MLB's ongoing saves crisis a perfect storm
WE ARE IN the midst of a double-pronged saves crisis in Major League Baseball, and, frankly, it's keeping Couch Slouch up at night.
First of all, the "save rule" has been under fire for years.
Second of all, baseball's best closers hardly ever blow save opportunities anymore; they're so reliable, they make FedEx look like the U.S. Postal Service.
We'll deal with the save rule first because, well, I brought it up first.
A relief pitcher on the winning team recording the last out can earn a save one of three ways:
(a) Enter the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitch for at least one inning.
(b) Enter the game with the potential tying run on base, at bat or on deck.
© Pitch at least three innings.
In Scenario (a), a pitcher could take over in the ninth inning with a 3-0 lead, and, conceivably, allow two homers, a triple, a double and three walks, hold on for a 3-2 final and earn a save. Think about it - the pitcher allowed seven base runners and had an 18.00 ERA for his inning's work and somehow got statistically rewarded.
In Scenario (b), a pitcher could take over with two outs in the ninth with the bases loaded and a 5-0 lead, and by recording one out - with the tying run on deck - he'd get a save. In fact, he could throw a ball on his first pitch, and if the catcher then picked off the runner at third - bang!!! - that's a save in a 5-0 game.
In Scenario ©, a pitcher could take over in the seventh with, say, a 31-0 lead, allow 30 runs over three somewhat rocky innings and hold on for a 31-30 victory, and, well, there's another save for you.
You can see why the save stat is sometimes discredited by many baseball cognoscenti.
Heck, I believe Goose Gossage once was credited with a save for shouting a profanity at Dave Kingman from the bullpen just before Kingman struck out to end a game.
(Column Intermission: The NBA playoffs don't seem fair. Five or six Western Conference teams capable of winning the title beat up on each other, with only one able to make it to the NBA Finals, while the Miami Heat just strolls through Division II, better known as the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, I have been aggressively tweeting barbs about the Heat's Shane Battier, but I'd better be careful - he might be the first person capable of drawing a charge on Twitter.)
Okay, onto the second issue:
Many of baseball's closers are perfect this season. They're like field goal kickers - they've gotten too good. In the NFL, maybe they'll narrow the goalposts; in baseball, what are they supposed to do, move the mound back three feet when a closer comes in?
The numbers are astonishing, and they begin with the Yankees' astonishingly incomparable Mariano Rivera, who is 16 for 16 in save opportunities this season at age 43.
The Pirates' surprisingly astonishing Jason Grilli - 17 for 17 - has been even better.
Also perfect: Joe Nathan, Rangers (12 saves); Edward Mujica, Cardinals (12); Tom Wilhelmsen, Mariners (11); Casey Janssen, Blue Jays (10); Rafael Betancourt, Rockies (10); Glen Perkins, Twins (8); Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies (8); Jim Henderson, Brewers (8); Grant Balfour; A's (8), and Kevin Gregg, Cubs (6). Five other closers have at least eight saves with just one blown save opportunity.
By the way, who is Jason Grilli? He's a 36-year-old journeyman with his sixth team - lifetime record: 21-26, 4.21 ERA - who, before this season, had seven career saves and seven blown saves. His claim to fame? His 32 "holds" in 2012.
(Don't get me started on "holds." Here's all you need to know about them - Arthur Rhodes is the career leader with 231 and you're credited with one if you either hold a lead or, in some towns, hold the clubhouse door open for a local sportswriter.)
Well, at least we should celebrate career saves leader Rivera. In May 2008 I declared he would not give up a run that entire season; of course, the day after my column ran, he allowed a run. So I don't want to hex Rivera again by making any more outlandish claims about him. Rather, I'm going to put the burden of the Couch Slouch jinx on the Cubs' Gregg, who has a 0.00 ERA in 10 innings this season. Gregg, I believe, will not blow a save or give up an earned run in 2013. Good luck, buddy.
Ask The Slouch
Q. Can you tell me exactly what constitutes a traveling violation in the NBA? (Timothy Bruce; Salt Lake City)
A. If you take the ball from beyond the 3-point line to the basket and then continue to the locker room without ever dribbling, they will whistle that almost every time.
Q. What separates The Slouch from the most interesting man in the world? (Ray Saunders; Chicago)
A. I don't always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Q. They say a playoff series doesn't begin until a road team wins a game. Does that mean the Capitals-Rangers series is just now heating up? (C.J. Tompkins; Yorba Linda, Calif.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!