May 1st, 2002
Trevor Hoffman Records Save
I've written about closers before, mostly unkindly. I stand by that assessment, but it is worth taking the time to praise the truly great ones. Trevor Hoffman's save on this date was his 321st, giving him the all-time Padres record, and more importantly, the record for saves with a single team, surpassing the 320 Dennis Eckerlsey recorded for the Oakland A's. All-time team saves are a funny category, in part because of how the statistic came into existence, the list is virtually always dominated by modern players, and furthermore, one only needs a handful of saves to rank fairly high on some lists. On the Padres list for example, Hoffman rank first, having boosted his total to (as of today) 395. Second is Rollie Fingers, with 108, a total which by the end of this season will likely not represent a fifth of Hoffman's total. But as you go farther down the list, it becomes clear what I meant about low totals representing high spots. Rod Beck, who pitched just one year for the Padres, filling in when Hoffman was injured, has just twenty saves and is eleventh all time. Jesse Orosco spent three years in Milwaukee plying his unique trade and racked up just nine saves, but is nevertheless in the Brewer all-time top 25 for saves. The Brewers' all-time save leader is the terribly unremarkable Dan Plesac, who hasn't pitched for them since 1992, which tells you more about the Brewers and their victory totals than it does about closers.
Plesac actually represents an exception; excluding the recently relocated Nationals, only the Indians (Doug Jones), Pirates (Roy Face) and Tigers (Mike Henneman) have a saves leader who would prompt their fans to say "Really? Him?" although the Braves were only saved from this fate by John Smoltz's closing days, which knocked Gene Garber off the top spot.
Closers are overvalued, but the really good ones--and not every team leader necessarily qualifies for that--are often worth their value, a point I fear I wasn't sufficiently clear about in the past.