Save The Hype

. Friday, September 12, 2008
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If a Major League Baseball single-season saves record falls in the woods, does it make a sound?

That's the question I ask myself as Francisco Rodriguez prepares to break the record of 57, held since 1990 by former Chicago White Sox closer Bobby Thigpen.

"K-Rod", as the kids call him, tied the record Thursday night by recording his 57th save in the Angels' 7-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners.

The record is a fine accomplishment in itself, but the hype that accompanies it is quickly becoming a problem.

It seems like the "Francisco Rodriguez for Cy Young" bandwagon is full steam ahead and there are plenty of calls for Rodriguez to be the American League's..*gasp*..Most Valuable Player!

That is one of the more ridiculous assertions I've ever heard. Not just because a closer should never win the Cy Young or MVP, but because quite simply, Francisco Rodriguez's season isn't as good as his save total would indicate.

Saves are a bit of an enigma, much like the RBI. Many fans make the mistake of assuming that because a player has a lot of RBI's, that must mean he's a great hitter. For example, if Player A has 120 RBI's and Player B has only 90, that must mean Player A is better right? But theres so many other variables that go into it, mainly how many times the batters in front of Player A and Player B are getting on base. If Player A's hitters are getting on base at a higher clip, it stands to reason that he'd have more RBIs.

The same general rule applies for saves. With so many stats at our disposal now, it's foolish to look at the guy who has the most saves and automatically determine he is the best closer. It seems to me that a closer on a great team would have a few more save opportunities than one on a poor team.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's get this out of the way.. K-Rod not only isn't worthy of the MVP and Cy Young, he isn't even the best closer in baseball this season.

K-Rod, who is 2-2 with a 2.45 ERA and 72 strikeouts is playing for the team with the best record in baseball, and what is more astonishing to me is not the number of saves that Rodriguez has, but the number of save opportunities he has gotten. The Angels have played in an inordaniate amount of three-runs or less games for a team with the best record in baseball.

What is often the case is a that a closer on such a great team will often struggle to earn saves because his team is so dominant that he just doesn't get many save opportunities, whereas closers on middle of the road teams get more chances because their team plays in closer games.

The truth is, any number of closers in baseball could do what Rodriguez has done if given the same amount of chances. The Angels have bucked that trend this season and Rodriguez is reaping the benefits.

Rodriguez has 57 saves in 65 save chances. Compare that to Houston's Jose Valverde, who has the second most saves in baseball with 42 saves in 52 save opportunities. If he had 65 save opportunities at this point in the season, he wouldn't be at 57 like K-Rod is, but he would still be on pace to break the record. Although if you factor in that Valverde plays his home games in the launching pad that is Minute Maid Park (or whatever they call it these days), maybe he WOULD have 57 saves by now.

Joakim Soria has 36 saves in 41 save chances with a 1.74 ERA and 62 strikeouts for the putrid Kansas City Royals. K-Rod probably had more save opportunities at the all-star break than Soria will have all season. However, if Soria had Rodriguez's 65 save chances and judging by what he's done so far this season, the smart money would say that he would have already broken the record by now.

Then of course there is the guy who has probably been the best closer in baseball this season, Philadelphia's Brad Lidge, who has bounced back nicely after Albert Pujols nearly ruined his life a few years ago. Lidge has not blown a save yet this season, a perfect 36-for-36, with a 2.04 ERA and 80 strikeouts.

Does that mean that if Lidge had K-Rod's 65 save chances that he would have 65 saves now? No, but it's a safe bet that he'd probably already be over 57 if given that amount of opportunities.

Although it may seem like it, this is not meant as a slight on K-Rod's season. But Bobby Thigpen didn't break the record because he's the most dominant closer in baseball, and K-Rod won't either.

He's been fantastic this season and I'm sure he'll be happy to have someone like the Mets overpay for him in the off-season. But the harsh reality is that what he is doing is much more a statement on the odd amount of save chances he has gotten for an 89 win team this season, rather than a statement on his play this year.

So save your Cy Young votes for one of the starting pitchers that gets the ball to these closers in the ninth inning and your MVP votes for someone that, you know.. plays more than one inning every couple of games.