The Most Deceptive Saves of All Time?

The “save” is one of those stats that raises the ire of the sabermetrically-inclined, due to its being sometimes credited in less than high leverage spots.

Today, a relief pitcher is awarded a save when he meets all three of the following conditions:

  • He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his club; and
  • He is not the winning pitcher; and
  • He qualifies under one of the following conditions:
    • He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning; or
    • He enters the game, regardless of the score, with the potential tying run either on base, at bat, or on deck; or
    • He pitches for at least three innings.

With that as some background, friend of the VORG “QwizicalQwak” (Jess) asked me the following question recently:

Jess was referring to this June 10th game, in which Addison Reed entered with a one-run lead and two runners on with one out in the eighth. He got the next two batters, and then the Mets scored four in the top of the ninth. Reed finished the game off and earned a save in what had become a five-run game.

I pointed out the infamous 30-3 game, in which Rangers reliever Wes Littleton “earned” a save by pitching the last three innings.  He entered the game in the seventh inning with a 14-3 lead, and his Ranger teammates scored ten runs in the eighth and six in the ninth.

But Jess clarified her request.

That sent me to the Retrosheet game logs, where I selected all games since 1969 that included a save, and looked for the largest run differential. It didn’t take me too long to find this game. On April 19, 1996, Rangers reliever Ed Vosberg entered with two outs and the bases empty in the top of the eighth and his team up 10-7. He recorded the final out, and then his team scored not one, not two, but 16 (!) runs in the bottom of the inning. Vosberg remained in the game and finished up the now 26-7 decision, for a margin of 19 runs. He earned the save for pitching at least one inning with no more than a three run lead.

But even in THAT case, Vosberg didn’t face the tying run on base, at bat or in the on-deck circle.  Let’s dig a little harder …

Roger Pavlik entered a game for the Rangers on April 2, 1998 with his team ahead 6-4 with no outs in the top of the seventh. Pavlik therefore did have the potential tying run in the on-deck circle. He retired the side in order, and then his teammates scored 14 runs over the next two innings. Pavlik finished the game, thus earning a three-inning save in the 20-4 win but also having the tying run in the on-deck circle during his appearance.

Here is one who didn’t pitch three innings but DID face the tying run with a lead of fewer than three runs …

On July 30, 1969, Astros pitcher Fred Gladding entered the game against the Mets with a 5-3 lead, two runners on and one out in the seventh. He retired the next two batters to end the threat, then continued to pitch while the Astros tacked on 11 runs in the ninth for a 16-3 win.  The 13-run differential is a record for a non-three inning save which included the tying run either on base, at-bat or on deck.



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