Who blew the save?

Ok guys – this is a topic I was thinking about discussing anyway, and today’s Cardinals game gave me the perfect opportunity: Let’s talk about blown saves.

For those of you who didn’t see the game, let me give you the cliffs notes version.  Garcia started the game and carried a 4 run lead into the bottom of the 5th, where he gave up 3 runs.  With a score of 4-3, Motte entered the game in the 7th with a runner on second.  Thanks to a fielding error by Pujols, the runner scored and the inning continued with yet another run for Atlanta.  The Cards entered the 8th down by 1 run and promptly tied it up, and LaRussa brought in Franklin.  He pitched a perfect 8th, then Theriot made an error in the 9th that put a runner on base.  That runner soon-thereafter scored, winning the game for Atlanta.

Cardinals fans everywhere are crucifying Franklin for blowing yet another save.  Which is interesting since Motte was the one who blew the save.  Motte came into the game with a lead and allowed the opposing team to overtake us.  Franklin came into a tie game and allowed the winning run to score – a loss yes, but not a blown save.

Today’s game raised a few questions in my mind as to how some of these stats are decided.  First let me say that “Blown Save” is a stat that MLB does not recognize.  You’ll never see it listed on a players stats page.  Oddly enough – if you go to the box score on the teams official site (run by MLB) it does list which pitcher was charged with the blown save by noting “A. Player, (BS, 1)” exactly as wins and loses are noted, “A. Player (W, 3-1)”  Regardless of this contradiction, because it is not an official stat, the rules used to interpret a blown save aren’t always concrete.  Here are some interesting facts to consider:

  • The official scorer can assign a blown save to any pitcher who came in in a save situation, and allows the opposing team to take the lead, no matter what inning, even if his team then goes on to win several innings later.  It happened to Mets reliever Tim Byrdak last night, who threw a total of TWO pitches in the entire 14 inning game. 
  • As we saw in today’s Cards game, a pitcher is given a blown save even if the winning run scores due to a fielding error.  So another player F’s up and the pitcher gets screwed.  (It’s still recorded as an unearned run and therefore does not affect a pitcher’s ERA, you know, because it makes sense to say the run wasn’t his fault, but losing the game clearly was.)
  • Because of the definition of a “save situation” a pitcher will not get a blown save if he comes into the game with a lead greater than 4 runs and still somehow manages to give it away.  This is far worse, if you ask me, but no BS will be noted behind this pitcher’s name.
  • Similarly, a pitcher who enters a tie game and allows the go-ahead run to score is also not given a blown save, even though he took away (or made more difficult) his team’s chance to win.
  • If a pitcher blows the save in the top of the 9th and his team comes back to win it in the bottom – he is given a blown save and a win.  If a pitcher blows the save in the top of the 9th and the game continues, tied, and then another pitcher gives up the go ahead run in extra innings – well I have no clue which one would be given the blown save!!  How would you determine who to give it to?  Because if the second pitcher closes the game in extra innings and his team wins – he would certainly be awarded a save.  Based on that it’s only fair to assume the last pitcher would be given a blown save in the event that the the team loses in extra innings, but isn’t the pitcher from the 9th more to blame?  They wouldn’t even be playing extra innings if the first pitcher hadn’t blown it then!  Can you assign two blown saves?  [**CORRECTION** If a pitcher comes into a tied game, he would get a win or loss, not a save or blown save, if the game is either won or lost during any inning that he pitched.]
  • A pitcher can come into a game and give up any number of runs, allowing the go-ahead run(s) to score against his team, and will not be given a blown save if he did not record an out.  So if a guy can’t even get a single out before blowing it – he’s off the hook!

Whew!  I hope that isn’t as confusing to read as it was to write! LOL.

Blown saves certainly say something to a pitcher’s ability to pitch, but maybe it’s a stat that shouldn’t carry as much weight as it does.  I think you have to look at blown saves with a grain of salt, and consider with it ERA, WHIP and K:BB ratios.  Also consider the defense behind him, and the offense he has to work with.  If you look at a pitcher who has no blown saves and is backed by a team that makes few errors and scores lots of runs VS a pitcher with 3 blown saves and a team loaded with errors and low on offense, you can guess that the blown saves might not be a very accurate measure.  Who remembers Jason Isringhausen?  He would come into a game with a 3 or 4 run lead, load the bases, maybe even give up a run or two, then (after half the stadium had collapsed from heart attacks) he would get the outs and the Cardinals would win.  And he walked away with a save, despite allowing hits, walks and even runs to score.  His teams’ ability to score runs and keep the other team from crossing home plate too often gave him the ability to struggle through save opportunity after save opportunity and come out on top.

I have one more thing to mention on this subject – not in defense of Franklin or Motte specifically – but in defense of every player who has been blamed for singlehandedly losing a game.  (Can you say Buckner?)  There are 9 innings in a game, 27 outs per team, and a minimum of 9 players opposing at least 9 more, that contribute to every win and every loss.  (Not to mention managers and coaches who have complete control over who plays where and who pitches and when.)  There are certainly times where one player can be held mostly accountable for the outcome of a game.  But even a perfect game cannot be done without serious help from the other 8 guys on the field.  In today’s Cardinal’s game, if Franklin had not allowed that run to score, we certainly would have won.  There is no doubt about that.  OR if Theriot hadn’t made that error in the 9th, there wouldn’t have been a runner on base, and we would have won.  OR if Pujols hadn’t made an error in the 7th, we would have maintained the lead and probably won.  OR If Motte hadn’t given up back to back singles in the 7th, we wouldn’t have gone into the 8th down by 1, and probably would have won.  OR if Garcia hadn’t given up 3 runs in the 5th we would have held onto a much larger lead, and probably would have won.  Do you see where I’m going with this?  The closer gets “charged” with a blown save, gets a black mark next to his name, because he was the last player to make a mistake (or to be on the mound when someone else made a mistake) that contributed to the loss.

I get that a closer’s role is to go in and end the game without allowing runs to score, and to keep the lead in tact.  But a fielder’s role is to make plays without errors.  A starter’s role is to pitch the vast majority of the game while getting outs and allowing as few runs as possible.  Please understand that I’m not saying blown saves is a horrible stat, just that it’s inaccurate in many situations (most often when there isn’t one recorded).  Think twice before you crucify the next guy who “blows a save” for your team, and consider who else was a part of the losing effort.

For the Cardinals, I think closer by committee is the best way to go right now.  The argument can be made that we need to designate a closer so he “knows his role” – but seriously, a pitcher’s role is to go in and get outs.  No matter what inning, no matter what the score.  A save situation certainly adds a little pressure, and these guys are human and have insecurities, but this isn’t little league.  Bring in the guy who can get it done tonight, regardless of who did it last night or the night before.

(Funny side note – I had forgotten that Isringhausen was still playing, but then he came in to pitch for the Mets as I was writing about him.  Too funny!)


2 Comments on “Who blew the save?”

  1. Phil Carter says:

    This is wrong:
    If a pitcher blows the save in the top of the 9th and the game continues, tied, and then another pitcher gives up the go ahead run in extra innings – well I have no clue which one would be given the blown save!! How would you determine who to give it to? Because if the second pitcher closes the game in extra innings and his team wins – he would certainly be awarded a save.

    – The second pitcher would actually get the win, not a save. A save is no longer available in this situation. Example: Pat Neshek with the Padres on Opening Day this year against the Cardinals. Neshek earned his first Opening Day and National League win this way.

    • Tiss says:

      I know this and I’m just retarded! If it’s tied – there’s no save situation, DUH! (you would use Pat Neshak as your example jaja 🙂 Thanks, Phil! I can always count on you to set me straight!

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