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Baseball Is Finally Realizing That The Save Is Dumb

Baseball’s trade deadline last week provided a referendum on how much value relief pitchers have in today’s game. And the results were fairly clear: Teams just don’t care about saves as much as they used to.

This season, we’ve been using our new relief pitching statistic, the goose egg, to track how bullpens are used. And the way relievers are deployed has, in fact, changed. Although it hasn’t been quite as dramatic as, say, the widespread adaptation of the defensive shift in baseball, there’s at least some evidence of teams using their best relief pitchers in smarter ways — using them in the highest-leverage situations, regardless of whether or not a save is on the line. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, who has been the best relief pitcher in baseball this season, is one prominent example. He often enters games in situations that the goose egg rewards but the save does not — such as when the score is tied, or anytime before the ninth inning.1 (A goose egg is essentially a clutch, scoreless relief inning.)

But a series of deadline trades provided evidence on the diminished value that teams place on saves. Plenty of relief pitchers were traded, but teams were seemingly indifferent about whether the pitchers they’d acquired had accumulated high save totals or not. Take the Twins’ Brandon Kintzler, for example, who was picked up by the Washington Nationals for minor-league pitching prospect Tyler Watson and international bonus pool money. Kintzler was second in the American League with 28 saves, and the Nationals have struggled to close out games all season — so you might have expected them to give up a king’s ransom for him. Instead they gave up … Watson, who had been the Nationals’ 27th best prospect before the season and had a 4.35 ERA in Single-A at the time he was dealt.

Other pitchers with high save totals, such as the Padres’ Brandon Maurer’ and the Marlins’ A.J. Ramos, didn’t fetch high prices, either. The prospects the Mets gave up for Ramos — pitcher Merandy Gonzalez and outfielder Ricardo Cespedes — were rated No. 14 and No. 23 in their system by Baseball America before the year began. The Mets also traded their own interim closer, Addison Reed, to Boston, nabbing three prospects; but none of them ranked higher than No. 20 in the Red Sox system. It’s not that the teams are giving up nothing for saves, exactly. But we’re a long ways removed from the days of the (infamous) Heathcliff Slocumb trade, when even mediocre closers could bring an elite prospect or two in return.

And teams aren’t necessarily privileging the closer’s old role when he switches teams. Kintzler isn’t expected to close many games in Washington; instead, he’s the No. 2 or No. 3 option in the bullpen behind Sean Doolittle, who had just three saves for the A’s at the time he was acquired in July. Maurer will only be the third option in the Royals’ bullpen. Ramos will close out games for the Mets, but only because regular closer Jeurys Familia is hurt and Reed was traded.

If teams are looking to goose eggs for guidance instead of saves, the National League leaders are Jansen and the Brewers’ Corey Knebel, who have 33 goose eggs each. Cleveland’s Andrew Miller leads the AL with 31 goose eggs, but he’s now injured, which could allow Tampa Bay’s Alex Colome (30 goose eggs) or Seattle’s Edwin Diaz (29 goose eggs) to pass him.

Jansen has been by far the most effective reliever in baseball, as measured by goose wins above replacement (GWAR). He’s maintained a perfect record on the season with no broken eggs,2 our term for when a pitcher has an opportunity for a goose egg but allows an earned run instead, and 33 goose eggs — good for 4.8 GWAR. Miller leads the AL with 3.2 GWAR. A complete rundown of goose statistics follows in the table below.

Goose stats through Aug. 6, 2017

PITCHER
TEAM
GOOSE EGGS
BROKEN EGGS
MEHS
GWAR
Kenley Jansen LAD 33 0 1 +4.8
Corey Knebel MIL 33 6 2 +2.7
Felipe Rivero PIT 31 3 2 +3.5
Andrew Miller CLE 31 5 2 +3.2
Alex Colome TB 30 6 3 +2.3
Edwin Diaz SEA 29 5 2 +2.5
Brad Hand SD 28 4 5 +2.6
Addison Reed BOS/NYM 25 5 5 +1.8
Joakim Soria KC 25 7 2 +1.3
Raisel Iglesias CIN 24 1 0 +3.2
Trevor Rosenthal STL 24 7 1 +0.9
Greg Holland COL 23 3 0 +2.7
Craig Kimbrel BOS 23 4 0 +2.2
Brad Brach BAL 23 4 1 +2.1
Michael Lorenzen CIN 23 4 1 +2.0
Kelvin Herrera KC 23 5 2 +1.8
Jacob Barnes MIL 23 7 3 +0.9
Fernando Rodney ARI 22 4 3 +1.9
Archie Bradley ARI 22 4 5 +1.9
Brandon Kintzler MIN 22 4 4 +1.9
Justin Wilson CHC/DET 22 5 1 +1.5
Roberto Osuna TOR 22 7 1 +0.9
Tony Watson LAD/PIT 22 7 4 +0.7
Seung-hwan Oh STL 21 5 4 +1.2
Wade Davis CHC 20 1 1 +2.6
Nick Vincent SEA 20 2 5 +2.3
Ryan Tepera TOR 20 3 0 +2.0
Hector Neris PHI 20 5 3 +1.1
Pat Neshek COL/PHI 19 2 5 +2.1
David Robertson CHW/NYY 19 5 1 +1.0
Arodys Vizcaino ATL 19 6 2 +0.6
Sam Dyson SF/TEX 19 8 2 -0.1
Jim Johnson ATL 19 8 3 -0.1
Tommy Hunter TB 18 2 1 +2.0
Ryan Madson OAK/WAS 18 3 1 +1.6
Dellin Betances NYY 18 5 1 +1.0
Cody Allen CLE 18 6 3 +0.7
Taylor Rogers MIN 18 6 3 +0.5
Brandon Maurer KC/SD 18 7 0 +0.1
Bryan Shaw CLE 17 4 4 +1.3
Mike Minor KC 17 4 3 +1.2
Hunter Strickland SF 17 4 1 +1.0
Chris Devenski HOU 17 8 5 -0.5
Joe Smith TOR 16 1 1 +2.1
Anthony Swarzak CHW/MIL 16 1 0 +2.0
Mychal Givens BAL 16 3 3 +1.4
Matt Belisle MIN 16 3 3 +1.3
Will Harris HOU 16 3 0 +1.3
Matthew Bowman STL 16 5 4 +0.5
Matt Barnes BOS 16 6 3 +0.4
Matt Bush TEX 16 6 2 +0.4
Bud Norris LAA 16 7 1 -0.2
Santiago Casilla OAK 16 7 2 -0.2
David Phelps MIA/SEA 16 8 3 -0.6
Joaquin Benoit PHI/PIT 16 10 0 -1.3
Alex Claudio TEX 15 3 5 +1.3
Shane Greene DET 15 3 4 +1.2
Blake Parker LAA 15 3 1 +1.2
AJ Ramos MIA 15 4 2 +0.7
Koji Uehara CHC 15 5 3 +0.3
Carl Edwards CHC 15 6 3 +0.0
Jose Ramirez ATL 14 4 2 +0.6
Brett Cecil STL 14 4 3 +0.6
Jerry Blevins NYM 14 4 7 +0.6
Ryan Buchter KC/SD 14 6 3 -0.2
Tommy Kahnle CHW/NYY 14 7 1 -0.5
Aroldis Chapman NYY 13 1 2 +1.7
Pedro Strop CHC 13 1 3 +1.5
Mike Montgomery CHC 13 2 1 +1.2
Enny Romero WAS 13 4 6 +0.4
Kyle Barraclough MIA 13 4 1 +0.4
Adam Ottavino COL 13 7 3 -0.4
David Hernandez ARI/LAA 12 1 3 +1.4
Ken Giles HOU 12 3 3 +0.7
Yusmeiro Petit LAA 11 1 2 +1.3
Sean Doolittle OAK/WAS 11 2 5 +0.9
Wandy Peralta CIN 11 3 1 +0.5
Derek Law SF 11 3 1 +0.5
Pedro Baez LAD 11 4 6 +0.1
Jorge De La Rosa ARI 11 5 1 -0.1
Alex Wilson DET 11 6 5 -0.5
Mike Dunn COL 10 0 2 +1.6
Tyler Duffey MIN 10 3 2 +0.4
James Pazos SEA 10 3 4 +0.4
Jake McGee COL 10 4 2 +0.2
Neftali Feliz KC/MIL 10 5 0 -0.3
Juan Nicasio PIT 10 6 8 -0.7
Blake Treinen OAK/WAS 10 6 1 -0.7
Matt Albers WAS 9 2 4 +0.6
Joe Biagini TOR 9 3 2 +0.3
Darren O’Day BAL 9 3 2 +0.3
Hector Rondon CHC 9 3 1 +0.2
Heath Hembree BOS 9 4 5 +0.0
Jared Hughes MIL 9 4 1 -0.1
Mark Melancon SF 9 4 0 -0.2
Liam Hendriks OAK 9 5 1 -0.5
Peter Moylan KC 8 0 3 +1.2
Zach Britton BAL 8 0 0 +1.2
Marc Rzepczynski SEA 8 1 6 +0.8
Kevin Siegrist STL 8 1 2 +0.8
Koda Glover WAS 8 2 2 +0.4
Chris Rusin COL 8 3 3 +0.2
Keone Kela TEX 8 3 2 +0.2
Adam Warren NYY 8 3 1 +0.2
Danny Farquhar TB 8 3 2 +0.1
Kirby Yates LAA/SD 8 3 1 +0.1
Cory Gearrin SF 8 3 1 +0.1
Tony Zych SEA 8 4 3 -0.3
George Kontos SF 8 6 3 -1.1
Tyler Clippard CHW/NYY 8 9 7 -2.0
Erasmo Ramirez TB 7 1 2 +0.7
Sam Freeman ATL 7 1 2 +0.7
Phil Maton SD 7 1 1 +0.7
Joe Kelly BOS 7 2 4 +0.4
Jose Leclerc TEX 7 2 3 +0.4
Deolis Guerra LAA 7 2 0 +0.3
Jeanmar Gomez PHI 7 2 1 +0.3
Josh Smoker NYM 7 2 3 +0.3
Danny Barnes TOR 7 4 2 -0.4
Jose Alvarado TB 7 4 3 -0.4
Luis Garcia PHI 7 4 2 -0.4
Hansel Robles NYM 7 4 2 -0.5
Luke Gregerson HOU 7 5 2 -0.8
Jonathan Holder NYY 6 1 1 +0.6
Nick Wittgren MIA 6 1 1 +0.5
Scott Oberg COL 6 2 3 +0.3
Chasen Shreve NYY 6 2 3 +0.2
T. J. McFarland ARI 6 2 1 +0.2
Ian Krol ATL 6 2 3 +0.2
Shawn Kelley WAS 6 2 0 +0.1
Tony Barnette TEX 6 3 0 -0.1
J. J. Hoover ARI 6 3 2 -0.2
Cam Bedrosian LAA 6 3 3 -0.2
Chase Whitley TB 6 4 1 -0.6
Carlos Torres MIL 6 4 3 -0.6
Daniel Hudson PIT 6 4 4 -0.6
Steven Okert SF 6 4 8 -0.6
Paul Sewald NYM 6 4 2 -0.6
Ross Stripling LAD 6 4 1 -0.6
Jumbo Diaz TB 6 5 3 -0.9
Fernando Abad BOS 5 0 1 +0.8
Randall Delgado ARI 5 0 0 +0.8
Blaine Boyer BOS 5 1 0 +0.4
Steve Cishek SEA/TB 5 1 2 +0.4
Oliver Perez WAS 5 1 4 +0.4
Brad Ziegler MIA 5 1 2 +0.4
Ryan Dull OAK 5 2 3 +0.0
Jacob Turner WAS 5 2 0 +0.0
Joely Rodriguez PHI 5 2 4 +0.0
Josh Edgin NYM 5 2 5 +0.0
Junichi Tazawa MIA 5 3 0 -0.4
Jose Alvarez LAA 5 5 3 -1.1
Fernando Salas NYM 5 5 4 -1.1
Hector Velazquez BOS 4 0 0 +0.6
Logan Verrett BAL 4 0 0 +0.6
Brandon Workman BOS 4 1 0 +0.3
Richard Bleier BAL 4 1 1 +0.3
Nate Jones CHW 4 1 0 +0.2
Jeurys Familia NYM 4 1 2 +0.2
Doug Fister BOS 4 2 0 -0.1
Dominic Leone TOR 4 2 6 -0.1
Ryan Pressly MIN 4 2 1 -0.1
Bruce Rondon DET 4 2 0 -0.1
Oliver Drake MIL 4 2 1 -0.1
Tony Cingrani CIN 4 2 3 -0.1
Luis Avilan LAD 4 2 4 -0.2
Jason Grilli TEX/TOR 4 3 3 -0.5
Jose Torres SD 4 4 1 -0.9
Austin Pruitt TB 3 0 0 +0.5
Austin Brice CIN 3 0 0 +0.5
Craig Stammen SD 3 0 1 +0.4
Bryan Morris SF 3 0 0 +0.4
Justin Grimm CHC 3 0 1 +0.4
Brian Duensing CHC 3 0 0 +0.4
Alex Wood LAD 3 0 1 +0.4
Donnie Hart BAL 3 1 3 +0.1
Alec Asher BAL 3 1 1 +0.1
Mike Bolsinger TOR 3 1 0 +0.1
Trevor Hildenberger MIN 3 1 0 +0.1
Kenyan Middleton LAA 3 1 0 +0.1
Albert Suarez SF 3 1 0 +0.1
Dustin McGowan MIA 3 1 1 +0.1
Robby Scott BOS 3 2 9 -0.2
Scott Alexander KC 3 2 1 -0.3
Aaron Loup TOR 3 2 7 -0.3
Drew Storen CIN 3 2 3 -0.3
Jhan Marinez MIL/PIT 3 2 0 -0.3
Rex Brothers ATL 3 2 1 -0.3
Casey Fien PHI/SEA 3 2 0 -0.3
Joe Blanton WAS 3 2 0 -0.3
Sam Tuivailala STL 3 2 0 -0.3
Josh Osich SF 3 2 5 -0.3
Travis Wood KC 3 3 1 -0.6
Dan Altavilla SEA 3 3 1 -0.7
Sergio Romo LAD/TB 3 3 0 -0.7
Brandon Morrow LAD 3 3 0 -0.7
Josh Fields LAD 3 4 2 -1.1
Francisco Rodriguez DET 3 8 2 -2.5
Edubray Ramos PHI 3 11 0 -3.6
Dan Otero CLE 2 0 0 +0.3
Dario Alvarez TEX 2 0 1 +0.3
Jake Junis KC 2 0 0 +0.3
Jake Barrett ARI 2 0 3 +0.3
Jake Petricka CHW 2 0 2 +0.3
Zach Putnam CHW 2 0 0 +0.3
Josh Hader MIL 2 0 2 +0.3
Josh Smith OAK 2 0 0 +0.3
Dovydas Neverauskas PIT 2 0 0 +0.3
Adam Morgan PHI 2 0 0 +0.3
Brock Stewart LAD 2 0 0 +0.3
Jordan Lyles COL 2 1 0 +0.0
Chad Qualls COL 2 1 0 +0.0
Drew VerHagen DET 2 1 0 -0.1
Kyle Ryan DET 2 1 0 -0.1
Daniel Stumpf DET 2 1 4 -0.1
Jason Motte ATL 2 1 2 -0.1
Eric O’Flaherty ATL 2 1 1 -0.1
Robert Gsellman NYM 2 1 0 -0.1
Drew Steckenrider MIA 2 1 0 -0.1
Robert Stephenson CIN 2 2 0 -0.4
Matt Strahm KC 2 3 1 -0.8
Brad Boxberger TB 2 3 1 -0.8
Blake Wood CIN 2 3 1 -0.8
Daniel Coulombe OAK 2 3 4 -0.8
Wade LeBlanc PIT 2 3 2 -0.8
Dan Jennings CHW/TB 2 4 8 -1.2
Andrew Chafin ARI 2 6 6 -1.9
Carlos Estevez COL 1 0 0 +0.2
Boone Logan CLE 1 0 4 +0.2
Robbie Ross BOS 1 0 0 +0.2
Ben Taylor BOS 1 0 1 +0.2
Tanner Scheppers TEX 1 0 1 +0.2
Ben Heller NYY 1 0 1 +0.2
Kevin McCarthy KC 1 0 0 +0.2
Chris Young KC 1 0 0 +0.2
Miguel Castro BAL 1 0 1 +0.2
Yovani Gallardo SEA 1 0 0 +0.2
Mike Morin LAA 1 0 1 +0.2
Jean Machi SEA 1 0 1 +0.2
Brooks Pounders LAA 1 0 0 +0.2
Asher Wojciechowski CIN 1 0 0 +0.2
A. J. Schugel PIT 1 0 0 +0.1
Luke Jackson ATL 1 0 0 +0.1
Brad Peacock HOU 1 0 1 +0.1
Ty Blach SF 1 0 1 +0.1
Miguel Socolovich STL 1 0 1 +0.1
Zach McAllister CLE 1 1 1 -0.2
Caleb Smith NYY 1 1 0 -0.2
Tyler Wilson BAL 1 1 1 -0.2
Jeff Beliveau TOR 1 1 1 -0.2
Tom Wilhelmsen ARI 1 1 2 -0.2
Justin Haley MIN 1 1 0 -0.2
Warwick Saupold DET 1 1 2 -0.2
Andrew Kittredge TB 1 1 0 -0.2
Rob Scahill MIL 1 1 0 -0.2
Frankie Montas OAK 1 1 0 -0.2
Matt Grace WAS 1 1 2 -0.2
Francis Martes HOU 1 1 0 -0.2
Tony Sipp HOU 1 1 0 -0.2
James Hoyt HOU 1 1 0 -0.2
Michael Feliz HOU 1 1 0 -0.2
Erik Goeddel NYM 1 1 0 -0.2
Buddy Baumann SD 1 1 1 -0.2
Grant Dayton LAD 1 1 2 -0.2
Blaine Hardy DET 1 2 1 -0.6
Emilio Pagan SEA 1 2 0 -0.6
Aaron Bummer CHW 1 2 0 -0.6
Wily Peralta MIL 1 2 0 -0.6
John Axford OAK 1 2 0 -0.6
Sammy Solis WAS 1 2 0 -0.6
Jonathan Broxton STL 1 2 0 -0.6
Kevin Quackenbush SD 1 2 0 -0.6
Chris Hatcher LAD 1 2 1 -0.6
Jeremy Jeffress TEX 1 3 1 -0.9
Rafael Montero NYM 1 3 1 -1.0
Lucas Harrell TOR 0 0 1 +0.0
Hoby Milner PHI 0 0 1 +0.0
Brent Suter MIL 0 0 1 +0.0
Gabriel Ynoa BAL 0 0 1 +0.0
Nick Goody CLE 0 0 1 +0.0
Parker Bridwell LAA 0 0 1 +0.0
John Brebbia STL 0 0 1 +0.0
Chad Bell DET 0 0 1 +0.0
Akeel Morris ATL 0 0 1 +0.0
Jarlin Garcia MIA 0 0 2 +0.0
Ernesto Frieri TEX 0 1 0 -0.4
Bryan Mitchell NYY 0 1 0 -0.4
Ronald Herrera NYY 0 1 0 -0.4
Giovanny Gallegos NYY 0 1 0 -0.4
Domingo German NYY 0 1 0 -0.4
Al Alburquerque KC 0 1 0 -0.4
Stefan Chrichton BAL 0 1 0 -0.4
Vidal Nuno BAL 0 1 0 -0.4
Casey Lawrence TOR 0 1 0 -0.4
J. P. Howell TOR 0 1 0 -0.4
Jayson Aquino BAL 0 1 0 -0.4
Rubby De La Rosa ARI 0 1 1 -0.4
Hector Santiago MIN 0 1 0 -0.4
Buddy Boshers MIN 0 1 0 -0.4
Craig Breslow MIN 0 1 0 -0.4
Joe Jimenez DET 0 1 0 -0.4
Xavier Cedeno TB 0 1 3 -0.4
Jesse Chavez LAA 0 1 0 -0.4
Diego Moreno TB 0 1 0 -0.4
Chase De Jong SEA 0 1 0 -0.4
Ryne Stanek TB 0 1 3 -0.4
Chris Beck CHW 0 1 2 -0.4
Greg Infante CHW 0 1 1 -0.4
Simon Castro OAK 0 1 0 -0.4
Antonio Bastardo PIT 0 1 0 -0.4
Johnny Barbato PIT 0 1 0 -0.4
Mark Leiter PHI 0 1 0 -0.4
Ricardo Pinto PHI 0 1 1 -0.4
Jandel Gustave HOU 0 1 0 -0.4
Neil Ramirez NYM 0 1 2 -0.4
Tyler Lyons STL 0 1 2 -0.4
Tyler Pill NYM 0 1 0 -0.4
Miguel Diaz SD 0 1 0 -0.4
Adam Conley MIA 0 1 0 -0.4
Chad Green NYY 0 2 2 -0.7
Evan Scribner SEA 0 2 0 -0.7
Adam Kolarek TB 0 2 1 -0.7
J. C. Ramirez LAA 0 2 0 -0.7
Josh Collmenter ATL 0 2 0 -0.7
Francisco Liriano HOU 0 2 0 -0.7
Ryan Garton TB 0 3 0 -1.1

Source: Seamheads.com

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Footnotes

  1. Yes, a reliever can get a save if he enters the game before the ninth inning and finishes the game. But he doesn’t get any extra credit for pitching extra innings. And he doesn’t get a save if another pitcher closes out the game.

  2. Jansen did have one rough outing last month, yielding three runs in a game against the Braves, but those didn’t come in a goose situation.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

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