'win' will [affect a manager] a little bit, but that also benefits the team a bit in some regard, if he can stay in a little longer. But the save definitely impacts how the game is managed."
I think I may be open to consider differently the job of a closer. Take yesterday for example, we lost a close game in the last innings, and we didn't use our best reliever: Addison Reed just because he is slated to close. Oh well, I am not sure Reed is our best reliever, but he is a good one taking away one or two bad outings. It's not like we used Stewart (Crain and Thornton are pooty good as well), but sometimes, managers lose games in the late innings without using their best relievers when situations mattered the most just because the closer is not in a "save situation".
Project Retrosheet founder Dave Smith scrupulously researched all late-inning leads over more than seven decades. He found that the success rate for a team protecting a ninth-inning lead hasn't changed a bit over time, regardless of relief strategy.
"It has never changed. Ever," Smith says. "If you lead by three runs going into the ninth inning, you're probably going to win. It's a pretty safe bet."
I wonder why this is overlooked in the mentality of most managers. What are we missing? 70 years ago the Mariano Riveras or Trevor Hoffmans didn't exist. Statistically, their contribution hasn't changed too much the outcome of a game in the 9th inning with a lead (whether 1 run or more). Yet, teams need a closer, a well-paid reliever. So I wonder...why? The only thing I can think of is that not having a "closer" (i.e. a pitcher reserved to pitch the 9th inning) could cost a few games in the whole season despite the statistics show nothing of that happens.
Top relievers used to enter games regularly with runners on. Dan Quisenberry inherited 89 runners in his 75 appearances while saving 33 games in 1980. Now, the top closers rarely inherit runners because managers almost always save them to begin the ninth. Craig Kimbrel led the National League with 46 saves last year, but inherited just four runners in 79 appearances.
So wow. Is Kimbrel a better reliever than Quisenberry? Maybe, but he has no proof thus far. Sometimes (very often) a middle reliever gets into the game in tougher situations than the closer, yet the good stat and the money goes to the closer. A good example, our own World Series: Orlando Hernandez brought in the 6th inning with the bases loaded and no outs. Everyone knows how that ended up. Yet the "save" went to Bobby Jenks despite Orlando's great performance (And he pitched 3 innings total allowing no runs and only 1 hit in that game to cap it off): 3rd Game ALDS
I have always thought a closer is a necessity, but after reading this article and reading many of the valid points spreaded around this blog, I have to say, I am changing my mind.