March 20, 2013
Saves Are Everywhere
The beauty of baseball lies in its unpredictability—which spawned the #ycpb (you can’t predict baseball) hashtag, as well as youcanpredictbaseball.com. While the sport may not be predictable, it only takes a cursory glance at the statistics from recent seasons to see that offense is down and pitching is up.
One particular part of pitching that is on a rapid rise is saves. Last season, there were 1,261 saves converted in baseball, and that total was just four shy of the post-expansion era record of 1,265 set in 1998, when the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays brought the league to 30 teams. Between 1998 and 2012, the numbers have been all over the place, as the save stat remains as risky league-wide as it is on an individual level for fantasy owners.
As quickly as the saves category exploded after the last league expansion, it collapsed two seasons later to its post-expansion low of 1,178. The category recovered to another boom in 2005, only to bust over the next three seasons, before turning the corner in 2008 and continuing to rise ever since.
Despite the rollercoaster ride the statistic has taken fantasy owners on in recent years, things have been rather stable in the past few seasons. Since 2009, at least 27 pitchers each season have saved 20 or more games, which is a step up from the previous four season, when no more than 25 pitchers attained that benchmark. Even in the peak year of 1998, just 23 pitchers saved 20 or more games, and baseball has not seen a total that low since 2008. That season, just 22 pitchers saved 20 or more games, marking the lowest total in the post-expansion era.
Since we know the category has had just a seven percent variance over the past 14 seasons, the trick becomes figuring out where those saves go. What makes that an exercise in futility is the fact the saves truly do come from everywhere—after all, both Brad Lidge and Shawn Chacon saved 30 more games in seasons where they had ERAs over 7.00. Joe Borowski led the American League in saves in 2007. In fact, from 1998 to 2012, there are 42 examples of pitchers saving at least 20 games in a season in which they had an ERA of 4.50 or higher.