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Last week, I looked at teams that are charged with two or more blown saves in a game. The conclusion was that the number of games with multiple blown saves is increasing, and that increase is largely due to more relievers per game (currently averaging over three per team), creating more opportunities for blown saves. (There, I just spared you reading 1,300 words).

Outstanding commenter Llarry responded:

And the next question is whether there is any consistency to the teams that multiple blown saves are *against*. I notice that two of the ones so far this year were against Houston. Does that end up meaning anything, or is it just random?

Good question, Llarry!

I started to look at games with multiple blown saves, but I concluded that sample’s too small. As I noted in the article last week, no team has ever had more than five games with two or more blown saves in a season, and that’s only happened twice.

So I instead considered blown saves more broadly. As I discussed, blown saves are not an official statistic, so data sources apparently calculate them differently; there are several discrepancies among Baseball Prospectus, Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, and MLB.com. Since I’d gone through the labor of creating a spreadsheet with every single blown save (as defined by Baseball-Reference) since 1969, I decided to put it to work.

I looked at all blown saves from 1998 to 2016. I chose that time period for three reasons. First, it represents the entirety of the 30-team era. Second, it’s a pretty robust dataset: 570 team seasons, encompassing 11,234 blown saves. Third, since blown saves are correlated with relievers per game, there were a lot of relievers in each of those seasons, ranging from 2.46 per team per game in 1998 to 3.15 per game last year.

Returning to Llarry’s question, what kind of teams allowed a lot of blown saves? And what kind of teams were beneficiaries of a lot of blown saves?

Before looking at the overall results, let’s look at outliers. Sometimes teams at the extremes are emblematic of a trend as a whole.

Most blown saves in a season: 2004 Colorado Rockies, 34. I am shocked, shocked that a Rockies team would top the list. Especially one highlighted in the report last week as one of the only two teams ever to have five games with two or more blown saves in a season. They had 24 other blown save games, too. What distinguished this team?

  • Its closer, Shawn Chacon, had one of the more signature closer lines ever: 35 saves, 7.11 ERA, 6.48 FIP, 8.22 DRA, -1.8 WARP.
  • This was a bad team: 68-94, third-worst record in the National League. They gave up 923 runs, tied for the 41st-most since 1901, and the most in post-humidor Coors Field history.
  • They were particularly bad after nine innings, going a league-worst 3-11 in extra-inning games. But they were scarcely worse in one-run games (16-24, .400 winning percentage) than they were in their other games (.426), and their one-run game record was only fourth-worst in the league.

Fewest blown saves in a season: 2003 Los Angeles Dodgers, 8. OK, so scratch the “blown saves as a product of the steroid era” argument.

  • This was Eric Gagne’s Cy Young-winning season: 55 saves, 1.20 ERA, 0.80 FIP, 1.88 DRA, .374 OPS allowed, 45 percent strikeout rate, no blown saves. He had 3.2 PWARP, 33rd in the league. (The Dodgers' WARP team leader, Kevin Brown, had 6.1 and received no Cy Young Award votes.)
  • The Dodgers had by far the best run prevention in the league. They allowed 3.43 runs per game compared to a league average of 4.60. The second-place Giants allowed over half a run per game more.
  • Despite Gagne’s heroics and the lack of blown saves, the Dodgers were mediocre in close games: 26-23 in one-run games, 6-10 in extra innings.

Beneficiary of most blown saves in a season: 2004 Los Angeles Dodgers, 35. Of course, they played in the same division as the 34-blown-saves-allowed Rockies. And nine of the Rockies’ blown saves that year came against the Dodgers. But the Dodgers broke the hearts of their other divisional rivals as well: They received five blown saves against the Diamondbacks and three each against the Padres and Giants.

  • The Dodgers won the West with a 93-69 record, before losing to the eventual National League champion Cardinals in the Division Series.
  • The team was not an offensive juggernaut, despite all the comebacks. They scored 4.70 runs per game, just a whisker above the league average of 4.64. They were better than average at scoring in the eighth inning but worse than average in the ninth.
  • They played 48 one-run games, third-most in the league, and had the best record in one-run games, 32-16. Their .667 winning percentage in one-run games compares to .535 in other games. They were also a league-best 11-3 in extra innings.

Beneficiary of the fewest blown saves in a season: 2010 Los Angeles Angels, 5. The team finished just 82-80, but at least their top draft pick the year before hit .341/.428/.490 in A-ball at age 18!

  • Like the 2004 Dodgers team that forced 35 blown saves, the Angels had an average offense. They scored 4.20 runs per game, ninth in the 14-team American League, just below the league average 4.45.
  • Nor was the team’s record in one-run or extra-inning games, 24-25 and 9-7, respectively, notably out of line with its overall performance.
  • The Angels had problems scoring late in games, though, with the lowest rate in the league of runs scored in the eighth inning and the third-lowest rate in the ninth.

There wasn’t any real commonality among these teams. So to find the key markers of overall success at blown save avoidance/accumulation, I considered three drivers:

  • Overall won-lost record
  • Record in one-run games
  • Runs scored or allowed

Take teams that allow a lot of blown saves. We’d expect those teams to be poor teams (negative correlation to won-lost record, both overall and in one-run games) and allow a lot of runs (positive correlation to runs allowed). It works out that way. Kind of. The correlation of blown saves with team winning percentage is -0.26. The correlation with winning percentage in one-run games is -0.20. The signs are right, but the value of those correlations indicates a very weak relationship. The correlation with runs allowed, +0.34, is barely better.

We’d expect teams that are beneficiaries of blown saves to be teams that do well overall, particularly in close games, and score a lot of runs (in order to come back from save opportunity-creating deficits). But that’s not borne out at all. The correlation of forcing blown saves with won-lost record is +0.06. With record in one-run games, it’s +0.13. And with runs scored, it’s +0.17. None of those rise to the level of significance.

And the best evidence that blown saves are pretty random? I calculated the correlation between blown saves and reliever ERA, FIP, and DRA. Bad bullpens should allow a lot of blown saves, right? The correlation of blown saves to bullpen ERA is 0.00. The correlation to bullpen FIP is -0.01. The correlation to bullpen DRA is -0.03. I would have thought, you would have thought, the teams that allow a lot of blown saves are teams with a lousy bullpen. And you and I would both be wrong.

What can we draw from this? Well, not a lot. Avoiding blown saves, or accumulating them, is either fairly random (as is a team’s record in one-run games) or it’s driven by something I didn’t measure.

In the meantime, Tuesday Joe Biagini blew a save in the seventh inning and Roberto Osuna blew another in the ninth inning during Toronto’s 6-5 win over the Cardinals. That’s the eighth multiple-blown-save game this season. The all-time record is 39 in 2006. Granted, multiple blown saves don’t have the same cachet as, say, Eric Thames homers, but we could be witnessing a record season!

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LlarryA
4/27
Thanks for looking at this. I wouldn't have expected it to be nearly so random, but now we know. I'm not as surprised at the results of teams blowing saves, as much as that there's not at least a *little* more in the teams that benefit. As for the reliever stats comparison, I guess what it shows us is that bad bullpens do most of their damage when the team is tied or already losing. It's not so much giving away a game that the offense and starter have set up as winnable, as making it so that no late-inning offensive heroics will be enough heroics.
mainsr
4/27
Thanks again for the suggestion! Good point about reliever stats. That, and a couple other things that came to mind as I was writing this (eg, should I be looking at run scoring/prevention in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings as separate predictors?), could warrant further research, but I was concerned with, as a junior high gym teacher put it, beating a dead horse to death.
cmaczkow
4/27
I think another complicating factor to this is that all save opportunities are not created equally. Is the distribution of one-, two- and three-run save opportunities roughly equal between teams? And do the numbers change based on those distributions? (And ultimately - are certain teams more likely to have more one-run versus three-run save chances?) I don't expect answers to these questions - just pointing out what could be a significant variable in the analysis.
mainsr
4/27
Fair points. The size of the lead's an interesting angle.
forrest
4/27
Somewhat unrelated, but looking at Chacon's player page is pretty shocking. Any reason why WARP is so far off from FWAR and BWAR, here? Those DRA values look a bit high...
mainsr
4/27
Yes, it's because of his DRA, though I honestly don't know why. I thought that maybe he benefited from a good defense, but the park-adjusted defensive efficiency of those early 2000s Rockies was pretty bad. So I'm stumped too.
ddietz2004
4/28
We can finally point to the people who suggest a bullpen is bad because of blow saves this article that proves how random it actually is.
mainsr
4/28
True, though as bhalpern pointed out in his comment to last week's article, the way we think of blown saves is inaccurate. When a team's leading heading into the ninth and gives up the lead, we think of a blown save, sort of like the Giants in the second half of last year on infinite loop. In fact, here are the blown save leaders from last season: Nate Jones and Santiago Casilla with nine, Tyler Thornburg with eight, and six different guys with seven. Of those nine pitchers, only two were full-year closers (Casilla and Dave Robertson), three were part-time (Thornburg, Carlos Estevez, and Steve Cishek), and four were not ninth inning guys. bhalpern suggested that we should make a distinction between blown holds and blown saves, and while I think that'd be hard, it does to speak to how most blown saves occur before the ninth inning. But you're right: Blown saves are pretty random.
BrewersTT
4/28
Ascribing a BS to a pitcher for allowing the game to be tied up in the 6th inning is indeed, well, BS. But I don't think fans think of or track those BSs. I've only ever heard it come up in the context of evaluating closers, where at least that mid-game foolishness is out of the picture. The three-inning save should go away anyway. More (presumably unintended) BSs are thus handed out in cases where no one ever expected the pitcher to finish the game than the number of actual three-inning saves awarded.
mainsr
4/29
Good points about both sixth-inning blown saves and three-inning saves. With blown saves not an official statistic, I wonder how many fans are really aware of them. I mean, the blown save leaders so far this year are David Phelps, Roberto Osuna, Sam Dyson, and Xavier Cedeno with three each. I'll bet you Rangers fans aren't surprised by Dyson and maybe Jays fans are aware that Osuna's blown three but I doubt Phelps and Cedeno are on anybody's radar. (Fun fact: Cedeno has allowed a total of one run in the three games in which he's been charged with blown saves.)
GBSimons
4/29
The Angels' top draft pick in 2009 wasn't Mike Trout. It was Randal Grichuk, taken one spot ahead of Trout. Yes, it's a nitpick, but it's a fun bit of trivia.
mainsr
4/29
Sadly, not the first time I've made that mistake. Good catch, GBSimons.