Blown Saves in Context

Is Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen as unsuccessful as some people think?

On a day that the departed Al Reyes turns 35, the day after the Cardinals' bullpen meltdown against the Cubs led to a bitter series sweep, perhaps only the opening of a new ballpark can soothe the anger of many in the Cardinals Nation.

 

Still, the pervasive uneasiness about closer Jason Isringhausen will not be soon forgotten. Scout's message board is loaded with posts that suggest trades, replacement closers and even imminent doom for the 2006 Cardinals.

 

Yet, is it all that bad?

 

First of all, let's remember that Izzy pitched well this spring, allowing just one run in ten innings. It is his first season as a Card that he seems to have no nagging health issues.

 

I do realize that nothing I can say will alleviate those concerns, however, so I decided to take a look at some numbers, instead.

 

My conclusions:

 

1)     The rate of blown saves across the National League was higher than normal in the first week of the season.

2)     Since becoming a Cardinal in 2002, Jason Isringhausen is in not in the top group of closers, but is more in the middle of the pack in terms of blown saves compared to his peer closers.

3)     It is early.

 

Here are the saves, blown saves, total save opportunities and percent of blown saves in the National League since 2002.

 

NL

Year

Saves

Blown 

Total Opps

% Blown

2006 22 13 35 37.1%
2005 666 312 978 31.9%
2004 697 357 1054 33.9%
2003 661 297 958 31.0%
2002 666 286 952 30.0%

Total

2712 1265 3977 31.8%

It clearly confirms that blown saves were more frequent in the early going than the season averages over the past four-plus years. Specifically, over 37% of all National League save opportunities were blown last week, compared to a 31.8% League average since 2002.

There could be many factors – bad weather, hitters being ahead of pitchers, etc. But, for whatever reason, it is true.

Next, I looked at Jason Isringhausen's numbers and that of five other top closers in the League since Izzy became a Cardinal in 2002 through Sunday.

Top NL Closers
2002-06

Saves

Blown 

Total Opps

% Blown

Eric Gagne 160 6 166 3.6%
Trevor Hoffman 124 10 134 7.5%
Billy Wagner 139 17 156 10.9%
Jason Isringhausen 142 19 161 11.8%
Armando Benitez 120 20 140 14.3%
Brad Lidge 74 13 87 14.9%

As expected, the Dodgers' Eric Gagne is in his own world, having blown just 3.6% of his chances. On the other hand, Gagne missed most of 2005 due to injury and underwent surgery again last week. So, his numbers won't be changing anytime soon.

The Padres' Trevor Hoffman has also been stellar in recent years at 7.5% saves blown. Billy Wagner, who is closing for his third team during this period, the Mets, was slightly more efficient than Izzy, at 10.9% versus 11.8%.

But, realize that the difference between Wagner and Izzy is razor-thin. With just one fewer blown save every two seasons, Izzy would come in below Wagner at 10.5%.

On the other hand, there are plenty of others who are not as dependable. San Francisco's Armando Benitez has muffed 14.3% of his chances since 2002.

A name most people equated to dominance – at least prior to the 2005 NLDS Game Five - Houston's Brad "Lights Out" Lidge, has blown almost 15% of his opportunities in his career. That mark is considerably worse than Izzy's.

Of course, none of this is qualitative - in other words, reflecting how "badly" the save was blown. Since there is no consistent way to measure the pain of a blown save, all one can do is try to remain calm during those four or five times each year that Jason Isringhausen invariably blows up.

I know. It is easy to say, but difficult to do.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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