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What is a Blown Save?

Baseball Questions What is a Blown Save?

By Loot, MLB Handicapper,

Even a non-baseball fan can pretty much guess what a blown save is. It’s a newish-type statistic that our fathers probably heard very little about when they were young baseball fans. But it’s really one of the more, if not the most important statistic to use when analyzing the strength of a closer.

Other statistics are important too, like saves or ERA., but they can also be misleading. A closer can come into a game, blow the lead, and not see his ERA suffer because he inherited base runners. So his ERA can be low, but he’s not really doing his job--which is to convert save opportunities and extinguish late rallies.

With a stat like saves, there are many limitations. Noting how many saves a closer has might only blind us from how many times he blew it, hence the term “blown saves.” Nowadays, you see a lot more relief pitchers with big save totals and not all of them are rock-solid. If a closer has 40 saves, that’s impressive, but not if he blew 9 of them. You’d rather have a guy who saved 19 out of 20 games in there. So, looking at save totals proves that all that glitters isn’t gold.

So what is a blown save? At root, it is when a relief pitcher enters into a game in a position where he’s trying to save the game--but fails to do so. If the opposing team ties the game or goes ahead after a reliever inherited a lead, it is a blown save. Forget about what you know about ERA when dealing with blown saves. If a reliever is brought into the game with base-runners already aboard and one of them scores to tie the game--it is a blown save.


To understand a blown save, we should understand what constitutes a “save opportunity.” To record a save, a pitcher cannot be the pitcher of record, must throw at least a third of an inning, and must finish the game for his team. In addition, one of the following must apply--he throws at least a whole inning with his team leading by no more than 3 runs, he is brought in with the tying run on base, at bat, or on-deck, or he throws at least three innings. Throwing three innings is no longer customary of a closer in today’s age of very specialized relief pitching.

Just to put the statistic of blown saves into perspective, the record for the most consecutive saves without a blown one is an incredible 84 by Eric Gagne from 2002-04. That’s 30 more than the surprising 2nd place leader Tom “Flash” Gordon. It is astonishing that the two career leaders in blown saves--Goose Gossage and Rollie Fingers--are two of a tiny group on relief pitchers to ever be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

That sort of speaks to the limitation of relief pitcher statistics, which don’t always paint an accurate pitcher of reality. Remember--a pitcher can get a save in this business by throwing a wild pitch and having a runner thrown out to end the game. And a pitcher who comes in with a 4-run lead and loses the game in the ninth doesn’t get credited with a blown save. So this is a weird statistical area to begin with.

If a closer goes the whole season not blowing a single save, then he is in rarified air. Of course that only applies to full-time closers who are put in dozens of save situations over the season, not a guy who is 4 for 4 in save opportunities. A success rate of 90% or more is pretty darned good. That would mean a reliever is like 20-22 or 43-47. Closers putting up those kinds of stats are at the top of their profession.

If a guy is in the 80% range, he’s doing pretty well, for example, a closer who is like 29-34 or 17-21. Not bad. When the blown save ratio starts to near the low 80’s or below, it starts to get in an iffy zone.

Beyond percentages, are the sheer number of blown saves. There is a short leash on this stat. If a closer’s blown save totals are up there with the lead leader in triples, he’s in trouble. A few is okay. Several is tolerable if that closer is also saving a lot of games. Once you can’t count the blown saves with the fingers on one hand, it might be getting into that “we need to find a new closer” territory. The more a reliever approaches double-digits--the more dire the situation becomes.

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