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The Save is a stupid statistic. It means well, but really, it does  a poor job of measuring what it intends to measure. A significant fraction of all saves are, to put it bluntly, not very valuable at all. The Cheapie Awards recognize these most undeserved of saves.

For the inaugural edition of the Cheapies, there will be seven categories:

  1. Most 3-Out, 3-Run, No Inherited Runner Saves
  2. Most Saves of Fewer Than 3 Outs
  3. Lowest WPA in a Save (less than 3 IP)
  4. Lowest WPA in a Save (3 IP or more)
  5. Fewest Pitches in a Save
  6. Easiest Batter to Retire in a 1-Out Save
  7. Closest to Blowing an Easy Save Without Actually Doing It

Without further ado, let’s get to the awards!

Most 3-Out, 3-Run, No Inherited Runner Saves

The most common Cheapie save involves bringing a closer in to start the 9th inning with a 3-run lead. There were 267

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of these saves in 2010, which was 22% of all saves. How cheap are these Cheapies? Well, their WPAs ranged from .028 to .048, which means that they increased their teams’ win chances by only about 3 to 5 percent.

Honorable Mention: Francisco Cordero, (11 out of 40, 28%), Billy Wagner (11 out of 37, 30%), Kevin Gregg (12 out of 37, 32%),

Runner Up: Matt Lindstrom (12 out of 23, 52%… more than half his saves were Cheapies!)

And the Cheapie goes to… Heath Bell! Overall, 17 out of his 47 saves were 1-inning affairs with a 3-run lead (36%). That’s 5 more than anyone else. Bell’s saves were even more deserving of the Cheapie label because he played half his games at Petco Park, the toughest park for scoring runs in MLB; a 3-run lead at Petco is even easier to hold than a 3-run lead elsewhere.

Most Saves of Fewer than 3 Outs

Despite the standard usage of closers (1 inning, only with a 1-3 run lead), there were 103

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saves of just 1 or 2 outs in 2010. That’s about 8.5% of all saves. If getting 3 outs is often easy, getting 1 or 2 is even easier. Or Cheapier.

Honorable Mention: Francisco Rodriguez (4 out of 25, 16%), Jonathan Papelbon (4 out of 37, 11%), Carlos Marmol (4 out of 38, 11%), Brad Lidge (4 out of 27, 15%)

Runner Up: Kevin Gregg (5 out of 37, 14%)

And the Cheapie goes to… Brian Wilson! Wilson had 6 saves of 1 or 2 outs, more than anyone in baseball. Sure, he also led baseball in overall saves with 48, but that works out to 13% of all his saves being less than an inning long.

Lowest WPA in a Save (less than 3 IP)

WPA (or Win Probability Added) simply measures how much a player increased (or decreased) his team’s chances of winning. If a player gets a save, he will have increased his team’s win chances at least somewhat, since he brought his team’s chances of winning to 100% by finishing the win. But while some saves are worth .300 to .400 WPA (30% to 40% increased win chances) or more, many saves are worth much, much less. This category includes only traditional, less than 3 inning saves.

Honorable Mention: Kevin Gregg (.011 WPA vs. the Yankees) and Brad Lidge (.011 WPA vs. the Mets)

Runner Up: Matt Guerrier (.011 WPA vs. the Royals, a particularly weak-hitting team)

And the Cheapie goes to… Brian Wilson! The Beard picks up his second straight Cheapie with this extraordinary feat: two separate saves of .011 WPA. That ties with the others mentioned above for the lowest WPA in a less-than-3-inning save. There were only 5 .011 WPA saves in 2010, and Wilson had two of them. He also had 3 other saves of less than .020 WPA

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, which means that in more than 10% of his total saves, he helped his team’s win chances by less than 2%.

Lowest WPA in a Save (3 IP or more)

This category is for those weird saves in which a long reliever goes 3 innings or more to close the game. Since the size of the lead has no effect on such saves, you can have saves in games in which a team wins by 10, 12, or more runs. (Wes Littleton of the Rangers even got a save in their crazy 30-3 win over the Orioles a few years ago.) This leads to some spectacularly low WPAs.

Honorable Mention: Raul Valdes, .026 WPA, in this game

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, an 8-0 Mets win over the Phillies.

Runner Up: Sergio Mitre, .004 WPA, in this game

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, an 11-5 Yankees win over the Tigers.

And the Cheapie goes to… Matt Harrison! In this game

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, a 13-3 Rangers win over the Pirates, Harrison’s save was worth only .001 WPA, or a tenth of one percent added to the team’s win probability. That’s not very helpful.

Fewest Pitches in a Save

There were six conventional 1-pitch saves in 2010, but another 1-pitch save was even more of a Cheapie.

Runners Up: Koji Uehara in this game

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, Dan Wheeler in this game
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(on a double play!), Ronald Belisario in this game
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, Andrew Bailey in this game
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, Bobby Jenks in this game
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, and Carlos Marmol in this game
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. All needed just 1 pitch to get the save.

And the Cheapie goes to… Jonny Venters! I know what you’re thinking. In this game

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, Venters was credited with 3 pitches in a strikeout of Russell Martin of the Dodgers. But he actually only threw 1 of those pitches. The first 2 pitches were made by Takashi Saito, who injured himself just one strike away from the save. Venters came in with an 0-2 count to Martin, who immediately whiffed on the first pitch. So Venters managed to get a 1-pitch save without the ball being put in play, which is very hard to do (even if he technically “threw” 3 pitches, according to the official records).

Easiest Batter Retired in a 1-Out Save

One problem with WPA is that it doesn’t take into account the quality of the hitters or pitchers. In reality, a dominant closer has a much easier time retiring a marginal bench player than a star regular. I sorted through the 1-out saves to find the worst hitters that a closer was asked to retire for the only out of a save. To give you an idea of how bad the hitter had to be to make this list, I eliminated Yuniesky Betancourt from consideration because he was too good.

Honorable Mention: Brad Lidge facing Jesus Feliciano in this game

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and Juan Gutierrez facing Russ Mitchell in this game
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.

Runner Up: Frank Hermann facing Jose Molina in this game

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.

And the Cheapie goes to… Shawn Camp, for facing Cesar Izturis in this game

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! Seriously, folks, getting a save for retiring only Cesar Izturis… that’s crazy. Izturis is a lifetime .256 / .295 / .323 hitter in over 4000 career PA, so it is well established that he really, really sucks. By some measures, this was actually kind of a tough save (Camp came in with the bases loaded and only a 1-run lead, so the go-ahead run was on second.). I doubt that Camp was too worried, though. Izturis was probably the second-worst regular hitter in baseball (after Jose Lopez); he hit .230 / .277  / .268 on the season.

Closest to Blowing an Easy Save Without Actually Doing It

Sometimes, a closer is brought in to finish off a Cheapie save and still manages to almost blow it. This Cheapie is for all those saves that are undeserved based on both the situation and the performance.

Honorable Mention: Jonathan Papelbon in this game

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, Brad Lidge in this game
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, Gustavo Chacin in this game
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, and Matt Capps in this game
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. All came in with 3-run leads and win expectancies of 97% or more; they allowed the other teams to close within 1 run with the tying and go-ahead runs on base.

Runner Up: Matt Capps in this game

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. When Capps entered, the Nats had a 5-2 lead and a 97% win expectancy. He gave up singles to the first 4 batters, making it 5-3 with the bases loaded and no outs. The Nats’ win expectancy was then only 51%. Capps recovered, though, striking out the next 2 hitters and getting a grounder to 3rd to end it.

And the Cheapie goes to… Matt Capps! Yes, him again (though on a different team). Capps entered this game

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with 2 outs in the 9th, a runner on 2nd, and a 3-run lead. That is one of the easiest possible save situations (the Twins’ win probability was almost 99% when Capps came in). He faced 4 batters and retired none of them: single, single, walk, single. He only got the last out because Michael Young was thrown out at  home trying to score the tying run on the last hit. That is the crappiest save I have ever heard of. So congratulations, Matt Capps, on your Cheapie!

That’s it for this year’s Cheapies. I hope you enjoyed it. Congratulations to all the winners!

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2 Responses to The Cheapie Awards: Recognizing the Easiest Saves of 2010

  1. [...] out on some truly entertaining stuff, that derives from not just Braves baseball. My favorite is his piece about “cheapie saves,” which ought to be pretty self-explanatory. But this website link is the actual opposite, and named [...]

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  2. The 2nd Annual Cheapie Awards: The Easiest Saves of 2011 | JunkStats
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    says:

    [...] case you missed it, I presented these awards last year for the 2010 season. The winners included Brian Wilson (twice), Heath Bell, and Matt [...]

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