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.