Blown Out of Proportion

The save stat is deeply flawed. It places an odd emphasis on the quality of outs a reliever records. It’s sort of a dinosaur from another era when half-snapped guys with crazy mustaches pitched two and even three innings to close out ballgames.

If the save is flawed, the blown save is so superfluous and fractured it makes the Catholic church jealous.

An increasing number of commenters have taken to the Getting Blanked airwaves to voice their dissatisfaction with the Jays bullpen and its inability to hold games. Fans (quite rightly) feel cheated when their team seems to value potential draft pick compensation over winning ballgames and keeping its slim (non-existent?) playoff hopes alive.

The sentiment is understandable but the ire is misplaced. Pointing out the Jays bullpen has 15 blown saves this year tells a minute part of the story. Because blown saves, just like converted saves, are practically useless.

Yes, the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen has 15 blown saves to its name. If we quickly acknowledge that the team WON FOUR GAMES in which a BS [Editorial Note: Yes, the blown save is every bit as legitimate as its short form would indicate.] took place, we can wrap our brains around four of these blown saves occurring in just two games.

Unblowing these saves doesn’t magically put 15 wins on the board for the Jays, vaulting them into the AL East title picture. Good teams blow saves, even great bullpens blow saves. The Braves bullpen is baseball’s best. They lead baseball in both FIP and WAR, rank second in win probability added and shutdowns, and own the second most saves of any staff.

Oh by the way, they have 15 blown saves just like the Jays. Three teams rank ahead of the Jays in blown saves while sitting less than 2 games out of their division leads. The first-place Rangers have just two fewer and the second-place Angels have two more.

The point here: blown saves are pretty meaningless. The previously-mentioned shutdowns (and their cousins the meltdowns) offer a much more insightful look into the quality and/or success of a bullpen. The Jays, in this case, look much better.

Their 37 meltdowns are good for tenth fewest in baseball while their 82 shutdowns are 8th best. That works out to a 2.22 shutdown-to-meltdown ratio, which also ranks 8th in all of baseball.

Look, frustration due to the poo-poo platter of middling right-handed relievers (and Marc Rzepczynski!) can be a little tough to take. Would a higher priced bullpen be better? Was there a key free agent the Jays needed to acquire to push them over the top? Would they be better off with Proven Closer Rafael Soriano closing out games? Grant Balfour? KYLE FARNSWORTH?

The marginal value of a top-end closer isn’t what keeps the Jays from playoff contention. Hitting Corey Patterson second, giving starts to Jo-Jo Reyes are overwhelming evidence of the team punting on 2011. The fallacy of the predetermined outcome might hint at a different outcome with another option at the back end of the rotation. Too bad reality suggests the team just isn’t good enough to win right now.

Comments (19)

  1. How dare you denigrate a classic American Chinese dish!

  2. While I’m not on the side of those saying that if the Jays hadn’t blown saves they’d be in first (it’s a ridiculous argument, which doesn’t take into account you can theoretically blow a save in the bottom of the first inning if the stars are correctly aligned), the frustration with the bullpen comes from areas like how they lose some of the games.

    I think we can all agree that Frank Francisco has been less than advertised this year. The problem is mostly that when he gives up hits they’re LOUD hits. His first pitch of the year was a home run to Granderson. Many of his outs are loud fly balls. It’s the type of pitcher he is. And it’s frustrating as a fan to see it. If Shawn Camp was closing (which I don’t dvocate.. I’m in the Janssen camp for now) and giving up single after single, it doesn’t feel as if the game was handed over. It feels more like the other team earned it.

    I’d say what most fans want is a bullpen where we don’t bite our nails on every pitch a pitcher throws. And that’s what we have and it’s frustrating to see.

  3. On a side note: Didn’t the bullpen pitch great last night!

    And, on a side side note: I was in the Snider for CF camp before last night and am now more in it. Everybody should be on that bandwagon.

  4. Oh please! This team needs a true shut down closer and more RBI GUYS

  5. The funny thing about relievers is nobody notices them until they make a mistake. There have been many games where the Jays’ bullpen shuts down the opposition with hardly a mention. Yet when Franky Frank, Rauch, Dotel, etc. give up a run, the sky is falling. Also, relievers will always make you nervous, I remember being nervous watching Henke/Ward, Koch, Escobar, Accardo in ’07, B.J. Ryan in ’08, Gregg last year and so on. For the most part though, they get the job done, it’s just that the situation is stressful.

  6. No team is ever really in bullpen trouble, since a bullpen can be built, or at least 5 guys worth of one can be had, in one offseason. What the AL East team need more than anything else, is depth at every position. When the injury happens, wherever it happens, there should be something better than a warm body to fill the gap. The bench should not be populated by the backup catcher, the glove only guy, the opposite handed outfielder, and the other dude. It needs to have a serious platoon replacement for 2 regulars, and a guy who can catch and do something else as well.

    AAA teams should have 2 or 3 guys on their roster (this is what the 40 man is for) who can be decent players for the 2-3 weeks that an injured player might be out. Without all that in place, any team is very vulnerable, especially when facing off against the big boys in Boston and NY, who, when confronted with a lack of depth, will spend money or assets immediately, in order to acquire what they need. Thre is no such thing as a surplus of major league ready talent, and one look at any teams DL in the middle of June, July, or August, tells that tale clearly.

  7. Just pointing to shutdowns and meltdowns without context of when and why they occur is no more meaningful than saves in terms of the team’s record. It’s just meaningful in terms of the bullpen’s overall efforts. If we want to know why the team has the record it does, it’d be far more useful to put it into some kind of context.

    Your rant is more semantics based than anything, so instead of tracking “blown saves” we should track “blown leads in late innings resulting in a loss” (maybe that already exists and nobody mentions it). How many have those occurred this year? It ‘feels’ like a lot. I really am just curious. The Jays do need a better back end to the bullpen, and yes, one closer isn’t inherently going to do it. I also don’t believe one can be found through free agency. It’s going to need to be found in the minors. Are any starters down there throwing real heat with any accuracy but lacking more secondary pitches?

    It’s easy and convenient to point to the anemic and random efforts of the likes of JPA, Davis and Patterson, but the Jays aren’t terrible in overall run production (yes, I know a lot of high-scoring games fill that out a lot). But on its face, we should be higher up in the wild-card race if the pitching side could contain the other teams more effectively.

    Lastly, don’t even begin to think I’m implying the Jays should be seen as almost-competitors, just that we shouldn’t be viewing the team as the Bautista Orioles. There are just a couple of pieces that need to be added to make the team look pretty decent in the next year or two.

    • My “rant” may be semantics, pointing out that blown saves frame the Jays bullpen as one of baseball’s worst. Other numbers suggest a very different story. I do apologize for not explaining SD/MD further, they have a lot of coverage here on the blog including Parkes referencing them in his gamers. I certainly could do a better job explaining why they’re a better number for judging the bullpen, that is very true.

  8. A bit off topic but figured I’d mention it.

    Dotel’s shit the bed in 2 of his 33 appearances. Seattle 7-0 comeback SNAFU and down 6-2 to Detroit he gave up 4 more.

    In his 31 other appearances he has a 1.37 ERA in 26.1IP. He’s stranded 25 of 28 inherited runners. 15H, 8BB (2 IBB) , 27K

  9. Yeah, but all bloggers have hated on Dotel since before he got to Toronto and he therefore has no trade value (until of course he’s traded and everyone here is wondering how the Jays got anythng for him). I, for one, am not cconvinced he would accept arbitration if offered at year’s end. I think he could find a decent paying gig. And, yes, I say this after the home run last night. Down 7 runs you challenge the guy and see what happens. Didn’t work, He did get 2 out of 3 lefties out.

  10. interesting Dotel numbers

  11. Honestly, I’m perplexed by the bullpen bashing that’s gone on this year. Which in itself shouldn’t be perplexing, since we live in Toronto, home of the sports cynic.

    Frankie has been generally poor, and I’m not a Rauch fan, but everybody else has been fantastic (save Dotel vs. lefties, which we expected). Seriously, what more do you want from Camp, Janssen, Rzep, Frasor, Perez, and Villanueva? They’re gonna give up runs, sometimes in close games. Deal with it.

  12. I think the bashing has mostly been against Francisco and Rauch.

  13. Well, a save can only be recorded in the ninth, but if I’m not mistaken a BS can occur in any inning. (Or maybe it’s 7th or later? Don’t have time to look it up.) That alone makes the stat incredibly misleading.

  14. I’m not going to s–t on the bullpen, AA knows they need a quality closer, they tried 3 guys they brought in who lost their jobs as closers with other teams, didn’t work out. FF has the velocity of a closer but doesn’t get the results. Let’s see what happens, I’m not in favour of trading for 33rd old Heath Saved by the Bell, unless he is willing to sign a contract before the trade happens (this guy is going to wait and sign with the highest bidder – ie. New York, Boston, Phillie, etc.). I am holding out a longshot hope that Dustin McGowan will be the closer next year (he’s a good guy who has never given up trying to get back with the team).

  15. This is way late, but I don’t want to spam Twitter, so I’m throwing it here.

    I think there’s two big problems with the save category, for fans’ minds. First of all, it’s a very black and white stat, captured in a moment. If you blow a save, it’s a lost lead. It’s a stat that exists in the black and white of winning vs. losing, and because of that gets moronic importance. And because it reflects that moment, it doesn’t reflect the final result, either. It’s almost the opposite of those of us who tried to defend Gregg “yeah, he nibbled and almost blew it a lot, he actually had a lot of saves!”

    Also, it doesn’t reaaaaally reflect quantity. Between 2 guys with 30 saves, would you rather have the guy with 10 blown 1 run leads or 5 blown 3 run leads?

    It’s an emotional stat that really only has a 50% reality.

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