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Closer Rankings: Runs scored or runs allowed?

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There are multiple routes to winning a lot of baseball games, but does one offer a better chance at saves?

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Two teams won exactly 90 games last year — the Tigers and the Cardinals. They arrived at their records, though, in very different ways. The Tigers scored 757 runs, good for the second-highest total in baseball. The Cardinals, meanwhile, scored only 619, tied with the Phillies for 23rd. For all intents and purposes, the Tigers scored one run a game more than the Cardinals in 2014.

Of course, to balance out runs scored, you have to look at runs allowed, and that goes a long way to answering the differences. The Cardinals gave up 603 runs, seventh-lowest in MLB, while the Tigers allowed 705, ninth-worst and easily the worst among the playoff teams.

Interestingly for our purposes, the Cardinals finished third in the league in save opportunities last year — including opportunities given to guys not named Trevor Rosenthal — while the Tigers were in the bottom 10 in the league.

It got me wondering if that was typical. Do low-scoring, low-allowing teams give their pitchers more save opportunities than the opposite? After all, the fewer runs you score and/or allow, the fewer blowouts you'll be involved in, one way or another. I would think it stands to reason that such teams would find themselves involved in more save opportunities than teams that win a bunch of games by 8 and 10 runs.

Now, the problem inherent in any such look is that the existence of a save opportunity is often contingent on the ability of the guy who would get that save opportunity. For example, imagine you're Don Mattingly, and Zack Greinke has gone 8 innings in a 3-1 game against the Padres. Now, in the eighth he gave up a hit, and had to go to a three-ball count on a couple other batters. He's tiring, but a complete game would be fun.

If that situation comes up this month, and Mattingly choice is a tiring Greinke or a rested Joel Peralta or Chris Hatcher? Eh, Greinke might be your best bet. But in a month and change, when the regular closer is back and healthy? Mattingly is going to Kenley Jansen 10 times out of 10. In other words, the better the closer, the more likely he is to get a save opportunity, all other things being equal.

So this isn't perfect. I do think it's interesting, though. I noted the top 10 and bottom 10 teams in total save opportunities each of the last five years, and checked where they ranked in runs scored, runs allowed and run differential. I did the same for the top five. Here were the results:

Runs scored average rank Runs allowed average rank Run differential average rank
Top 10 in Save Ops. 14.7 12.5 13
Bottom 10 in Save Ops. 16.9 18.8 18.7
Top 5 in Save Ops. 13.8 11 11.2
Bottom 5 in Save Ops. 18.2 20.6 20.8

Conclusions? Well, you can't say anything with 100-percent certainty, but there are some takeaways. In every instance, the teams with a lot of save opportunities bested the ones with not many (and my own charting experience backs this up, as I had to scroll way down every time I switched from the teams with the most save chances to the ones with the fewest). Also, it appears that runs allowed are a slightly more important variable in this equation than runs scored. In general, the teams with the most runs scored averaged a much more middling number of save opportunities, while the ones with the fewest runs allowed pushed a bit more toward the extremes.

It's not conclusive by any means. There are far more variables at play than just that. One-run games. Quality of non-rotation starters. Managerial ability. All sorts of things. But I found this one interesting. More in the weeks to come.

Which brings us to this week's closer rankings. Remember, there are two lists — one for right now, and one for the rest of the season. I'm not going to come up with a new "thought" for each closer, for the simple reason that some of the thoughts get tedious and ultimately uninformative, but when I have relevant thoughts, I'll still offer them.

Right-Now Rankings

Rank Team Player Last Week Thoughts
1 Aroldis Chapman CIN 1
2 Craig Kimbrel SDP 2 Y'all couldn't have made that trade before last week's rankings?
3 Greg Holland KCR 3
4 Mark Melancon PIT 7
5 Drew Storen WAS 5
6 Trevor Rosenthal SLC 9
7 David Robertson CWS 6 Might be a spot higher, but the White Sox play only five games this week compared to St. Louis' seven.
8 Steve Cishek MIA 4 A small reaction to last week's struggles. Still think he'll be fine in the long run.
9 Huston Street LAA 10
10 Joakim Soria DET NR Has the job for now. And it's not like the Tigers have much reason to expect Joe Nathan to be elite upon his return.
11 Glen Perkins MIN 8
12 Zach Britton BAL 15
13 Brad Boxberger TBR 16
14 Cody Allen CLE 11
15 Miguel Castro TOR NR The entire rigamarole surrounding him getting the job confuses me.
16 Jonathan Papelbon PHI 14
17 Hector Rondon CHC 21
18 Joel Peralta LAD NR Pretty clearly overtook Chris Hatcher, with a quickness.
19 Jason Grilli ATL NR He looks far better than the guy who lost his job in Pittsburgh last year.
20 Koji Uehara BOS NR Could be back as early as Monday.
21 Santiago Casilla SFG 22
22 Luke Gregerson HOU 20
23 Fernando Rodney SEA 17
24 Andrew Miller NYY 23
25 Francisco Rodriguez MIL 26
26 Addison Reed ARI 29
27 Neftali Feliz TEX 27 As a Rangers fan, I haven't exactly felt a lot of confidence so far.
28 Dellin Betances NYY 19
29 Tyler Clippard OAK 18
30 Edward Mujica BOS 28 They might ease Uehara back into full use.

Rest-Of-Season Rankings

Rank Player Team Last Week Thoughts
1 Aroldis Chapman CIN 1
2 Craig Kimbrel SDP 2
3 Greg Holland KCR 3
4 Drew Storen WAS 4 He's better in the long run than right now, as the Washington offense will only get better as they get healthier, giving him more save chances.
5 Mark Melancon PIT 6
6 David Robertson CWS 9
7 Trevor Rosenthal SLC 7
8 Kenley Jansen LAD 8 I expect him to be just as good as always when he makes it back.
9 Huston Street LAA 10
10 Steve Cishek MIA 5
11 Glen Perkins MIN 11
12 Zach Britton BAL 14
13 Jonathan Papelbon PHI 18
14 Cody Allen CLE 12
15 Koji Uehara BOS 16
16 Hector Rondon CHC 21
17 Luke Gregerson HOU 23
18 Santiago Casilla SFG 24
19 Fernando Rodney SEA 19
20 Jason Grilli ATL NR
21 Miguel Castro TOR NR He has the job for now. But Brett Cecil will still be heard from.
22 Sean Doolittle OAK 20
23 Joakim Soria DET NR If Soria crushes it, maybe he keeps the job. But Joe Nathan isn't going anywhere just yet.
24 Francisco Rodriguez MIL 26
25 Neftali Feliz TEX 27
26 Joe Nathan DET 25
27 Andrew Miller NYY NR Look, best guess here. Miller currently looks like he'll get more save chances than the alternative.
28 Brad Boxberger TBR NR Starting to think maybe he keeps the job even when Jake McGee is back.
29 Dellin Betances NYY 15
30 Adam Ottavino COL NR It might take some time, but I fully expect him to supplant LaTroy Hawkins