#Hot Corner

Don't blame Jerome Holtzman

Joe Nathan, the newest Tiger - Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Keith Law on the signing of Joe Nathan (sub. req'd):

[Nathan is] a traditional, one-inning, break-glass-only-in-case-of-save-situation closer, the kind of player usage foisted on us by a stupid stat invented by a writer decades ago. I hope Nathan sends Jerome Holtzman's heirs a fruit basket.

I generally agree with Keith Law about most things (except food; his review of KFC's Famous Bowl was biased and riddled with errors) but I think he's wrong about the save. Or rather, it's not Jerome Holtzman's fault that his invention -- which was an honest attempt to give credit to relief pitchers -- was twisted into what it's become, which is a way for managers to deploy their relievers such that they don't have to think or make decisions. The save statistic is baseball's version of the observer effect: The very act of measuring relievers has changed the way they're utilized. Blaming Holtzman for that is like blaming Kurt Cobain for Nickelback or George Lucas for Dune. The eugenicists of the early 20th century were deeply influenced by evolutionary theory. That's not Darwin's fault.

Here's the save rule:

The official scorer shall credit a pitcher with a save when such pitcher meets all four of the following conditions:

(1) He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his team;
(2) He is not the winning pitcher;
(3) He is credited with at least a third of an inning pitched; and
(4) He satisfies one of the following conditions:
-- a. He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning;
-- b. He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, or at bat or on deck (that is, the potential tying run is either already on base or is one of the first two batters he faces); or
-- c. He pitches for at least three innings.

Sometimes I wish we could tweak the rule, maybe change the three-run lead provision to two runs, or eliminate the requirement that the tying run be on deck, which can lead to a save being given to a pitcher for protecting a five-run lead. But that ship sailed a long time ago, and any change to the existing rule would probably lead to more unintended consequences, even worse than what we have now. If we adopted one of the above changes, I have no doubt that Craig Kimbrel would pitch about 30 innings next season.

Anyway, I just wanted to point out that Jerome Holtzman was good in the beginning, but he went too far. No, that's not what I'm saying! I'm saying if you're looking for someone to blame for the fiasco that is modern bullpen management, don't blame Jerome Holtzman.

It's really Tony La Russa's fault.

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