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.
|2||Craig Kimbrel||SDP||2||Y'all couldn't have made that trade before last week's rankings?|
|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.|
|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.|
|15||Miguel Castro||TOR||NR||The entire rigamarole surrounding him getting the job confuses me.|
|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.|
|27||Neftali Feliz||TEX||27||As a Rangers fan, I haven't exactly felt a lot of confidence so far.|
|30||Edward Mujica||BOS||28||They might ease Uehara back into full use.|
|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.|
|8||Kenley Jansen||LAD||8||I expect him to be just as good as always when he makes it back.|
|21||Miguel Castro||TOR||NR||He has the job for now. But Brett Cecil will still be heard from.|
|23||Joakim Soria||DET||NR||If Soria crushes it, maybe he keeps the job. But Joe Nathan isn't going anywhere just yet.|
|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.|
|30||Adam Ottavino||COL||NR||It might take some time, but I fully expect him to supplant LaTroy Hawkins|