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Get Rid of the “Save” and More Odds and Ends

Just as I was going to write about the fact that not a whole lot was happening before the trade deadline, I check the news and one big deal has happened since I left work. The Reds (as everyone expected) continue their eventual fire sale by trading Jose Guillen to Billy Beane’s A’s for Aaron Harang, Joe Valentine, and Jeff Bruksch. With Rich Harden proving he can pitch at the major league level, Harang became expendable. Joe Valentine looked like he was going to be a top notch reliever, but has really struggled in AAA this year. Guillen has really had a break out year, and Was in the middle of the mess when Bob Boone had to shuffle him, Dunn, Kearns, and Griffey around when Griffey was playing. Guillen doesn’t completely fit the Beane mold (17/63 BB/K ratio) as far as patience at the plate, but he does have the total package hitting wise, and has amassed an impressive 1.013 OPS. Oakland needs a ton of help in the outfield, so this will be another deal that will probably precede another nice second half run by the A’s.

The deal that’s still floating around as a block buster is Juan Gonzalez going to the Kansas City Royals. If this deal happens, it will be interesting seeing Carlos Beltran setting the table for Juan Gon, unless of course he’s part of the deal (which would defeat the purpose).

Aaron Gleeman came through with another excellent write up on the the Red Sox bullpen. I agree with him completely, and I’m going to ride his coat tails and segue into a similar discussion on the statistic called the save. I’ve always told people that most managers no longer use their bullpen correctly, and that the save was a useless statistic. Most of my mainstream friends would just nod, and then roll their eyes, pretty much saying “Whatever, Brian.”

For anyone interested in baseball history, Bill James’ Historical Baseball Abstract is the best single source I’ve ever read. In the section where he lists his top 100 pitchers, he ranks Dennis Eckersley twenty second, but goes on to question Eck winning the 1992 MVP. In this write up, he also goes on to list the top 10 most valuable relief seasons ever, of which Tiger John Hiller’s 1973 season ranks as the best.

Most people would check out Hiller’s numbers for the year, and immediately go for the save column. During that season, he racked up 38 saves. Not bad, but in contrast, during 2002, 9 players had more then 38 saves, and one player had exactly 38 saves. 38 saves would rank him tied for 81st for most saves in a season, even though it was a single season record at the time. How could Hiller possibly have the most valuable relief season of the year, much less the most valuable season ever?

First, he threw in 125 1/3 innings. Of the players in 2002 who had more saves then Hiller, Bill Koch led all of them with 93 1/3, which was by far a career high for his four year career. That’s almost 35% percent more innings then the TOP guy.

Second, he had an impressive ERA+ of 285. Only Troy Percival, with a 226, even came close. Nobody else even topped 200.

Finally, in a lot games he threw more then one inning, and didn’t always come in to pitch ninth. On May 20, 1973, Hiller threw the final 3 1/3 innings with a two run lead and only gave up one hit in getting one of his saves. Less then a week later, he did it again, going 3 1/3 with the same result, but with a three run lead. On July 27, 1973, Hiller threw 3 2/3 innings, giving up one run on two hits, but the key was Hiller came in while the Tigers were down, and held the Red Sox so the Tigers could come back and win the game. He then threw three more innings the very next day in getting another save.

In total John Hiller threw three or more innings for 6 of his saves and 5 of his wins, the longest of which was a five inning outing on August 21, 1973. You’d be hard pressed to find one or two three inning games for your top closers today. What John Hiller allowed his managers (Billy Martin and Joe Schultz) to do that year was use him whenever he was NEEDED. Not just in the ninth when up by three runs or less.

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