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Hoffman: 300 saves is like 3000 hits

Jan 12, 2011, 4:59 PM EDT

trevor hoffman padres

Trevor Hoffman is all over the news today, having given his farewell press conference and all of that stuff.  He was asked about the role of the closer today too, and to comment on what makes an elite one. His comments:

“The 300 (save) mark hasn’t been done by a lot of people,” says Hoffman, who retired Wednesday as the only man with twice that figure — plus one. Though Hoffman, 43, warned of the difficulty of comparing closers from different eras, he says, “The role probably isn’t going to get tweaked much more so 300 probably is a good number.”

Hoffman compared 300 saves — a number 21 pitchers have reached — to 300 victories and 3,000 hits.

I think this is less misguided due to the cutoff than it is due to the metric.

As far as cutoff goes, what else could Hoffman say?  If you say that 400 is some magic number you leave off Eckersley and Sutter and Rollie Fingers. Plus, you’re only saying that five guys are truly elite, as only he, Mariano Rivera, Lee Smith, John Franco and Billy Wagner are elite. Seems a bit, well, elitist. Truth is that there is no satisfying number.

The problem is saves themselves. We all know its limitations as a stat. It’s a function of opportunity and chance and manager’s whim, not true excellence. All of the big, globally-recognized stats have that problem. But saves are way worse in even roughly approximating greatness. Hits aren’t the be-all, end-all, of course, but are there any truly blah players who got 3000 of them?  Then realize that Francisco Cordero will join the 300 save club before the All-Star break next year. I don’t think anyone is comfortable including him in some best-of-the-best club.

Thankfully it seems that no one is all that impressed with save totals in and of themselves when it comes to assigning greatness to relief pitchers. John Franco just got next to no Hall of Fame support, after all. Still, I wonder if Hoffman’s comments won’t be thought of as instructive by anyone going forward.  Hope not.

  1. billtpa - Jan 12, 2011 at 5:07 PM

    He just meant in the sense that both are numbers. 300 saves is like 3000 hits, and like 12 watermelons, and like 99 red balloons.

  2. Panda Claus - Jan 12, 2011 at 5:12 PM

    Congrats on your 6000-hit career there Mr. Hoffman. That makes you sort of like Pete Rose and Tony Perez combined.

    • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Jan 12, 2011 at 5:33 PM

      Haha, I kind of see how Hoffman sees the 300 thing as a milestone, but that joke pretty much killed it.

  3. largebill - Jan 12, 2011 at 5:36 PM

    Look at the extremes of season performance and get a sense how many league leading type seasons is needed to reach the milestone. No one has led their league in saves with less than 40 in more than a decade. Conversely the league leader in hits is usually around 200. Obviously, it takes takes more near top level seasons to reach 3,000 hits than it takes to reach 300 saves. Or another way to look at it is in over 100 years 27 players have managed to accumulate 3,000 hits. In the 40 or so years since the save became a stat 21 pitchers have passed the 300 save threshold including Hoffman (and soon Rivera) doubling that number. One can argue for or against milestones showing a player as HoF worthy, but if used it should be difficult to reach.

  4. Ari Collins - Jan 13, 2011 at 1:26 AM

    The issue is that the save stat might have been invented a long time ago, but the one-inning closer is more recent. And one-inning closers get more saves than the “firemen” of old, even though they pitch fewer innings. 1000 hits would seem special if the hit statistic got invented a few decades ago and until a couple decades ago no one got more than 300 PAs in a season.

  5. Jonny 5 - Jan 13, 2011 at 8:37 AM

    300 saves is like 300 innings too. That’s like a season and a few months to starting pitchers. This is why I don’t like HOF talk revolving around closers. I’m hearing he’s a first ballot HOFer from some. I don’t really think so. A guy who only pitches 50 -60 innings per season really should have awesome numbers, which he did. But I expect it from a guy who can only go an inning or two. If he was a starter, there would be absolutely zip in terms of HOF talk.

    • Panda Claus - Jan 13, 2011 at 9:44 AM

      To address both Ari and Jonny5’s points, Hoffman threw just under 1100 career innings to earn his 601 saves. While that’s efficient and doesn’t really account for how many times he got up and down in the bullpen, it does show he took a somewhat shorter path to earn that lofty 600-save threshold.

      Recently elected HOF’er Bert Blyleven threw nearly 5000 innings to get his 287 wins. Overall he had 537 decisions (including his 250 losses), so he worked almost 10 innings for every decision. As a contrast, Hoffman worked less than 2 innings for each of his saves.

      Not slighting Hoffman, just more evidence how that 600-save plateau might not be as special as some people think.

  6. diamondduq - Jan 13, 2011 at 1:14 PM

    This is fairly simple. As Craig alluded to, the save number is all but irrelevant. It’s not at all a stat similar to 3000 hits or 300 wins, although sabermetricians hate those as well. When it comes to specialty positions, Closers and DHs mostly, it comes down to dominance.

    Does anyone know how many saves Mariano Rivera has off the top of their head? Someone probably does but no one cares. He’s the most dominant relief pitcher of all-time, you have to find a place in the HOF for a guy like that. What becomes difficult is that everyone wants to use numbers to compare everyone.

    Statistically Hoffman may end up appearing somewhat close to Rivera but he was never even close to as dominant, very few are, so his HOF case is far less certain than Rivera’s in my mind. Then again Blyleven got in as an accumulator so why wouldn’t Hoffman, even as a closer. This is a case where the stats fanatics miss the point. What is on your computer isn’t always what was happening on the field.

    I’m sure the regulars on HBT are sick of hearing this from me but get past the stats and start listing, as baseball observers rather than stats fanatics, the best hitters you’ve seen since 1990 regardless of position…I’m guess if you were honest with yourself it took you at least 25-30 names before you got to Edgar Martinez and yet people keeps spouting off that “he’s one of 6 to do this” and “one of 8 to do that” but how dominant was he? Maybe in your mind top 30 in 15 years is elite, maybe, but, again if you were honest with yourselves, look at the names you listed above him, there are at least 5-10 guys with no shot at the HOF.

    Now do the same with pitchers, regardless of their role, start listing the best pitchers since 1990…Rivera’s probably in your top 10, even as a closer, but you get to what, 50? 75?, before you reach Hoffman? Sure, it may be a fairly elementary take on HOF candidates but if you get down to it, the HOF is the best players in baseball and since you can’t compare eras because they’re so different, it’s the best players of an era, hence, start ranking the best players and see where people fall. A big Hall vs. small Hall cutoff will certainly be different but conceptually isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?

  7. juanpablogonzalez45 - Jan 14, 2011 at 9:19 AM

    Mariano Rivera will retire after he gets save #602. That will cheapen Hoffman’s record a bit, but he’s still going to be the 2nd greatest closer ever.

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