07/25/11 11:06 AM ET
Wilson has most close shaves for saves
Giants' finisher excels in situations with smallest margins for error
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
Saving GraceRating MLB closers on the degree of difficulty of their saves on a 5-3-1 basis
Of course, calling any save "easy" is like calling any doughnut low in calories; it just isn't. Yet saves' varying degrees of difficulty correspondingly differ in how they impact the closer and his team.A save is awarded, obviously, when closing out a game in which your team leads by no more than three runs. The specialized use of closers today -- that one, all-important, ninth inning -- could mean dealing with the potential tying run no closer than having him in the hole. Contrast that to a one-run vise, in which the tying run is always one swing away. "You've got to be a little tighter with your game," Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan said of one-run saves. "You can't just throw all fastballs right down the middle and hope they get out. You've got to be a little more careful." A three-run save opportunity, conversely, can be more psychologically daunting because of the risk and toll of blowing it. "Blowing a three-run lead is harder on the team," Street conceded. "They're saying, 'We had a three-run lead, we should've won that game.' Steeper letdown." For three decades, fans have had proliferating save numbers flying at them left and right. Rollie Fingers became the first 300-save man in 1982; before the end of this season, Jason Isringhausen and Francisco Rodriguez may swell that club's membership to 24. It is easy to be crunched by the numbers. That's where our ratings come in. The best, most even-keeled at their jobs don't pitch to the score. Trying to exploit the cushion of a three-run lead can invite disaster because, as Street said, "A bloop and a blast, and the cushion is gone. Things happen so quickly in this game." "You're so hyped up and adrenalized every time you go out there in a save situation that really you feel like one-run, two-run, three-run [lead] ... it's the same thing," Hanrahan said. "You're really going out there every time wanting to put up a '0,' so you go out there with that mentality. [In a one-run situation] you might not be so inclined to throw first-pitch fastballs and let them put the ball in play every time. "But even if you come in with a two-run lead and the first guy hits a homer, it's a one-run game." Closers feed on pressure. Their ineffectiveness pitching in non-save situations is a curious phenomenon. For some, is there an equivalent leniency when protecting a three-run lead? If so, do some managers actually feel more secure when waving for their closers in a one-run game? Colorado's Jim Tracy doesn't buy it, despite the tendency of some relievers to be unable to escape jams of their own making. "I'm still much more comfortable bringing a closer into a three-run game. There's more room for error," Tracy said. "Otherwise, you're one dislocated pitch from being tied. A three-run lead gives them a chance to make a boo-boo. It's good when you're allowed to make a mistake." The biggest mistake might be counting on that allowance. "The problem people have is thinking, 'This is not the pitch that decides the game.' One thing happens, and the next thing you know, it leads to something else," said Street, who scores an 84 with his 26 saves -- 20 points higher than Valverde with the same number of saves. "You have to feel the same emotion on every pitch, because you don't want the snowball to start rolling."