Monday, April 23, 2012

The Wetteland - Giving up Runs in a Save

In Sunday's Blue Jays-Royals game, Toronto led 5-2 in the bottom of the ninth. Jays closer Francisco Cordero gave up a run and put runners at the corners with one out.

With the tying run at first and the winning run at the plate in Brayan Pena, Cordero induced a 4-6-3 double play to end the game.

I thought, give Cordero a Wetteland.

Saves like that one remind me of John Wetteland, specifically Game Six of the 1996 World Series. I loved Wetteland, but watching him in the ninth was often a heart attack. If he came in with a three-run lead, he'd give up a run or two and put the tying and winning runners on base before slamming the door.

Like in Game Six. The New York Yankees led the Atlanta Braves three games to two and, with a 3-1 lead in the ninth inning, stood three outs away from the championship.

After putting up a zero in the seventh, young set-up man Mariano Rivera had just retired Chipper Jones, Fred McGriff and Javy Lopez down 1-2-3 in an eight-pitch eighth inning. Joe Torre turned to his closer Wetteland to finish the game.

Atlanta got one-out singles from Ryan Klesko and Terry Pendleton to get a rally started. That brought up pinch hitter Luis Polonia. Two nights earlier, he fouled off four 0-2 pitches from Wetteland before flying out to the warning track on a great catch by Paul O'Neill to end Game Five.

Polonia struck out swinging and the Braves were down to their last out. Marquis Grissom kept them alive with a single to score Klesko and cut the lead to 3-2. With the tying run in scoring position and the go-ahead run on first, it came down to diminutive second baseman Mark Lemke. A .246 career hitter, Lemke hit .272 in 62 postseason games, including a .286 lifetime mark in the World Series.

He worked the count full and hit a foul pop up by the Atlanta dugout on the third base side. Charlie Hayes reached over but couldn't quite get it, tumbling down the stairs for good measure. Hayes got another chance on the very next pitch and squeezed it for the clinching out.

Wetteland was dynamite in the series and was named Most Valuable Player. He saved the final four games as New York came back from 2-0 down to win.

But like I said, Wetteland in the ninth was often a roller-coaster of emotion. My memories were confirmed. Of his AL-leading 43 saves in 1996, he gave up one or two runs in nine of them, appropriately tied with Jose Mesa for the most in the majors.

I am now inventing a new statistic: The Wetteland. A pitcher records a Wetteland when he enters a game with a lead, gives up at least one run, yet hangs on to record the final out and pick up the save.

That got me thinking about which pitchers have the most games in which they gave up one or two runs and still recorded the save.

* Because of the quirks of the save rule, it's possible to come in with a lead of more than three and still record a save. I've limited the runs allowed to two max. to see who's entered in tight games, walked the tightrope, but still got the job done. It eliminates long relief saves when a guy pitches the last three innings of a blowout win and gets credit for a save.

Here's the top 20 for most saves of one or two runs allowed:

Trevor Hoffman 53
Mariano Rivera 48
Lee Smith 47
John Franco 45
John Wetteland 43
Jeff Reardon 43
Dan Quisenberry 42
Dennis Eckersley 41
Bruce Sutter 40
Troy Percival 40
Todd Jones 40
Robb Nen 39
Rod Beck 37
Gene Garber 36
Rick Aguilera 36
Hoyt Wilhelm 35
Randy Myers 35
Francisco Cordero 35
Jose Mesa 34
Roberto Hernandez 34

There's Wetteland in the fifth spot behind such luminaries as Hoffman and his successor Rivera. But is it fair to simply use the raw total to make this list? Of course Hoffman and Mo will lead the category because of their staggering number of saves overall.

Here's that same list but with now they're listed with their career save total and the percentage of those saves that were Wettelands:

Wettelands Career SV PCT
Dan Quisenberry 42 244 17.2
Gene Garber 36 218 16.5
Hoyt Wilhelm 35 227 15.4
Bruce Sutter 40 300 13.3
John Wetteland 43 330 13.0
Rod Beck 37 286 12.9
Todd Jones 40 319 12.5
Robb Nen 39 314 12.4
Jeff Reardon 43 367 11.7
Rick Aguilera 36 318 11.3
Troy Percival 40 358 11.2
Francisco Cordero 35 328 10.7
John Franco 45 424 10.6
Jose Mesa 34 321 10.6
Dennis Eckersley 41 390 10.5
Roberto Hernandez 34 326 10.4
Randy Myers 35 347 10.1
Lee Smith 47 478 9.8
Trevor Hoffman 53 601 8.8
Mariano Rivera 48 606 7.9

The top four on this list pitched in the early days of the "closer," often pitching two innings or more in finishing a game. The top four averaged 2.22 IP during these saves. Wetteland has the highest percentage among post-Eckersley, one-inning "modern" closers, working 48 innings in his 43 saves. Quisenberry, Garber, Wilhelm and Sutter averaged a 4.08 ERA in their Wettelands while Wetteland had a 9.38 ERA in his.

The average percentage among the top 20 is 11.84. I wanted to look further to find guys who strayed from that average on both sides. So I looked at my Wettelands leaderboard and compared it to the all-time saves leaderboard.

First up, closers who gave up runs in a very low percentage of their saves. These are the five who rank in the top 20 on the all-time saves list, but were way down on my list, indicating that they'd have a low %.

Wettelands Career SV PCT
Billy Wagner 32 422 7.6
Goose Gossage 26 310 8.4
Tom Henke 27 311 8.7
Rollie Fingers 33 341 9.7
Jeff Montgomery 32 304 10.5

Wagner even has a lower percentage than Rivera. Fingers and Gossage earn bonus points as well for being "old-school" closers who often worked in the eighth inning or earlier.

These three are in the 20th-40th group on the saves list and boast low percentages:

WettelandsCareer SVPCT

Doug Jones 23 303 7.6
Joe Nathan 18 265 6.8
Gregg Olson 15 217 6.9

Now for the reverse. Here are guys who I saw on my leaderboard but are out of the top 50 on the overall saves list.

Wettelands Career SV PCT
Danny Graves 33 182 18.1
Jeff Brantley 26 172 15.1
Antonio Alfonseca 24 129 18.6

Makes sense when you go back to Wetteland's nine Wettelands in 1996. Here are seven seasons to hit double digits in Wettelands:

Year/Team Wettelands
Antonio Alfonseca 2000 FLA 12
Rod Beck 1998 CHN 11
John Wetteland 1999 TEX 10
Brad Lidge 2009 PHI 10
Bobby Jenks 2006 CWS 10
Danny Graves 2004 CIN 10
Ron Davis 1982 MIN 10

Alfonseca, born with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, was dubbed "El Pulpo" (The Octopus). He led the majors in saves in 2000 with 45, despite a mediocre 4.24 ERA (104 ERA+). Graves, as I mentioned in my Sparky Lyle post, is the Wild Card-era leader in saves of six or more outs:

Danny Graves 22
Derek Lowe 21
Mel Rojas 17
Keith Foulke 16
Scott Williamson 13

Despite his propensity for Wettelands, Wetteland did have an excellent career. Here are the all-time ERA+ leaders among relievers (min. 700 IP):

Mariano Rivera 206
Billy Wagner 187
Tom Henke 157
Joe Nathan 151
John Wetteland 149
Troy Percival 147
Dan Quisenberry 147
Hoyt Wilhelm 147
Francisco Cordero 144
Mark Eichhorn 142

Yes, Rivera's is less than half of the league average for his entire career. Anyway, Wetteland finished in the league's top five in saves for nine consecutive seasons (1992-2000). He's got a ring and some World Series MVP hardware. He even got four Hall of Fame votes before falling off the ballot in 2006. His 330 career saves rank 11th on the all-time list, though any day now he'll be passed by Cordero, whose Wetteland on Sunday was his 328th career save.

Wetteland's saves were never boring and he added a new stat to the baseball lexicon, or at least the lexicon in one fan's head.

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