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Bullpen Performance: The Revolving Door of Closers

There's a reason most fantasy owners don't spend much trying to get saves on draft day.  Things can change quickly and before you can say Andrew Bailey, another closer has lost his job.  But this season has been even more bizarre than others, with as many as 13 projected opening day closers having already been displaced, and several potential closers waiting for their shot.

Have this year’s closers really been that much worse than in seasons past?  It seems so, and it led one RotoWire.com blogger to speculate "I am guessing more games have been blown so far this year than in any previous year."

That got me thinking (for a change), so I decided to compare bullpen performance over the past two seasons…

YEAR

SAVES

BLOWN SAVES

CONVERSION RATE

2012*

1,234

579

68%

2011

1,243

576

68%

This season, bullpens are converting save opportunities at a rate of 68%.  At the current pace, there will be 1,234 saves in 2012 with 579 blown saves.  In 2011, there were 1,243 saves and 576 blown saves.  You don’t have to be Bill James to see that the save conversion rate is the same for 2011 as it is this season, or that the total number of converted and blown saves is virtually identical in both years.

So, is it just a coincidence?  I wanted to know for certain, so I dug deeper and broke down bullpen performance over the past decade.  What I found was rather surprising…

YEAR

SAVES

BLOWN SAVES

CONVERSION RATE

2012*

1,234

579

68%

2011

1,243

576

68%

2010

1,204

537

69%

2009

1,202

586

67%

2008

1,214

653

65%

2007

1,198

587

67%

2006

1,201

618

66%

2005

1,255

582

68%

2004

1,230

623

66%

2003

1,199

561

68%

 

12,180

5,902

67%

Over the past 10 seasons, the save conversion rate is 67%, with no season worse than 65% (2008) and no better than 69% (2010).  The ten year average for converted saves is 1,218 per season.  At the current pace, the 1,234 converted saves this season will rank 3rd highest over that span.  The ten year average for blown saves is 590 per season.  At the current pace, the 579 blown saves this season will rank 7th highest during that span.

So, it would appear that bullpen performance in 2012 is actually better than most seasons.  Even so, only four teams have had just one reliever record every save for their team this season.  And, some of the names on that short list would surprise even the most knowledgeable of fantasy owners.  How many can you name?  The four teams are Houston (Brett Myers), Seattle (Brandon League), Minnesota (Matt Capps) and Philadelphia (Jonathan Papelbon).

Another six teams do not have a single closer with more than five saves, and five teams have at least four different relievers recording saves this season.

I’m not sure what to make of all this, except that stiff competition often forces mangers to make changes before their team falls out of the playoff race.  Of the five teams with at least four relievers recording saves, two are in first place in their division, two are in second place, and none is more than three games behind their division leader.  Conversely, of the four teams who have kept the same closer all season, three are in last place in their division and the other is playing sub .500 baseball, six games out in their division.

Much like in the NFL, where the running back by committee is becoming more commonplace,
MLB seems to be adopting the closer by committee.  This may be good for MLB teams, but it is frustrating for fantasy owners.

 

* projected statistics over a full season

Comments

By: rkinigson
On: 5/30/2012 2:39:00 PM
To clarify the stats in this post, I realize many of the blown saves come before the ninth inning and are by middle relievers. Still, the consistency in these numbers is interesting to study.
 
By: jtr5708
On: 5/30/2012 4:36:00 PM
This is definitely one of the more eye opening things I've read in a while. The turmoil leads you to think that its been much worse.
 
By: Kevin Payne
On: 5/30/2012 5:51:00 PM
If I had to guess, I think people are getting blown saves confused with closer injuries. With all the injuries this season, I think that with all the new faces closing games, we could be mistaking the turnover with blown saves when that isn't the case. Injury has had a bigger impact than in past years if I had to guess.
 
By: rkinigson
On: 5/30/2012 6:14:00 PM
KP -- Injuries certainly are a part of the closer turnover this season (and I did not compare the injury rate of closers over the last 10 years), but many of the bullpen changes this season are not injury related, such as in Anaheim, Chicago, Oakland, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and now Seattle.
 
By: Kevin Payne
On: 5/30/2012 7:59:00 PM
Don't forget Ryan Madson when you mention Cincy ;) - SF, KC, NY, CIN, TB, TOR, WAS, SD have all lost their closers due to injury. I might be missing someone too.
 
By: rkinigson
On: 5/31/2012 4:22:00 AM
You've got to love the save category when a pitcher can enter a game with his team leading by 12 runs, allow the other team to score three runs, win the game by 13 runs, and still earn a save simply because he went three innings.

Hisashi Iwakuma's line in Seattle's 21-8 blowout of Texas, for which he earned a save:

3 IP 5 HITS 3 RUNS 3 ER 1 BB 0 K 9.00 ERA 2.00 WHIP
 
By: Kenn Ruby
On: 5/31/2012 2:10:00 PM
I always thought the three-inning save rule was if the final pitcher pitched "effectively." I'd say this doesn't qualify.
 
By: rkinigson
On: 5/31/2012 5:41:00 PM
Kenn -- I 100% agree, and yet he was credited with the save. Crazy!
 

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