Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Thank You, Jim Caple: or, why I hate the Save

Joakim Soria is great. In fact, there's a possibility that he's even better than great. But as good as lock-down, all-world closers can be, aren't they infinitely more valuable as starters if they have the ability to start?

Soria's got a good repertoire of pitches, at least three good major league pitches that he can throw for strikes. And while we locked Soria up a while back for a fraction of his likely free agent value (not really a factor due to Major League service rules) , the deal has some serious escalators that could make the potential six-year agreement into a $32 million dollar contract. Not too shabby.

However, in Jim Caple's wonderful (though a little long) article this morning on ESPN's Page 2 (Page 2 still exists? How the mighty have fallen) examines the "most overrated statistic in baseball," the save. I will go even further than Mr. Caple, going on record to say that the save is the most overrated statistic in all of sports.

The Angels' Francisco Rodriguez is on pace to break Bobby Thigpen's single season save record, yet the Angels are not feverishly trying to lock up the free-agent-to-be. Likely, they're going to let him walk. Crazy? Hardly.

In the Major League, the save is loosely defined as the successful closing of a game by a relief pitcher where the tying run either comes to the plate or is on deck. Sometimes, the closer faces the team's best hitters. More often, however, they face weaker parts of the order.

Here's the situation. Your starter is struggling in the fifth inning, and he loads the bases with one out in a tie game. You need a strikeout. Needing a strikeout, who would you logically put in the game? Your best strikeout pitcher, who in almost every case, is your closer, the best reliever in the bullpen. What do the 30 Major League teams do, defying this logic? They put someone else in the game.

ISN'T THAT INSANE? You need a strikeout, and you don't put in the pitcher most likely to deliver that need. Instead, you wait to put K-Rod or Trevor Hoffman in the game against the 7-8-9 hitters. WHAT?!

The save is a salary inflating statistic. Look, the Angels have a great back of the bullpen. They will easily just plug someone in when K-Rod leaves in free agency. You see this all of the time, and for good reason.

From what I saw in the Joba Chamberlain situation, Joakim Soria deserves a chance to start. Chamberlain was a lights-out reliever (39 appearances, 47.2 IP, 28 H, 64 K, 1.32 ERA look ok to you?), and now he's the reason that the Yanks have made a little resurgence. Heck, I heard Cy Young talk before he tweaked his shoulder yesterday. Soria, while he doesn't throw the heat like Joba, has just as many good major league pitches. Why waste this potential at closer, especially if we don't know exactly what his ceiling is as a starter?

Some pitchers are born relievers. Mariano Rivera relies so heavily on his cut fastball that he hardly throws anything else. Billy Wagner throws high nineties heat, a decent slider, but a sub-average changeup. Some of these guys aren't cut out to be starters, because they wouldn't be able to retire the same batters three or more times. However, guys like Joakim Soria, Jonathan Papelbon, and Joba Chamberlain could be much more valuable as starters.

We've all seen Soria pitches dozens and dozens of times now. He's retired the side so quietly sometimes that I'm still not back from the fridge. Do you have any doubt that he couldn't get those same guys out again?

I don't.

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