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Linear Saves 2008

by Keith Glab,
November 13, 2008

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 LSV Intro

One reason why neither Francisco Rodriguez nor Brad Lidge's season produce as good of a Linear Saves total as we might expect is that 2008 was the best season for save percentage for closers ever at 88.9%.   This is probably due to multiple factors. 

Managers generally made sound choices in 2008, replacing struggling closers prudently.  The Rockies quickly lost patience with Manny Corpas and went back to their old buddy Brian Fuentes with excellent results.  The Brewers would never have made the postseason had they stuck with Eric Gagne over Solomon Torres, who nevertheless struggled himself in September.  Jim Riggleman had the wherewithal to shelve last year's LSV leader, J.J. Putz, in favor of Brandon Morrow only temporarily as Putz was returning from an injury (Putz certainly underwent one of the largest drops in consecutive seasons, falling by 8.4 LSV).  Tony LaRussa did well to ditch the normally reliable Jason Isringhausen, but the hapless leader went with Ryan Franklin as a less-than-adequate replacement.

Most Linear Saves, Season Year SV LSV
Eric Gagne 2003 55 9.0
Dennis Eckersley 1990 48 7.9
Trevor Hoffman 1998 53 7.8
Willie Hernandez 1984 32 7.0
Randy Myers 1997 45 6.8
Dennis Eckersley 1992 51 6.7
Tom Gordon 1998 46 6.7
Brad Lidge 2008 41 6.6
Jose Mesa 1995* 46 6.3
John Franco 1988 39 5.7
* Strike-shortened season

Also, managers are still progressively more squeamish about bringing their closer in to pitch multiple innings or with runners already on base, making save opportunities easier than in years' past.  Here is where Bill James and Baseball Info Solutions come to our aid.  In the Bill James Handbook 2009, James puts the BIS game data to excellent use, finding 21 different categories by which to evaluate relievers (not just closers, like Linear Saves does).  For our purposes here, the most interesting thing he does is break down saves into three separate categories - Easy, Regular, and Tough:   

Easy Saves: The reliever enters the game with three or fewer outs remaining and the first batter faced does not represent the potential tying or winning run.  In 2008, 58% of saves were Easy Saves and they got converted at an 87% clip.

Tough Saves: The reliever enters with the potential tying or winning run on base.  Only 5% of saves were Tough Saves in 2008, and relievers were credited with saves on just 22% of Tough Save opportunities.

Regular Saves: Any save that does not fall under the criteria for either an Easy Save or a Tough Save.  37% of saves were Regular Saves this year, and they were converted successfully at a 57% rate.

It's a shame we only have this breakdown for 2008. That data would go a long way towards correcting the Goose Gossage timeline problem with Linear Saves;  Goose no doubt came into dozens more Tough Save Situations than has Trevor Hoffman over the course of his career.  But rather than lament what we don't have, let's use what we do have for our four top Linear Saves closers for 2008:

Reliever/Situation Easy % Regular % Tough %
Brad Lidge 25-25 100% 16-16 100% 0-0 -
Mariano Rivera 19-19 100% 15-16 93.8% 5-5 100%
Joakim Soria 25-25 100% 16-18 88.9% 1-2 50%
Francisco Rodriguez 39-42 92.8% 22-26 84.6% 1-2 50%

Let this information temper your enthusiasm for a 62-save season, but don't let this take away anything from Mr. Lidge.  No other closer was perfect in both Regular and Easy save opportunities in '08.  Still, you can make a strong case that Mariano Rivera actually had the more valuable season.   Newest Chicago Cub Kevin Gregg, Jonathan Papelbon, and Brian Wilson were the only other pitchers to convert as many as four Tough Saves this season.  The five Tough Saves that Rivera nailed down did more to help his team win than the six extra Easy Saves that Lidge notched, and the one blown Regular Save probably doesn't offset it.

What does Rivera's terrific season do for his career standing?  Find out in Part 3.

Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at or found at the Baseball Evolution Forum

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