Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
July 21, 2008
BASEBALL: The Man Who Ruined Relief Aces

Sportswriter Jerome Holtzman has died at age 82. I can't say I ever read much of his work, so to me and generations of baseball fans to come, Holtzman will be best remembered as the inventor of the save rule, the statistic that probably does more than any other to shape the way the game is played, as managers since the late 1970s and especially since the early 1990s have increasingly defined the job of the relief ace as that of a "closer" who pitches when, and only when, the rule defines his job as a "save situation."

Anyway, Holtzman didn't anticipate that; his idea was a reasonable enough one at the time, but it created a Frankenstein's monster.


Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:46 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)

So we have Holtzman to blame for the Loogies?

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at July 21, 2008 7:21 PM

He was one of those old timey guys you used to read in the Sporting News back in the day. His book "There's No Cheering in the Press Box" was kinda of interesting but he belonged to another generation like Arthur Daley and Dick Young. Of course I could never forgive him for his daughter Elizabeth who led the impeachment hearings against my hero Dick Nixon.

Posted by: trooper york at July 21, 2008 8:15 PM

Trooper york has it right. I read him in TSN and always considered him one of the "old school" guys like dick Young.

Posted by: Magrooder at July 21, 2008 9:51 PM

Comparisons to Dick Young are not flattering in this neighborhood.

Holtzman wasn't related to Liz (or Ken) Holtzman, so far as I know.

Posted by: The Crank at July 21, 2008 9:59 PM

If his main interest in life was sports, I'd like to think that he must have been a decent guy to have a beer with. As for the save rule, it was one piece of statistical refinement to the game that was too clever by half.

First of all, do we even need the stat to begin with? If we do, then to me, it's a save if the tying (or go-ahead) runs are on base, not on deck. Moreover, if some guy pitches his butt off for an inning or two, and then another fellow comes in and throws one pitch to get an inning over, who really has accomplished more? I will grant that the answer is subjective. Maybe the real accomplishment of the rule is that it gives a bunch of half drunk fans yet another thing to argue about. It may keep us from killing each other over politics.

Posted by: NRA Life Member at July 21, 2008 10:41 PM

The save rule did, to some extent, impact how managers managed. But I also don't think managers are entirely irrational - one reason they adopted that as policy is that it lead to relief aces (Eckersly, Gagne, Mariano) achieving levels of efficiency that have never been seen before, and certainly were never approached by the seventies firemen like Fingers and Mike Marshall.

Posted by: Jerry at July 21, 2008 10:53 PM

My problem with guys who are in for the save only, is that for every Eckersly, Mariano etc, there's several more mediocre savers who blow as many as they save. I've gotten the impression at times that managers were replacing their relievers as the later innings progressed until they could find someone to lose the game, instead of just staying with a guy who was pitching well. The whole idea of middle, set-up, closer only works when all the components are working well at the same time.

Posted by: NRA Life Member at July 21, 2008 11:01 PM

I was convinced over the years that Joe Torre was trying to get Mariano Rivera the all time save record. Once the Yankees took a four run lead, Mariano stopped warming up in the bullpen and someone else came in. If that reliever screwed up and allowed a run, then in came Rivera.

I remember reading box scores in the 1970's as a kid and it would note at the bottom that someone got a "save," i.e., "Save, Lyle" (as in Sparky). They did not give you the season total for the save and it was not prominent in the box score like it is today. I remember wondering, "what the hell is a save?"

Posted by: Steve at July 22, 2008 9:13 AM

I'm not sure I'd give the save stat that much credit (or blame) for the evolution of the closer role. Other changes in the game seem to be a better explanation:

(1) The increased concern with pitch count both for starters (to extend their careers, avoid injuries and take them out when they are more likely to be ineffective) and relievers (you want the good relievers available for multiple games).

(2) An increased recognition that batters often don't hit as well against pitchers in the first few at bats. When you have a close game, switch pitchers in the later innings to give batters different looks, saving your high-velocity fastballers for last, particularly if they can get both righties and lefties out.

(3) And of course, if you are going to use multiple pitchers in late innings, you have to also bring them in not-so-close games to give them some work when they haven't been too active.

Note that statistics play an underlying role in some of these, such as the increased use of pitch counts, righty-lefty statistics, etc, but I wouldn't put the burden on the save.

These seem to better explain why Torre, for example, would save Rivera for close games and not use him too often for four-run leads. Not because he cares about "saves," but to make sure he's available when you really need him.

And surely there are times that managers will at times give pitchers an opportunity to "win" a game as well as "save" one, but I think that is the exception, not the rule.

Posted by: MVH at July 22, 2008 10:31 AM

Crank, the comparison to dick young wasn't meant to be flattering.

Posted by: Magrooder at July 22, 2008 11:32 AM

This is true. It was a joke. (As was the Liz Holtzman thingie).

Posted by: TROOPER YORK at July 22, 2008 2:20 PM

What "Ruined Relief Aces" is creeping Larussaism and the over reliance on stats.

Posted by: TROOPER YORK at July 22, 2008 2:24 PM
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