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Saves Blown Saves and Holds: Evaluating Relief Pitcher Performance in Baseball

The world of baseball has its fair share of terminologies, some of which can be confusing for new fans. One such term is saves.

In baseball, a save refers to a relief pitcher who preserves a lead that his team has taken. The relief pitcher who earns a save is the last of the pitching staff to enter the game and must meet certain qualifications.

In this article, well dive into the definition of saves in baseball and how pitchers earn them. What are Saves in Baseball?

In baseball, the term “saves” is used to describe situations where a relief pitcher successfully preserves his team’s lead. Most often, these situations occur towards the end of the game.

Save is a statistic kept by baseball analysts and is one of the most crucial measures of a relief pitcher’s success. To earn a save, a relief pitcher must meet three primary qualifications:


The pitcher must enter the game with his team ahead by three runs or less, or with the tying run on-deck. 2.

The pitcher must pitch for at least one inning. 3.

The pitcher must not be the winning pitcher. If a relief pitcher fulfils these qualifications, he earns a save.

However, there are a few more qualifications to keep in mind.

Qualifications for Earning a Save

– Relief pitchers can earn a save in any of the following situations:

The pitcher enters the game in the ninth inning, with his team ahead by three runs or less. They must finish the game without relinquishing the lead.

The pitcher enters the game in any inning before the ninth, with his team ahead by three runs or less. They must finish the game without relinquishing the lead.

The pitcher enters the game with the potential tying or go-ahead run at the plate or on base, at any point in the game. They must keep the lead intact, and their team must win the game.

The pitcher enters the game with the bases loaded or no outs, in any situation that presents a high-leverage pitching opportunity. They must keep the lead intact, and their team must win the game.

In addition to these qualifications, pitchers who come in during extra innings and pitch at least three innings while preserving a lead also earn a save.

Rare Situations Where a Save Can Be Earned

In addition to situations already mentioned, a save can be earned under some rare circumstances. For instance, if a relief pitcher enters a game in the sixth or seventh inning with a lead greater than three runs and pitches through the last three innings of the game, they can earn both a win and a save.

Another situation where a save can be earned is when a starting pitcher cannot complete the game, and a relief pitcher comes in and preserves the lead for the remaining innings. In this case, the relief pitcher would receive a save in addition to the win that the starting pitcher earned.


Understanding saves in baseball is essential for fans who want to fully appreciate the skills of relief pitchers. The importance of a save cannot be overstated.

When a pitcher earns a save, it means that they’ve not only helped their team win the game, but they’ve entered when the stakes were high and delivered when it mattered most. It’s worth keeping in mind that, aside from closers, few relief pitchers get a chance to earn saves regularly.

However, their roles remain just as crucial to their team’s success. Baseball has seen significant changes in the role of relief pitchers over the years, leading to shifts in how saves are earned.

In this article, we’ll explore the frequency of saves in baseball and the history and evolution of the save rule.

Frequency of Saves in Baseball

In 2019, a total of 2,253 games ended with a save, which is roughly 35% of the games played that season. When we consider that there were 1,265 regular-season games played, that number is significant.

The save percentage for 2019 is only marginally lower than the historical average of 40%, which shows that it is still a significant statistic in baseball. Historically, save rates have increased since the 1990s, coinciding with a trend of decreased usage of starting pitchers, leading to an increased reliance on relief pitching.

Saves in the 1990s averaged at around 36%, substantially lower than the present rate. The rise of the “one-inning closer” is one such indication of the importance of relief pitchers and saves in modern baseball.

History and Evolution of Saves

The save statistic was not officially defined until the 1960s. Jerome Holtzman, a Chicago baseball writer for the Chicago Sun, created the save rule in the early 1950s.

He proposed a definition of a relief pitcher “being credited with a save when he finishes a game won by his club.” Holtzman came up with the criteria that a pitcher had to maintain a lead of less than three runs when entering the game, or the potential tying run had to be on base or at the plate. The save wasn’t an official statistic until 1969, when it became one of the record-keeping stats by the league.

However, there was one significant aspect that made the retroactive tabulation of saves increasingly difficult. The official save rules are far more stringent than what Holtzman proposed in the 1950s.

This made tabulating saves before 1969 more nuanced, as there were no set criteria before the league started officially recognizing the save. The “one-inning closer” became a dominant figure in baseball save rules in 1977 when Bruce Sutter recorded 31 saves, pitching only for 101 innings.

Sutter is credited with perfecting the splitter pitch, which made him a formidable weapon in short appearances. The trend for closers expanded in the 1980s when it became common for closers to throw flame-out pitches in their one-inning appearances.

The 1990s saw an expansion of the one-inning closer’s role, most notably with LA Dodgers’ manager Tommy Lasorda’s creation of the “three-inning save.” The idea behind this plan was to grant starting pitchers one more day off and to use relief pitchers for the save. In present-day baseball, we see this extended usage through the use of one-inning closers and multi-inning closers, where the closer enters in the seventh or eighth inning of a game and pitches until the end.


Saves in baseball are a measure of a pitcher’s ability to close out games successfully, and it is a crucial statistic that helps teams assess their relief pitchers’ performance. Relief pitching has seen significant changes in the last few decades, leading to an expansive role for closers in baseball.

It is safe to say that the definition of a save has evolved with the times, and it will likely continue to change to reflect the trends in baseball as the sport progresses. Saves are one of the most important metrics for evaluating a relief pitcher’s success in baseball, but they aren’t the only ones.

We’ll cover two other essential statistics: blown saves and holds.

Definition and Circumstances of a Blown Save

A blown save happens when a relief pitcher enters a save situation and allows the go-ahead run to cross the plate. The conditions for a blown save are the same as those for a save situation.

Blown saves impact a pitcher’s record negatively, as they signify the inability to close out a game. Blown saves can impact a team negatively, too.

A reliever is expected to preserve the lead and protect their team’s efforts. When a relief pitcher fails to convert a save, it usually extends the game’s playing time and gives the opposing team time to catch up or even take the lead.

Definition and Importance of a Hold

Holds are another vital statistic for evaluating relief pitcher performance. A hold occurs when a relief pitcher enters a save situation with a slim lead, generally in the seventh or eighth inning, and keeps the lead intact.

The hold stat was created to recognize the contributions of middle relievers and set-up men, who play critical roles in protecting leads. Unlike saves and blown saves, holds have no specific criteria, which may lead to some confusion.

For instance, a reliever can come in the game with a significant lead and record a hold, while another reliever could protect a slim lead, but wouldn’t be eligible for a hold unless the save situation criteria are met. Nonetheless, in evaluating a relief pitcher’s performance, holds are considered an essential metric.

Records for Saves, Blown Saves, and Holds

Many pitchers have set records for saves, blown saves, and holds. One such remarkable record is the 652 saves that Mariano Rivera recorded in his career.

He is widely regarded as the greatest closer of all time, and his reliability on the mound was incomparable. Rivera also achieved the MLB record of 9 saves in postseason play.

Additionally, his 42 postseason saves are more than double the amount of the next closest closer in history. Blown saves are posited to be a pitchers hiccups in the performance, but some pitchers hold records in this category too.

Lee Smith recorded 74 blown saves in his career, the most of any relief pitcher in history. When it comes to holds, Arthur Rhodes holds the MLB record with 231, having played for ten different teams during his 20-year career.

On the other hand, Paul Quantrill broke the record for holds in a season with 43 for the Boston Red Sox in 2005. It’s essential to keep in mind that while records are noteworthy, they aren’t the only metric for evaluating a player’s performance.

A baseball game’s complexity means that there will always be room for error and inconsistency, even for the most successful players.


Saves and blown saves are relevant metrics for evaluating reliever performances in baseball. However, holds also play a crucial role in assessing the contributions of middle relievers and set-up men.

The records set by pitchers in these categories should be considered along with other context and metrics. While it’s possible for a statistic to represent success, a full evaluation of a player’s performance must consider their contributions, prowess, and strategic decisions made by the managers.

This article discussed the importance of saves, blown saves, and holds as key metrics for evaluating relief pitcher performances in baseball. We explored the definitions, circumstances, and records associated with these metrics.

While records such as Mariano Rivera’s 652 saves are noteworthy, a full evaluation of a player’s performance must consider various factors such as contributions, prowess, and strategic decisions made by the managers. At the heart of it, these statistics provide valuable insights into a team’s success on the field and the relative importance of relief pitching in modern baseball.


Q: What is a save in baseball? A: A save is a statistic for a relief pitcher who successfully preserves a lead that his team has taken, meeting specific qualifications.

Q: What is a blown save in baseball? A: A blown save happens when a relief pitcher enters the game with a save situation and allows the go-ahead run to score.

Q: What is a hold in baseball? A: A hold is a statistic that recognizes the contributions of middle relievers and set-up men who enter the game with a slim lead in the seventh or eighth inning and maintain that lead.

Q: Who holds the record for most saves in baseball? A: Mariano Rivera holds the record for the most saves in baseball history with 652.

Q: Is the save the only metric for evaluating relief pitcher performance in baseball? A: While saves are crucial, evaluating a relief pitcher’s performance should consider other factors such as contributions, prowess, and strategic decisions made by managers.

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