Friday, September 12, 2008

The Silliest Record in Sports?

You probably know already that Francisco Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of the Western Coast of the United States of America, is one of the best closers in baseball. You also probably know that his team is one of the best in baseball, their silly name notwithstanding. What you may not know is he recently tied the all-time single season saves record. He was far from dominant in his performance as he allowed 2 hits, K'ed none and even allowed an RBI single to Jeremy Reed but thanks to a 4 run lead and baseball's silly save rule he was awarded his 57th save of the season. Don't get me wrong. I think K-Rod is a fantastic pitcher and is one of the best closers in the game today. But the save rule has become so pointless that the record happened with little fanfare.

Can you imagine the single season HR record or pitcher wins record being broken with so little national awareness? Part of the problem is also due to the fact that unlike most baseball records, the saves title wasn't held by a household name. It wasn't Lee Smith, Goose Gossage or Dennis Eckersley that he equaled, but rather former Chicago White Sox closer, Bobby Thigpen. Thigpen's career numbers are solid, but his 57 save season in 1990 was far and away the best season of his career. In fact, after that year his numbers got progressively worse and he washed out of baseball less than 4 years later, just 30 years old when he threw his last major league pitch. After closing out 57 games in that single season, he went on to record just 53 more saves in the remainder of his career.

Ultimately though, running up big save numbers is largely a thing of chance. If your team isn't good enough, you simply don't get the save chances. In the cases of the both Thigpen, his White Sox won 94 games in 1990 and K-Rod, who's Angels are on pace to win 99, they both played for teams good enough to give them plenty of chances. By way of comparison, Eric Gagne's Dodgers won just 85 games in 2003 when Gagne set the National League record with 55 saves in a season. Does he top the 57 save mark if he gets those extra chances? It's impossible to know.

Baseball is a strange game where a bad hop or glare from the sun can take you instantly from hero to goat. But in most cases your fate is in your own hands. Every time a hitter steps into the batters box, he has the opportunity to hit the ball out of the park. It's not dependent on anything but his own abilities and performance. As a closer, all you can do is sit back and wait. If you are lucky, your team will score enough runs to put your team in a position to win and the manager will call your name to come in and finish it off. But it's out of your hands. Purely a game of chance and opportunity. Being in the right place at the right time. If you want to point to K-Rod's outstanding ERA or K/BB ratio as examples of his dominance, we've got a great discussion on our hands. But glorifying his big saves number is nothing but smoke and mirrors.

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1 comment:

Matt Clapp said...

Terrific piece Gad