Monday, June 14, 2004

The History of the SAVE

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Baseball Perspectives
by
Jerome Holtzman

How the Save Formula Began
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Alan Schwarz of Baseball America, a very capable writer, called the other day. He is doing a book on baseball statistics and asked about the pitching save for relief pitchers. The save is the first new major stat since runs batted in was adopted in 1920.

Schwarz wanted to know some of the history and specifically if I invented the save. So I told him the story. I didn't invent it. What I did was create the first formula for the save. The term "save" had been in use as far back as 1952, five years before I started covering baseball.

Three club executives, two of them statisticians, were the pioneers: Jim Toomey of the Cardinals, Alan Roth of the Dodgers and Irv Kaze of the Pirates. They recorded saves but there was only one criterion. A reliever who finished a winning game but was not credited with the victory was given a save. The final score didn't matter. It could be 12-1 or 2-1.

They listed their tabulations on the team's daily statistical sheets but it was largely ignored, like games finished. I don't recall ever seeing a save mentioned in a game story.

I became involved in May 1960. I was in St. Louis with the Cubs and wrote the rule while I was on the team bus (for a night game) while it was parked outside the Chase Hotel. Lou Boudreau, then a Cub announcer, was in the seat behind me. I showed it to him for his approval. He said it was a good idea.

At that time the Cubs had a strong righty-lefty bullpen tandem of Don Elston and Bill Henry. They were constantly protecting leads for the starting pitchers but went unnoticed outside of Chicago. I did it with them in mind. I thought they should get more credit.

The year before, in 1959, Elroy Face of the Pirates was the rage. Face was 18-1 in relief. It was and still is generally acknowledged as the greatest season for anyone coming out of the bullpen. The 18 victories in relief is still the Major League record.

I was suspicious and checked the scorebook of a Pittsburgh beat writer and discovered that 10 of Face's wins came after he had given up the tying or lead run. In effect, they were blown saves. The Pirates had a strong hitting team, known as the Pittsburgh Lumber Co., and took Face off the hook with late-inning rallies. Because he was the pitcher of record he got the win. There is no other way a reliever can win 18 games.

The year before, in 1958, Face had a better year. He had a 5-2 won-loss record. But if my system had been in effect, he would have had 26 saves, which probably would have led the league. In those days the only important stat for a reliever was his earned-run average, and even that wasn't an accurate measure of his effectiveness because, then as now, many of the runs scored against him are charged to the previous pitcher. Generally, a relievers' ERA should be 1.00 lower than a starter.

I was then a correspondent for The Sporting News and wrote a letter to J.G. Taylor Spink, its editor and publisher, and enclosed my saves formula. Spink jumped on it. He gave me a $100 or a $200 bonus. I don't remember which but I do recall him telling me I should be sure to call him if I had any other ideas. I have been barren ever since.

In the original formula there were four basic requirements. Foremost, the reliever had to face the tying run. It went into effect in 1960. The next year the rule was relaxed; the tying run had to be on deck. It has been modified several times since but is essentially the same.

The first winners were Lindy McDaniel of the Cardinals in the National League and Mike Fornieles of the Red Sox in the American.

One point was given for a save and one point for a win in relief. It was a mistake. Two points should have been given for a save, which I've always believed is twice as good as a victory. McDaniel finished with 33 points, 21 saves and 12 wins. Fornieles had 19 points, nine saves and 10 wins.

The first public mention of my formula was made in the July 27, 1960 issue of The Sporting News. The Sporting News announced it had adopted the save as its invention and thereafter would award annual Fireman trophies to the top relievers in each league.

The reaction was positive. There were no naysayers. Bill Veeck, then the president of the White Sox, said, "The relief pitchers have too long been ignored. They should be given more statistical credit." Looking ahead, Veeck prophesized the save would upgrade the salary of relief pitchers because of the "attendant promotion and publicity."

At the time I was aware it was an important contribution but I never realized the save, as Veeck predicted, would have much of an impact, especially on salaries. It never occurred to me. Today, more than 40 years later, relievers are among baseball's superstars. I haven't kept count but I imagine at least a dozen closers have annual earnings in excess of $5 million.

For the next nine years, from 1960 through 1968, I wrote a brief weekly story charting the league leaders. I was appointed the chairman of a committee formed by the Baseball Writers Association for the purpose of convincing the Scoring Rules Committee to recognize the save as an official stat. Recognition came in 1969. I then bowed out and have not been involved since.

It is now almost impossible to win without a strong bullpen. With each passing season, relievers have grown in importance. On a traditional 10-man pitching staff, usually half are in the bullpen. There are now long men, middle men, setup men and closers. As Whitey Herzog, who managed championship teams in St. Louis and Kansas City, observed, "Give me a good bullpen and I'll be a good manager. Give me a great bullpen and I'll be a great manager."

Jerome Holtzman is the official historian for Major League Baseball. In 1993 he became the only non-relief pitcher to receive the Rolaids Career Achievement Award. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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