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Clip-‘n’-(Blown)-Save

August 28, 2010

I’ve got nothing against Tyler Clippard; the guy’s been a valuable contributor to a struggling team (the Washington Nationals) this year, he’s totally endearing when he speaks of his dad, and to date he hasn’t made headlines for the wrong reasons like some pitchers we could name.

But his stats this year point to a bug in MLB’s scoring system that has been a pet peeve of mine for ages. By May 12, Clippard led the big leagues with seven wins; he beat Ubaldo Jiménez to that mark by a few days. Pretty impressive—until you realize that he earned four of those wins in tandem with blown saves (he’d blown a total of five save opportunities by that point). Yikes!*

We don’t need to pick on Tyler any further to make the point that there’s a fundamental flaw in the system of awarding wins to pitchers. In fact, let’s pick on Jason Isringhausen—another good guy, but one who cost my beloved Cardinals a shocking number of wins a few years back. This is how it went more than a few times in 2008: A Cardinal starter hurled a strong game, allowing one or two runs over seven or eight innings; Isringhausen came in and coughed up the lead; the Cards’ offense came back to salvage the victory; and Izzy walked away with a win and a blown save while the starter took a no-decision.

It’s patently unfair—not to mention silly—and although the sabermetric era has de-emphasized the significance of the “W” to a degree, it’s still the first stat most fans see, and the one the Cy Young voters can’t quite forget. And it seems to me that there’s an easy fix: When a reliever blows a save, entrust the official scorer to award the win to the most effective pitcher.

There’s precedent for this, obviously; the official scorer already gets to determine the winning pitcher if a starter who otherwise qualifies for the win doesn’t complete the required five innings—and that’s often a much subtler distinction, and a much tougher call, than the blown-save situation would create.

So what’s the hold-up? Other than the fact that my pink phone doesn’t seem to have a direct line to the Commissioner’s office, I mean….

* One might legitimately point out that Clippard’s not chiefly a closer anyway, and that these outings might more properly have been called “blown holds.” But that stat doesn’t exist (thank god), and it doesn’t change the point.

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