Jim Caple, the Yankees-hating douchbag who writes for ESPN, produced an excellent article today about closers and the save statistic. In light of Jerome Holtzman’s death, Caple thoroughly explores the history of the closer, concluding that because of the save statistic and the media’s infatuation with the closer, teams’ best relief pitchers today are often not used in the most important late-inning situation. Here’s how Caple ends the piece:
Teams would have to slowly wean themselves off the all-powerful closer, gradually bringing their best reliever into earlier, more important situations. And the media will have to start hounding managers with questions like, “Why did you use your closer with a three-run lead in the ninth when studies show you would have probably won anyway? Why not save him for a more important situation, such as a tie in the seventh?” But some team eventually will come to its senses and do exactly that. And as opponents see this strategy work over the course of months and years — and see that it also was a cheaper way to win games — more teams will copy until it becomes the preferred method. They will, as Beane says, “stumble back onto the old system” and realize that if it was “good enough for Whitey Herzog, it’s good enough for us.”
If so, sanity — rather than the “save situation” — will rule the day again.
Of course, there is one inherent risk to that. While teams and fans would view the save, “save situations” and closers in a more accurate light, there is also the unfortunate risk that they would eventually overvalue the “hold.”