At New English D we do not approve of the way modern bullpens are managed. We don’t appreciate the way managers chase “saves” and only go to proven closers in perfectly aligned save situations. We believe this to be an inefficient and illogical use of resources. If you’d like to catch up on the theory behind these views, here are three pieces we’ve publish this year on the subject that tell a pretty complete story:
But for now, as an exercise in the ridiculousness of closers and an exercise in fun baseball history, I present to you, The Nine Worst Seasons by Closers.
The rules are simple. Since “Saves” became an official statistic in 1969, there have been 5088 individual qualifying reliever seasons and among those there have been 557 relievers to get 30 or more save opportunities in a given season. Full disclosure, “Blown Saves” are not recorded in the first few years of the sample, so it’s possible I’m missing a few relievers who had 30 save opportunities because I added saves and blown saves to get save opps. The rankings below are determined by Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) because I believe that to be the best measure of pitcher performance because it takes into account strikeouts, walks, and homeruns without punishing anyone for bad defense or rewarding anyone who allows inherited runners to score. xFIP isn’t available for all of the years in question and WAR is a counting stat, so it would be misleading when comparing pitchers who threw a considerably different number of innings. (FYI: The average number of blown saves among pitchers who had at least 30 SVO in a season is 6. The average SV% in the sample is 85%.) You can find full stats for the relievers below here (Worst Closers).
9. Bobby Thigpen (1991 White Sox)
30 for 39 in SVO, 3.49 ERA, 5.18 FIP
8. Jorge Julio (2003 Orioles)
36 for 44 in SVO, 4.38 ERA, 5.20 FIP
7. Rocky Biddle (2003 Expos)
34 for 41 in SVO, 4.65 ERA, 5.26 FIP
6. Brad Lidge (2009 Phillies)
31 for 42 in SVO, 7.21 ERA, 5.45 FIP
5. Jeff Montgomery (1996 Royals)
24 for 34 in SVO, 4.26 ERA, 5.67 FIP
4. Jason Isringhausen (2006 Cardinals won World Series)
33 for 43 in SVO, 3.55 ERA, 5.70 FIP
3. Ambiorix Burgos (2006 Royals)
18 for 30 in SVO, 5.60 ERA, 5.89 FIP
2. Jose Mesa (1999 Mariners)
33 for 38 in SVO, 4.98 ERA, 5.92 FIP
1. Shawn Chacon (2004 Rockies)
35 for 44 in SVO, 7.11 ERA, 6.57 FIP
I’m fully aware that a list of the worst people to ever do something doesn’t prove much, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Seven of the nine worst closers in baseball history got 30 saves during their worst season. That has to tell you something about how easy it is to accumulate saves.
Also of note: The worst closer on this list who only blew one save is Fernando Rodney of the 2009 Tigers. He was 37/38 despite a 4.40 ERA and 4.56 FIP. Ah, the good old days.