The save rule in baseball has generated considerable angst in recent years as proponents of advanced metrics – and the metrics they support – have gained increasing traction among baseball teams, media and fans. It’s (at best) a flawed and (at worst a) meaningless statistic! It has no predictive value! Reserving your “best” relief pitcher for the 9th inning – instead of the highest-leverage situation – is ridiculous! It seems like I’m lampooning these arguments through the use of exclamation points (!). But I’m not. I have fully bought into the idea that the save rule is at least in part responsible for some of the questionable bullpen management that pervades the game. I also believe the stat offers considerably less valuable as an analytical tool than nearly any other pitching stat, traditional or advanced (except for perhaps it’s good friend the pitcher win). So don’t get it twisted when I do what I’m about to do below.
In keeping with the spirit of last Wednesday’s post congratulating Yadier Molina and David Freese on propelling the Cardinals to their first 5×20 HR season (another fun but meaningless feat), I would like to shine the spotlight of triviality on Jason Motte. The Cardinals closer moved into elite company among Cardinal relievers by becoming only the 4th to notch a 40-save season. Motte joined Jason Isringhausen (2004 (47)), Lee Smith (1991 (47), 1992 (43) and 1993 (46 total, 43 w/ St. Louis)) and Bruce Sutter (1984 (45)). Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Cardinals’ 40-save seasons is that – with the exception of the 2004 season – the team failed to reach 90 wins and missed the playoffs every time. The 2004 team, of course, won 105 games and made the World Series and the 2012 team’s final win-count and postseason fate is still TBD. With 9 games to play, the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals boast a record of 82-71 and a 3 game lead in the 2nd NL Wild Card (after Milwaukee’s loss this afternoon). Short of running the tables to close out the season, the Cardinals will likely again fail to win 90 games in a season in which the team’s closer saves 40+. A playoff berth seems more attainable (albeit the fool’s gold of the one-game Wild Card play-in), and Cardinals fans everywhere certainly hope that the Cardinals continue to decouple the feats of a 40-save seasons and missing the playoffs. But there I go again, getting all serious over something that is anything but. This is your moment, Jason Motte. Congratulations. And hey, if the Cardinals do run the tables (or go 8-1) and you save every single one of those games (almost impossible given the lack of days off remaining in the season), you could be the new all-time Cardinals single-season saves leader.