Editor's note: In the days leading up to Rob Manfred's one-year anniversary as commissioner on Jan. 25, we asked our writers what one change or innovation they would make to improve baseball if the sport started over today.
Today, in that always-helpful way of mine, I'm here to save the sport of baseball. And how would I save it? By no longer saving anything.
In other words, ban "The Save!"
Oh, there's probably some sort of American Society of Late-Inning Relief Pitchers out there that would immediately file suit to stop me. But I just want them to hear me out on this. They can thank me later.
I'm a fan of great relief pitching and great relief pitchers. That's the first thing they ought to know.
I also believe that not just anybody can get those last three outs in a big game, a tight game or a World Series game. I know the difference between Mariano Rivera and, say, Kevin Gregg. Trust me.
So what's my problem with the save? Here's my problem with the save.
It's absurd enough that it mostly involves a guy getting three outs before he can give up three runs. But that's not even my No. 1 issue with the save.
My No. 1 issue is that it's the opposite of every other stat in the history of stats. That's because 99.99999999999999999999999999 percent of all stats are there to measure how a player performs. The save, on the other hand, has evolved to the insane point where it has become the only stat that determines how -- or even whether -- the player compiling it will be used that night.
I shouldn't even have to explain this to you. But just so we're clear. ...
Top of the ninth. Visiting team holds a one-run lead. The closer starts warming up feverishly. Then, whaddyaknow, somebody bops a three-run bomb. Lead inflates to four runs. The closer sits back down. Why? Because it's no longer a save situation.
Then the first two hitters reach base in the bottom of the ninth. Guess what happens? In comes the closer, even though it's still a four-run game. But now the tying run is on deck. So it's back to being a save situation.
Put aside all the times you've casually accepted this and think it through. It's just dopey. It's not real "strategy," because it's not really designed to win the game. It's designed to make sure the closer gets a save. Dopey.
But here's what's even dopier: One-run lead. The 3-4-5 hitters are due up in the eighth, which means the bottom of the order would be scheduled to hit in the ninth. So when does the best reliever on the roster pitch? In the ninth, of course. To make sure he gets -- you guessed it -- a save.
But if the save is going to continue to exist, it's impossible to change that "strategy," because the world is now programmed to do it that way. Automatically. Managers love it because it practically eliminates the second guess. Closers love it because they NEED that reward. They NEED their "Save" fix. It's how they get paid. It's all they've ever known.
So I get it. You can't just ban the save without replacing it with some other reward. Otherwise, closers everywhere would need therapy. Lots of it, too. For a long time.
So is it possible to devise a reward that also (A) frees managers to use their best relievers when it matters most and (B) more accurately measures modern relief pitching? I say it is. The answer? A concept I'd not-so-catchily refer to as ...
Now, we can call it something else if you want. Bullpen Bullets. Marianos. I don't care what the heck you call it. But here's a rough design of how it might work:
What does a reliever get if he enters a three-run game, collects the last three outs and his team wins? Not a save. How about one relief point.
Two points if it's a two-run game when he enters and doesn't give up the lead.
Three points if it's a one-run game.
And one extra point for every out beyond three if the tying run is at the plate or on base when he enters.
Hopefully, that would keep the closer happy. But there's more to the brilliant relief points system than just rewards for the closer. Guess what? The "setup men" would get points, too. And those points would be just as meaningful. How 'bout that crazy talk? Here goes:
A point for every out, at any juncture in the last three innings, in a one-run or tie game as long as he doesn't allow a run.
A point for every out, at any juncture in the last three innings, if the tying run is at the plate or on base when a pitcher enters and he keeps the lead.
There are more potential tweaks to deal with stuff like extra innings. I'm open to suggestions. But does anyone out there think we're onto something? You're welcome.
Seventh inning. One out. Yankees leading 5-3. But the Rays had a runner on second, so the tying run was at the plate. In came Dellin Betances.
He went: strikeout, groundout, end of seventh. He then threw a scoreless eighth. Next, Andrew Miller marched in to get the last three outs. Shake hands. Drive home safely.
Under the current rules, Miller got one of those almighty saves, even though he came in to face the No. 8 hitter. All Betances got was a hold, maybe the least-cared about stat in any sport, even though he faced the 2-3-4-5-6-7 hitters, four of them with the tying run at the plate.
Not fair. But ho-hum. We're all used to that injustice. Except now consider what they each would have gotten under the relief points system.
For Miller? Two points. Got the last three outs in a two-run game.
But Betances? FIVE points. Got five outs, in the seventh and eighth innings, and the tying run was at the plate when he entered.
Way more fair. And way more revealing about which reliever played the most important role in that game.
Now off in the distance, I can hear a chorus of really smart people saying we already have metrics like "high-leverage situation" or "win probability added" that would tell us the same thing. I get that. I never said I was banning those stats. Did I?
But who looks at the "WPA" column in those expanded box scores and understands the meaning of 0.192 (for Betances) versus 0.086 (Miller)? Bill James and who else?
Relief points, on the other hand, are simple. Easy to comprehend. Tell us almost the same thing. Aren't hard to compile. And ...
They might actually be enough to reprogram both managers and closers to think differently about the now-dangerous concept of using the best reliever on the team to pitch any inning besides the ninth. What a concept!
So is this idea perfect? Never said it was. Is it non-negotiable? Of course not. Totally negotiable. But it's a concept that at least might start this boulder rolling downhill. Where it would stop, I have no idea. I just know it's a better idea than what we use now. So think about it.
And in the meantime ... you're welcome!