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May 31, 2012

BP Unfiltered

About 3-, 4-, and 5-run saves

by Sam Miller

On Wednesday, Hisashi Iwakuma got his first save in the majors. It doesn't really call for an analysis of his post-save celebration, because it was one of those bastard saves where the pitcher protects a (in this case) 12-run lead by pitching at least the final three innings. Iwakuma's win probability added: 0.02, as he allowed three runs. 

There are actually three ways to get a save and allow three runs. That's one. Another is to come into a game in a traditional save situation in the eighth inning (or earlier), get out of that inning, have your team score more runs in the next half-inning and then allow three or more runs without blowing the lead. And complete the game. The save situation is birthed at the point of entry into the game, and if a pitcher's team scored 15 in the top of the ninth it is still a save for the pitcher. If this paragraph makes any sense. The third, which is basically just like the second, is to come into a game in the eighth with a lead of four or five and the tying run on deck, get out of the jam, and allow three or more runs in the ninth. So either the bastard-save route, or the traditional-save-split-into-two-innings route.

And now to the Baseball-Reference portion of this post. Since 1918, there have now been 360 saves in which the pitcher has allowed three runs or more. Of course, bullpen usage used to be a lot different. In the modern-closer era, which I'm setting as post-1980, there have now been 77. The majority of those (53) were the three-inning variety. Among the pitchers with three-run saves: Sutter, Quisenberry, Gossage, Reardon (twice), Smith, Wetteland. Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg are the closest things to present-day closers with a three-run save.

The most runs allowed in a save is eight, on June 6, 1973. Dave Goltz entered in the seventh with a 9-1 lead. He gave up 13 hits, four home runs, stranded five but survived, largely because his Twins kept scoring. His WPA that game: -0.002. He gave up 13 hits in three innings and couldn't make the darned thing move one way or the other. The home-plate umpire was Ron Luciano, who, unrelated, once said "I never called a balk in my life. I didn't understand the rule."

The most runs allowed in a save in the modern-closer era is five, accomplished three times. All were three-plus-inning saves. Ron Davis got a five-run save in 1980, a 15-7 game which Baseball-Reference tells me featured four home runs and a 20-mph wind blowing in "unknown direction." Pretty sure I know which direction. Jim Slaton had a five-run save in 1983, a game his team would win 12-11. He walked five batters (including shortstop Julio Franco!) and struck out one, and allowed a three-run home run to the penultimate batter of the game. He won 14 games in relief that year. That seemed interesting, until I checked and found out Roy Face went 18-1 without making a start, in 1959. And Mark Huismann had a five-run save in 1986, pitching the final four innings. The score was 15-9; there were 33 hits and six errors, runs scored in 12 of the 18 half-innings, and the game took just three hours and five minutes. 

There have been 10 four-out saves in the post-1980 closer era, two of which were of the traditional-save variety. Both were, if you can believe this, and I know you're just skimming by this point so LISTEN UP: Both were on the same day. I know, right? On Aug. 24, 1998, Mike Timlin entered in the top of the eighth inning with the bases loaded and his team up four, a save situation under the "tying run is on deck" rule. He allowed a run-scoring single (run not credited to him) but got out of the jam. The Mariners scored two in the bottom of the eighth, and Timlin had a bigger cushion. He needed it: single, single, single, Robin Ventura grand slam before Timlin even got an out in the ninth. But he did finish the game, an 11-10 victory. A few minutes later, Willie Banks completed a save in New York. He had been called into a jam in the eighth and got a double-play ball with a three-run lead. The Diamondbacks scored five in the top of the ninth, and Banks gave up four in the bottom but completed the save.

So, yeah. In my entire lifetime, this weird thing (four-run traditional save) has happened exactly twice. On the same day, within about a half-hour of each other. That's why you get this post.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

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