Reexamining Saves (2015 & 16 Seasons)

The save is a diluted statistic.  It tells us much less about a pitcher’s performance than it could.  It is akin to a list of runners that completed a marathon.  All finishers are listed but no distinction between someone who finished the race in 4, 5, or 12 hours is made.  Without the crucial finish time, a good deal of information about each individual’s performance is lost.  I have created five types of saves with the goal of more clearly documenting the work of closers.  The five types are the Ultrasave, Powersave, Plainsave, Uglysave, and Disastersave (this type is extremely rare).  While the concept of ‘saves by gradation’ cuts saves data into smaller parts, it allows for more meaningful information about pitcher performance during these situations to be conveyed.

The criteria for each type of save:

Ultra Save = no walks, no hits, no HBP (no baserunners), at least 1 IP, struck out all batters faced, earned the save.

Power Save = no walks, no hits, no HBP (no baserunners), at least 1 IP, at least 1 K, earned the save.

Plain Save = no walks, no hits, no HBP (no baserunners), at least 1 IP, no Ks, earned the save.

Ugly Save = at least one hit, at least one run, no Ks, at least 1 IP, earned the save.

Disaster Save = at least two hits, at least two runs, no strikeouts, earned the save. (Rodney and Melancon are the only pitchers on the Top 35 list to earn one).

In a prior article, I examined the 2016 save leaderboard using this method.  The results can be seen here.

In this article, I look at the 2015 save leaderboard and applied the five save type method.

The Top 35 save leaders for the 2015 season with the raw tallies for each of the 5 save types:

Svs/Sv Ops.                  Ultra Sv           Pwr Sv             Pl Sv                Ugly Sv                   Dis Sv

1 Melancon 51/53           1                           9                       8                        2                               1

2 Rosenthal 48/51         4                          10                      2                        1                               0

3 Familia 43/48              0                          11                      2                        0                               0

4 Boxberger 41/47         3                          6                       3                         1                               0

5 Street 40/45                 0                         11                      2                         4                              0

6 Kimbrel 39/43             2                         12                      2                         0                              0

7 Rodriguez 38/40         0                         8                       7                         0                               0

7 Casilla 38/44                1                         4                       0                         0                               0

9 Miller 36/38                 2                         6                        1                         0                               0

9 Jansen 36/38                1                        10                       2                         0                               0

9 Britton 36/40              2                         8                        1                          2                               0

12 Tolleson 35/37           1                         6                        4                          1                               0

13 Allen 34/38                 1                        13                        1                          0                               0

13 Robertson 34/41       3                        11                        3                          2                                0

15 Chapman 33/36        2                        10                       0                         0                                0

16 Perkins 32/35           0                         3                         6                         1                                 0

16 Holland 32/37          2                         4                         4                         0                                0

16 Ramos 32/38            0                         6                         3                         0                                 0

19 Gregerson 31/36     0                         7                          3                        0                                 0

20 Ziegler 30/32          0                         5                          4                         2                                 0

20 Rondon 30 /34       0                          5                          3                        0                                  0

22 Storen 29/34          2                          3                          4                        0                                   0

23 Uehara 25/27          1                          5                          4                        0                                   0

23 Axford 25/31           0                          3                          2                        0                                   0

25 Grilli 24/26             1                           3                          1                         1                                   0

25 Papelbon 24/26     0                         4                           2                        0                                   0

25 Soria 24/30             1                           1                           3                        1                                   0

28 Osuna 20/23          1                           3                           2                       0                                   0

29 Clippard 19/25      1                           5                           2                        1                                   0

30 Davis 17/18            0                          6                           0                        0                                   0

31 Rodney 16 /23        0                          2                           0                        2                                    1

32 Jepsen 15/20          1                           3                           3                         0                                   0

32 Giles 15/20             0                          3                           2                         0                                   0

34 Wilhelmsen 13/15   1                        3                           1                         0                                    0

35 Smith 13/18            0                          3                           0                         1                                    0

My 5 save type model is based on the notion that the key characteristic of a closer is dominance.  In the 9th inning of a 1, 2, or 3 run game, any type of baserunner is a hazard to a team looking to shut the door on an opponent.  Thus, my save model rewards pitchers who do not allow balls in play (valuing the safest out – the strikeout) and avoid baserunners of any kind (HBP, walks, hits).  Greater penalties are given to pitchers based on the level that they violate these two criteria.

Keeping dominance in mind, there are a number of ways to utilize my data system to achieve a better understanding of the quality of each closer.  The first way is to award a number value to each type of save and then tally the points.  The values I gave each type of save are listed below:

Ultra = 3

Power = 2

Plain = 1

Ugly = -1

Disaster = -2

 

Based on the new point total for Quality of Save, the 2015 leaderboard looks like this:

Saves/Save Opps.                        Quality Save Score                       Rank Change

1 Rosenthal 48/51                           33                                                       +1

2 Kimbrel 39/43                               32                                                       +4

2 Robertson 34/41                          32                                                       +11

4 Allen 34/38                                   30                                                       +9

5 Chapman 33/36                            26                                                       +10

6 Melancon 51/53                           25                                                       -5

6 Jansen 36/38                                 25                                                       +3

8 Familia 43/48                                24                                                      -5

9 Boxberger 41/47                          23                                                       -5

9 Rodriguez 38/40                           23                                                      -2

11 Britton 36/40                              21                                                       -2

12 Street 40/45                               20                                                       -7

13 Miller 36/38                                19                                                       -4

14 Tolleson 35/37                           18                                                       -2

14 Holland 32/37                             18                                                      +2

16 Gregerson 31/36                       17                                                        +3

16 Uehara 25/27                             17                                                        +7

18 Storen 29/34                              16                                                       +4

19 Casilla 38/44                               15                                                      -12

19 Ramos 32/38                               15                                                       -3

21 Clippard 19/25                           14                                                       +8

22 Rondon 30 /34                           13                                                       -2

23 Ziegler 30/32                              12                                                       -3

23 Davis 17/18                                 12                                                       +7

23 Jepsen 15/20                              12                                                       +9

26 Perkins 32/35                             11                                                      -10

26 Osuna 20/23                               11                                                       +2

28 Papelbon 24/26                         10                                                       -3

28 Wilhelmsen 13/15                     10                                                       +6

30 Grilli 24/26                                  9                                                        -5

31 Axford 25/31                              8                                                          -8

31 Giles 15/20                                  8                                                          +1

33 Soria 24/30                                 7                                                         -8

34 Smith 13/18                                5                                                          +1

35 Rodney 16 /23                            0                                                         -4

This rating system gives a more accurate picture of player performance than using only save totals.  However, there is another adjustment that makes the rankings even more descriptive.  When a 1 point penalty for each blown save is applied, the 2016 leader board shifts again:

Svs/Sv Ops.                         New Point Total

1 Rosenthal 48/51                           30

2 Kimbrel 39/43                              28

3 Allen 34/38                                   26

4 Robertson 34/41                          25

5 Chapman 33/36                           23

5 Melancon 51/53                           23

5 Jansen 36/38                                23

8 Rodriguez 38/40                         21

9 Familia 43/48                              19

10 Boxberger 41/47                       17

10 Britton 36/40                            17

10 Miller 36/38                               17

13 Tolleson 35/37                           16

14 Street 40/45                               15

14 Uehara 25/27                             15

16 Holland 32/37                           13

17 Gregerson 31/36                       12

18 Storen 29/34                              11

18 Davis 17/18                                 11

20 Ziegler 30/32                            10

21 Casilla 38/44                              9

21 Ramos 32/38                              9

21 Rondon 30 /34                            9

24 Clippard 19/25                           8

24 Perkins 32/35                             8

24 Osuna 20/23                               8

24 Papelbon 24/26                         8

24 Wilhelmsen 13/15                     8

29 Jepsen 15/20                              7

29 Grilli 24/26                                7

31 Giles 15/20                                  3

32 Axford 25/31                              2

33 Soria 24/30                                 1

34 Smith 13/18                                0

35 Rodney 16 /23                            -7

Another way to analyze the 2015 save leaders performance using my 5 save type method is adding the number of Ultra and Power saves together.  This gives a snapshot of how dominant a closer has been while in save situations.  Using just these two categories, the 2015 dominant save leaders were (total and % of saves that were dominant are both reported below):

Name                   Ultra & PowerSvs Combo Total                   % of overall svs Ultra+Power

Rosenthal 48/51                           14                                                                           29.1%

Kimbrel 39/43                                14                                                                           35.8%

Allen 34/38                                     14                                                                           41.1%

Robertson 34/41                          14                                                                           41.1%

Chapman 33/36                            12                                                                           36.3%

Familia 43/48                                  11                                                                           25.5%

Street 40/45                                   11                                                                           27.5%

Jansen 36/38                                  11                                                                           30.5%

Britton 36/40                                  10                                                                         27.7%

Melancon 51/53                           10                                                                            19.6%

Boxberger 41/47                          9                                                                             21.9%

Rodriguez 38/40                           8                                                                            21.0%

Miller 36/38                                    8                                                                           22.2%

Tolleson 35/37                               7                                                                            20.0%

Gregerson 31/36                          7                                                                             22.5%

Holland 32/37                                6                                                                           18.7%

Ramos 32/38                                  6                                                                            18.7%

Uehara 25/27                                 6                                                                            24%

Clippard 19/25                               6                                                                            31.5%

Davis 17/18                                     6                                                                            35.2%

Casilla 38/44                                   5                                                                           13.1%

Ziegler 30/32                                  5                                                                            16.6%

Rondon 30 /34                               5                                                                             16.6%

Storen 29/34                                  5                                                                             17.2%

Grilli 24/26                                     4                                                                            16.6%

Papelbon 24/26                            4                                                                             16.6%

Osuna 20/23                                   4                                                                            20%

Jepsen 15/20                                 4                                                                              26.6%

Wilhelmsen 13/15                        4                                                                              30.7%

Perkins 32/35                                 3                                                                              9%

Axford 25/31                                  3                                                                               12%

Giles 15/20                                      3                                                                              20%

Smith 13/18                                    3                                                                              23%

Soria 24/30                                      2                                                                             8.3%

Rodney 16/23                                2                                                                              12.5%

Adding the 2015 save leaders to the previous 2016 save analysis yields the following infomation: It appears the raw totals of Ultra and Power Saves significantly increased from 2015 and 2016.  This increase appears to have occurred across the leaderboard.  Also, the percentage of ultra and power saves relative to overall save totals also increased significantly between 2015 and 2016.  Were pitchers who held the closer jobs in 2016 more dominant than in 2015?  It appears so.  Interestingly, this increase was not just a function of newly anointed save specialists.  Rather, save leaders from 2015 who made the 2016 list also showed significant increases in the number of dominant appearances.

It’s likely that multiple factors have led to greater closer dominance.  Hitters may be increasing their willingness to selling out for power.  Thus, batters take a greater number of huge swings leading to more strikeouts and fewer hits.  Next, the role of the closer may be shifting towards even greater specialization and usage – teams may see a power arm as a requirement for pitching in the 9th.  They may also encourage their closers to avoid pitching to contact and instead try to maximize strikeouts.  A third possibility is just year to year variation in data/trends.  I would love to hear from anyone about how they would interpret the data from the 2015 and 2016 seasons so please get in touch if you have any ideas.

The predictive value of save quality using this five save type model needs to be further evaluated.  This can be done by looking longitudinally over more than just the 2015 and 2016 seasons in order to see if prior year(s) performance had any significant predictive power for the following year(s).  Closer performance is difficult to evaluate due to the small sample size of data each pitcher generates annually.  However, there is likely enough information to chart predictive value of this model if someone had the time to chart and score each season’s leaderboard and then use formal statistical analysis to compare save earners over many seasons of work.  Anyone who owns a good statistics program and wants to collaborate, please get in touch.

Follow me on Twitter: @doctordaver

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3 thoughts on “Reexamining Saves (2015 & 16 Seasons)

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