2004 Saves per Inning Pitched

On May 8th, 2004, I created a new statistic – Saves per Inning Pitched, or SIP. I go much more in depth on what SIP is on May 12th, 2004.

SIP measures the true worth of a closer. Is he someone who gets cheap saves? Is he someone only used for closing situations? Or is he someone the team depends on, that is used in close games, tie games, or even situations where there is no save opportunity but there is a save-the-team opportunity. If a closer gets saves in two-thirds of his innings pitched, one can infer he is used in closing situations only – never used in tie games, to keep the game close, to get the offense going. He isn’t used in the seventh or the eighth to shut down the 3, 4, 5 hitters. He’s used when his team has a lead in the ninth inning, one or two runs up on the opponent.
SIP is far from a perfect statistic and can actually be quite misleading if you do not apply it right. For starters, it is a tool used for closers only. It cannot be used for middle relievers. How does this work, then? Who do you define as a closer? SIP only works when there is one clear-cut closer for an entire season. SIP is also team-dependent. How does the team use this closer? For example, if you took Eric Gagne, who has a SIP of 0.67 (got a save in two-thirds of his total innings pitched in 2003) and moved him to Kansas City, where the manager was more aggressive about putting him in situations to bail the team out and not just to get saves, Gagne’s SIP would decrease.
So perhaps SIP is not an individual statistic, it is a manager’s statistic. But what if this statistic shows how closers excel? Maybe some excel being a closer, not a relief ace. That would be Eric Gagne. A SIP of 0.67 (55 saves in 82.1 IP). Some excel being a relief ace, not a closer. They get the saves, but they also come into tight situations. Someone like Billy Wagner – a SIP of 0.51. Rocky Biddle has a SIP of 0.47, while Trevor Hoffman has a SIP of 0.64 (in 2002). This means that Montreal used him in tighter situations – tie games, maybe the Expos being down a run or so. Keeping the game close. Being the relief ace. Biddle may have been the team’s closer, but he was also the relief ace. He led the Expo relievers in innings. Hoffman is a closer, not a relief ace. Strictly the ninth inning, brought in for the save. Not brought in in a tie game, not brought in in the seventh to quash a rally by the Pirates. He’s brought in to “save” the game.
Saves have become quite misleading now. What used to be a novel topic is now a very overrated topic. You always need someone who thrives on pressure, makes the pitches, gets the outs. But sometimes that’s not the closer. The closer was initially the relief ace, but now it is someone who comes into the ninth with a 5-3 lead and has a 1-2-3 inning. How is this a “save”, per se? I believe the true intention of the save was to document which pitchers had more of a direct hand in closing out games, to give relief aces their due. However, nowadays, the general notion is that a closer is to pitch the ninth and get that save – most of which are cheap. Rocky Biddle is the Expos’ relief ace. Was Gagne the Dodger’s 2003 relief ace? I say no. It was Guillermo Mota, tossing 105 innings with an ERA of 1.97. He was the go-to guy in the pen to keep the game close, to give the Dodger bats (however woeful they may have been) a chance to win the game.
SIP is a way to determine who is a closer and who is a relief ace. Which teams use their closer to get the saves, and which use them to keep the game close, to win against the opposition? Saves per Inning Pitched.
The closer is not there to get saves – he is named the closer because he is your relief ace. Any tight game or tie game in the late innings – your closer should be used. As far as I am concerned, closers should average 80 to 100 innings. When Derek Lowe was the Red Sox closer in 2000, he had 91.1 IP and 42 saves. One could argue that the Dodgers are not using Eric Gagne as much as they could. Couldn’t Gagne easily top 100 IP? I think so. Keith Foulke, current Red Sox closer, is a perfect six for six in saves. 17 innings, 6 saves. In 2000, Lowe had 42 saves in 91.1 IP. How can Gagne have 55 saves in only 82.1 IP?
Before I get into my listing of 2003 SIPs and what this tells us, how do we determine who a closer is? It was not Byung-Hyun Kim in 2003 for the Red Sox for he had 16 saves in 79.1 IP. He started five games and also lost the closing job. Isn’t Kim more of a relief ace, if one wants to say that? SIP is not used for relief aces. It is used to see if a closer IS a relief ace, or if he is just a true-blue closer. So there needs to be some limitations.
Limitation One: Said person that is being measured by SIP needs to have at least 50% of all team saves. That eliminates Kim, for the Sox had 36 saves total last year. (36!) Half of 36 is 18, so Kim narrowly misses this.
Limitation Two: The next person with the most saves on the team cannot have more than 25% of the total saves. If Kim had 18 saves in 2003, he would be ineligible for SIP if Scott Williamson had 10 saves. 25% of 36 is 9. Why is this limitation here? In this hypothetical situation, Kim was not the clear-cut closer. It was a dividing of saves between Kim and Williamson. This would reduce SIP to nothing, for it is measuring a closer. The SIP for Kim and Williamson in this hypothetical situation would be low, showing them as relief aces. While SIP can certainly be used to show that they were relief aces part of the team, then there would be an entirely new debate on how to divide up relief aces and middle relievers. For example, Chad Fox had three saves for Boston before being released. Brandon Lyon had nine saves total for Boston last year. If you wanted to use SIP for Brandon Lyon to show that he was a relief ace, how could you justify not using SIP for Chad Fox? SIP is used to measure worth of a CLOSER, a full time closer, not two people sharing closing duties. In the hypothetical situation above, Kim and Williamson would be relief aces for they have a good number of saves but also have innings in other non-save situations. To sound like a broken record, SIP is to find out if full-time closers are closers or relief aces.

On July 14th, 2004, I addressed a potential weakness in SIP, the absence of Save Opportunities because I only measured saves, not save opportunities.

With the off-day today, it seems fitting to check up on the stat I made, SIP. I’ve I want to make one note about SIP, though. SIP is designed to measure which team is using it’s closer as a one-inning closer or closer to a relief ace. Doesn’t it make sense, then, to include blown saves in with saves? In other words, it’s not Saves per Inning Pitched, it’s Save opportunities per Inning Pitched.
However, middle relievers and set-up men are a lot more likely to BLOW a save opportunity than to receive one. They may come in in the bottom eighth, give up a two-run HR and get registered a blown save, a save they would not have gotten if they had gotten out of the inning because the closer would have come in to shut them down. This does not help us in this case enough to justify using it.

Now that you’ve boned up on SIP, let’s check out the final 2004 standings for SIP. Just in case you skimmed the above, basically, SIP tells you whether or not your team’s closer was used as a closer, getting cheap saves, or as a relief ace, who got closing opportunities but also came in when the team needed him to, whether or not there was a save opportunity or not.
Anything ABOVE 0.50, you would consider the person used as a closer, not a relief ace.
Keeping in mind the limitations (must have at least 50% of all team saves, next pitcher with the most saves must not have more than 25% of the total team saves), here is the chart.

ANA  Percival      33           66         49.2     0.67   Last year: 0.67
ARI  Aquino        16           48         35.1     ------------   Does not have 50% team saves
ATL  Smoltz        44           92         81.2     0.54   Last year: 0.70
BAL  Julio         22           81         69.0     0.31   Lost job late in season.
BOS  Foulke        36           89         83.0     0.39   Last year for OAK: 0.50
CHC  Hawkins       42           60         82.0     0.30   Hawkins not closer in beginning
CHW  Takatsu       19           56         62.1     0.31   Takatsu not closer in beginning
CIN  Graves        41           87         68.1     0.60
CLE  Wickman       18           56         29.2     0.62   Jimenez 25% team saves - close!
COL  Chacon        35           97         63.1     0.55
DET  Urbina        27           77         54.0     0.50
FLA  Benitez       47           89         69.2     0.68   Last year for NYM: 0.42
HOU  Lidge         29           62         94.2     ------------   Dotel 30% team saves
KCA  Affeldt       13           52         76.1     0.17   Started in beginning of year
LAN  Gagne         45           88         82.1     0.55   Last year: 0.67
MIL  Kolb          39           93         57.1     0.68
MIN  Nathan        44           92         72.1     0.61
NYM  Looper        29           94         83.1     0.35   Last year for FLA: 0.35
NYY  Rivera        53           90         78.2     0.68   Last year: 0.57
OAK  Dotel         22           63         50.2     ------------   Rhodes 26% team saves
PHI  Wagner        21           49         48.1     ------------   Doesn't reach 50%
PIT  Mesa          43           93         69.1     0.62   Last year for PHI: 0.41
SDN  Hoffman       41           93         54.2     0.76   Year 2002: 0.64
SFN  Herges        23           50         65.1     ------------   Hermanson 37% team saves
SEA  Guardado      18           64         45.1     ------------   Putz 32% team saves
STL  Isringhausen  47           82         75.1     0.63   Last year: 0.52
TBA  Baez          30           86         68.0     0.44   Last year for CLE: 0.33
TEX  Cordero       49           94         71.2     0.69
TOR  Frasor        17           46         68.1     ------------   Doesn't reach 50%
WAS  Cordero       14           45         82.2     ------------   Doesn't reach 50%

As we can see, Keith Foulke had the lowest SIP out of all the full-time closers, which number quite low, 18. Technically, it should be 17, because Jose Jimenez just barely lets Wickman qualify, and Wickman was the closer later in the year, when he came off the DL. But we count him because he counts. This means the Red Sox are still following the Bill James model of a relief ace, and using it correctly. In 2003, it was used incorrectly because the Red Sox did not have a relief ace, per se, but they got one in Keith Foulke and utilized him thus.
Another reliever used as a relief ace was Braden Looper of the Mets, at a SIP of 0.35, the same as he had last year with the Marlins. The only difference is that Looper lost his closing job last year for the Marlins, while he held it throughout the year for the Mets, so Looper is also another relief ace. So is Danys Baez, who had a SIP of 0.44 for the Devil Rays, a rise from 0.33 from the Cleveland Indians. So we know that with the Devil Rays, Baez was utilized more of a closer.
Eric Gagne saw a drop from 0.67 to 0.55, meaning he was used more as a relief ace this past year. But interestingly, he had 82.1 IP for the Dodgers in 2004. In 2003, he pitched 82.1 IP. In 2002? 82.1 IP. So what’s the drop in SIP? Was he used more as a relief ace, or was there just less save opportunities, resulting in Gagne being used more in non-save situations? Well, in 2004, the Dodgers had 60 save opportunities. In 2003, the number was 66, and 2002 the number was 71. In 2002, Gagne’s SIP was 0.63. Using this information, what do we arrive at? That in 2003, Gagne was used more as a closer, despite less save opportunities. And in 2004, Gagne was used less as a closer, with less save opportunities. However, the number of SvO only dropped six, while Gagne’s SIP dropped 0.12 whole points. So we come to the conclusion that Gagne was utilized more as a relief ace this past season.
The highest SIP, predictably, belonged to Trevor Hoffman, who was injured all of 2003 with arm trouble, and thus makes sense that the Padres would want to limit the number of non-save games that he got in, and they did. Hoffman’s SIP in 2002 was 0.64, and it shot up to 0.76 this year. Other high SIP closers were Francisco Cordero of the Rangers at 0.69, Armando Betinez at 0.68, Troy Percival at 0.67, and Danny Kolb, at 0.68 for the Brewers. Here’s one interesting thing to look out for for the 2005 season – Kolb. He has had success the past two years with a 2004 SIP of 0.68 (disqualified in 2003) but now is on the Braves, with Smoltz, who had a SIP of 0.54 in 2004. It will be interesting to see if the Braves use Kolb as more of a relief ace, as they used Smoltz, or keep him as a full closer, like they did with Smoltz in 2003, when he had a SIP of 0.70, when the Braves used him with the same care as the Padres did with Hoffman this year. The reason Smoltz’s SIP dipped this year was because the Braves felt more confident in using Smoltz, so they threw him in more games.
Other rises belong to Mariano Rivera, who went from 0.57 in 2003 to 0.68, which might be a telling statistic that he’s starting to lose some stamina. So let’s put this in chronological order starting in 1997. 0.60, 0.58, 0.65, 0.48, 0.62, 0.60, 0.57, 0.68.
Here’s what I see. He seems to be pretty solid across the board except for 2000 and 2004. In 2000, he got a lot more work in, which makes sense, because he really made a name for himself in 1999 and 2000. He returned to semi-normalcy in 2001 (still getting more work as a relief ace than he had been) but then leaped up in 2004. While one year is too little to make anything of it, it’s something to monitor – if they’re starting to scale back Rivera’s workload to that of a pure closer.
So those are the 2004 Saves per Inning Pitched. And I restate, this is not a great statistic, and should never be put on the back of a baseball card. But it does help confirm a few things, and I see two confirmed things (plus more, but I’ll let you find them) right off the bat. One, the Red Sox utilized Keith Foulke as a relief ace, as was their plan. Two, Trevor Hoffman’s arm injuries have led the Padres to use him as a pure closer, rather than a relief ace.

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