It’s hard to measure how painful a blown save is to a team (okay, I’m sure there are some Nate Silver-wannabes who are developing a stat for that). I sense a blown save damages a team not just for that one game, but for subsequent games as teams recover from a game they should have won but also in a subtle way as perhaps a manager leaves a starting pitcher in a little longer as they may be reluctant to go the bullpen.
It may surprise you to learn that the percentage of successful saves is just 70%, but remember a game can contain multiple-save opportunities, but only one successfully completed save. But understand, the more blown saves, the less likely your team will do well over the course of a season.
As you look at the list of teams ranked in order of blown saves, from most to fewest, you will see that of the 15 teams with the most blown saves, only the Cardinals reached the postseason. To prove my previous point, one or two blown saves more than other teams does seem to have a longer effect on a team’s record. Please don’t think I am building up this point to eclipse the weakness of effective starting pitching but the Angels and the Braves each had 60 save opportunities and Atlanta successfully completed 47 and made the postseason and the Angels completed 38 and did not.
With this in mind, the Angels signed Ryan Madson, the former Philadelphia Phillies closer. Madson, 32, is less than eight months removed from Tommy John surgery that kept him sidelined in 2012 but he had 32 saves in 34 opportunities (94%) for the Phillies in 2011, and then signed as a free agent with the Cincinnati Reds, but was injured during training camp. Madson most likely will be in line to take closing duties from Ernesto Frieri, who had three blown saves (88% save pct.), who could return to an 8th inning role.
Madson’s surgery was performed in April by Dr. Lewis Yocum, the Angels’ team physician.
Meanwhile, as reported by Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the Reds have re-signed Jonathan Broxton to a three-year deal to serve as their closer as the Reds continue with their plans to move Aroldis Chapman to the rotation (really?). Broxton had 27 saves in 33 opportunities (82%) in 2012 for the Royals and Reds.
One thing is becoming increasingly apparent, teams are looking at both the 8th and 9th innings as roles for pitchers previously solely known as “closers.” As far back as the early 2000’s, Bill James wrote about the efficacy of using your best bullpen guy when the situation warrants, not restricting him to the 9th inning.
In his 2003 edition of The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, James wrote says that one-inning closers are not the optimal way to use a bullpen.
“Far better to use your relief ace when the score is tied, even if that is the seventh inning, than in the ninth inning with a lead of two or more runs.”
According to James, the perfect way to use a relief ace:
- Two innings a game when the game is tied.
- Two innings a game when you have a one-run lead.
- One inning at a time in other games when the game is close at the end and the ace hasn’t been used for a day or two.
- “In other words,” he writes, “bring in your man when you’re ahead by one after seven innings, when you’re tied after seven innings, or when the game is close and the relief ace isn’t tired.”