A milestone in sports was reached the other night when Yankees relief pitcher Mariano Rivera completed his 600th save opportunity. It is a significant record that has been attained only by one other pitcher, Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman retired with 601 career saves, so unless something tragic happens, Mariano Rivera will become the all time saves leader within the week. My congratulations to him, even though I'm not a Yankee fan as is North of 50.
That got me to thinking; what are the proper rules for earning a save? I know the basics as a long time baseball guy, but I couldn't quote you the rule. For most of baseball history, saves were not even calculated. It wasn't until recent decades that this became an official stat.
To qualify as a save, a pitcher must do the following: Enter the game with the tying run either on base or at the plate and preserve the lead; pitch three or three-plus innings and preserve the lead, (something that never happens anymore as 'closers' rarely if ever pitch more than one inning), or enter the game with no more than a three run lead and preserve the lead.
So lets analyse each situation. It does happen but this is not the typical situation. Usually the starter has been left in too long and now needs help. The closer in the last twenty years generally enters the game with a lead and only pitches the ninth inning. That means situation number two never happens. Situation three likely happens eighty percent of the time. Closers always then enter the game with a lead. No manager worth his salt sends in his ace closer when the game is tied.
Here then are the results. A pitcher typically becomes a star closer by entering the baseball game in the ninth inning, holding a lead of at least one or possibly more runs. You are fully rested because you only pitch two or three innings a week. You therefore are awarded a mutli-million dollar contract simply because you don't completely suck at what you are paid to do.
Congratulations Mariano, I wish I had your talent.