If you’ve never dabbled too deep with baseball or are new to it, you might be wondering what a save is. A save record is truly crucial and for most pitchers it would be a huge deal! When it comes to cheers, there is nothing that ‘earns’ them the way a save does.
What is a Save?
There are different types of saves in baseball, but all of them come down to a basic criterion: the pitcher should preserve a late lead, and finish the game.
Pitchers get saves if they enter the game as relief pitchers, with the lead being three runs or less, they should pitch for at least three innings while in relief, and then finish the game without giving up the lead.
That said, the pitcher should also meet the following requirements: they should not be the winning pitcher, they should have pitched for at least a third of an inning, and should come into the game with odds for either on-deck, on-base or at-bat odds.
These requirements are relatively lax, so pitchers should get opportunities to earn saves quite frequently, but most often this would involve preserving the lead and finishing the game.
The MLB (Major League Baseball) is quite absolute when it comes to these requirements, except for the one about pitching for three innings. According to the rules, this doesn’t necessarily guarantee a save, and the game arbiter gets the authority to decide in case this happens.
Under MLB rules, one pitcher can only earn one save for a game.
Types of Saves
There are mainly two types of saves that are most common.
One is a tough save, which is more of a redemptive measure than an actual reward. It’s where the relief pitcher enters the game with no odds for saves and then surrenders the lead before another reliever enters.
This also happens when the pitcher earns a save and wins a run on-base simultaneously. Tough saves end with the reliever getting a two-point penalty, but there is no blown save opportunity, since there was no save opportunity at the start.
The other type is the blown save itself, which just means that the lead that was meant to be saved gets blown. This often happens when the reliever enters the game with a save opportunity, but ends up allowing the tying run.
Because of the penalty applied, the pitcher would then lose the chance for a save, but if the team takes the lead back, they can still win. On the other hand, they could also end up as the relief pitcher.
Since relief pitchers will mostly only enter the game when the team is leading, their wins are likely because they have blown a save earlier in the game. Due to lack of closing opportunities, you’d find that mid-relievers will not have as many saves as blown saves.
How Frequently Do Saves Happen?
The rules around saves don’t require much, so there are plenty of situations where you can get a save, but this doesn’t often happen. This can be either because the game is one-sided, there is a complete game thrown by the starting pitcher, or because the home team gets a walk off win.
In 2019, for example, only 48.6% of games in the MLB ended with a save. This is also a relatively low number in comparison to the previous years, which have had higher save statistics since 1998. For example, in 2015, 53.2% of games ended with a save.
In fact, save statistics also seem to be proportional to the use of relief pitching. In the past, complete game totals were higher than save totals, but after the 1920s, these numbers started getting closer. Around 1980, the save total went above the complete game total, and it has been that way ever since.
Nowadays, teams average around 40 saves a year, and it has been this way since approximately 1990.
How Did Slaves Enter Baseball?
Back when baseball started as a game in the mid-1800s, the concept of saves did not exist. In fact, there was no concept of relief pitching either.
Of course, the game itself was very different from what it looks like now, but even then, saves did not exist in the game until much later, around the 1950s. Around this time, the concept of saves still did not exist in-game, but was discussed by executives only. The official definition of saves came around in 1959.
It became official as a statistic in 1969. As research grew in the field, experts went back and retroactively made records of every save that had been played in the game since the early days of Major League Baseball, dating almost a century earlier.
The rules were slightly different at the start than they are now, but the modern idea of saves was coined sometime in 1975. Even then, saves were still not considered to be equal. That is, relievers were deployed differently than they are now, and many were deployed for multiple innings at a time, which resulted in a very high number of recorded saves for some teams.
However, as the term reliever also adjusted and the rules around it became tighter, their save totals also changed. In 1980, the idea of ‘one-inning’ relievers came into being, and many teams quickly shifted their approach as well. The number of three-inning saves dropped between 1987 and 1993 from 146 to 42, and then even further to 4 in 2010.
Saves aren’t exactly rare, but you can never be sure when they will happen. Most of the time, you can’t predict the turnaround in baseball. But while some games have good save opportunities, some don’t have any at all.
Still, saves aren’t easy to get – since you can never have very strong expectations in baseball, you never know when your team may get a save, which makes it so much more exciting and thrilling to watch it happen!