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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Snyder’s Soapbox: Managing to the save, not the game situation, isn’t helping your closer or your team

SportsSnyder's Soapbox: Managing to the save, not the game situation, isn't helping your closer or your team

Welcome to Snyder’s Soapbox! Here, I pontificate about matters related to Major League Baseball on a weekly basis. Some of the topics will be pressing matters, some might seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and most will be somewhere in between. The good thing about this website is that it’s free, and you are allowed to click away. If you stay, you’ll get smarter, though. That’s a money-back guarantee. Let’s get to it.

This past Friday, something in Major League Baseball happened that we almost never see. There were two different games where a closer allowed a grand slam to cut his team’s lead to one. Josh Hader of the Astros allowed a grand slam to Carlos Correa before nailing down the save in Minnesota and then over in San Diego, Robert Suarez gave up a slam before later allowing a two-run homer to put his team behind by a run. The Padres ended up winning on a Manny Machado walk-off homer. 

Let’s look deeper at the two outings, though, to reveal two dumb things. 

Did Hader really deserve a save? 

Hader faced two batters. He allowed a grand slam and then recorded an out. He got a save for the outing. This was an outing where he allowed a .500/.500/2.000 slash line to opposing hitters. He entered with a five-run lead and his team had to sweat out a one-run victory. 

The save rule dictates that a pitcher is awarded a save if he pitches a full inning with a lead of three runs or fewer. We all know this one and have long accepted it, even if not allowing three runs before recording three outs isn’t exactly a Herculean effort. If a pitcher works less than an inning, he’s awarded a save if he enters the game with the tying run on deck. This is how Hader was able to only record one out and get a save despite allowing a grand slam.

Aren’t these parameters a little too lax when we’re judging the best relief pitchers by the number of saves? 

I’m not for changing the rule or anything. It’s long since been established. Managers shouldn’t be beholden to a stat, though, and many still are. That’s a problem.

Managing to a stat

Let’s zero in on the Suarez outing here. He had already worked two straight games and while going three nights in a row isn’t forbidden or anything, it’s kind of stretching it. I would argue it wasn’t just that Suarez worked three straight games, but that he had to hurry to get ready due to the Diamondbacks‘ rally. He was expecting the night off and then was forced into action after a fire drill in the bullpen to take the hill for the third straight night.


Because it was a save situation and he’s the closer. Padres manager Mike Shildt can say he wasn’t worried about the stat all he wants, but I’ll never believe it wasn’t the main factor in the decision-making process. Many of these so-called old school managers have been wired to manage the late innings to the save stat. Suarez didn’t enter the game before it was a save situation and the absolute second it was, he was summoned. 

It reminds me of managers desperately trying to get a starting pitcher through the fifth inning because of the win stat. It’s not as common these days, but it still happens.

Stats should not be determining managerial moves — especially not a stat as flawed as the save. 

It always makes me chuckle that the same people who will lament all the new-school stats — “these losers with their exit velocity and launch angle are ruining the game!” — are the ones who favor altering an entire game plan to bend toward stats like wins and saves. Just try to win the game and ignore what stats a player may or may accrue along the way. 

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