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Saves > 55% Of Games Pitched

Posted by Steve Lombardi on September 14, 2011

Of all the pitchers with at least 3 career saves, which pitcher's career save totals are greater than 55% of their games pitched?

Here is the list -

1 Trevor Hoffman 601 1035 1993 2010 25-42 0 0 0 856 61 75 .449 1089.1 846 378 347 307 1133 2.87 141 100 4388 58 9 0 49 TOT-SDP-MIL
2 Mariano Rivera 600 1037 1995 2011 25-41 10 0 0 879 75 57 .568 1207.0 933 322 298 274 1106 2.22 205 65 4800 35 45 3 13 NYY
3 Jonathan Papelbon 217 390 2005 2011 24-30 3 0 0 330 23 18 .561 422.2 314 122 107 115 497 2.28 201 31 1701 10 17 0 10 BOS
4 Kazuhiro Sasaki 129 228 2000 2003 32-35 0 0 0 201 7 16 .304 223.1 165 90 78 77 242 3.14 138 24 925 13 9 0 15 SEA
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/14/2011.

Surprised there's not more names on this one?

46 Responses to “Saves > 55% Of Games Pitched”

  1. Mike L Says:

    It makes sense. You have earn the closer early enough in your career so your hurdle to get to 55% isn't that high, retain the job, and, ideally, go well into your career to the point where your effectiveness is high, but your manager wants to preserve you for only save situations. The last 13 years of Hoffman's career, he never pitched more than 73 innings. Mariano hasn't been above 80 for the last ten years. Special kind of pitchers.

  2. Library Dave Says:

    If you take away Dennis Eckersley's career as a starter, he finished with saves in 54.9% of his relief appearances. Almost, but not quite enough to make this list.

  3. Tmckelv Says:

    @2 regarding Eck,

    If you start in 1987 through the end of Eckersley's career (his "reliever" years), as opposed to including his relief appearances from his "starter" years, you get 387 saves in 695 games for a 55.7%.

  4. Tmckelv Says:

    I am sure Hoffman is pleased that it will take Mariano more games (1038+) to reach 601 saves than it took Trevor to reach 601 (1035).

    It is remarkable how close the GP is for those 2 guys.

  5. mflournoy Says:

    The two whose absences surprised me were Billy Wagner and Huston Street.

  6. Charles Says:

    John Smoltz % was higher than all 4 on your list 154/242. 64% in his relief efforts. He started 481 games.

  7. Brent Says:

    Joakim Soria surprises me since he has been a closer starting in his rookie year and sure enough, he would have been on the list prior to this year (132 for 238, 55.5%), but his unsually bad year with 7 blown saves out of 35 chances has knocked him down to 53.7%.. If he had his previous save percentage of 90+%, he would have 32 saves and with 4 more saves this year, you would be right at 55%

  8. Charles Says:

    If you look at players 25 to 35 with at least 100 saves, you get 9 players above 55% saves/games in relief.

  9. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    Wilhelm was the one whose absence surprised me the most. for that era, he was primarily a reliever most of his career, and that screwy knckler of his was tough to touch. Had it been easier to catch, he might just have made it.

  10. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Wilhelm of course wasn't a "closer," so he wasn't used in a way to maximize his save opportunities. His save total was huge for the time but he's nowhere close to 55%.

  11. aweb Says:

    I had no idea that Papelbon had been that good. Not so much the saves, but a 201 ERA+, next to Rivera, is impressive at any point in a career.

    All the guys here are 1 teams guys (Hoffman's last few years aside). Free agent closers just don't ever seem to work out for new teams.

  12. Brett Says:

    Odd that this strikes me: check out the inverse correlation between HBP and WP for both of the 600 save guys. Interesting.

  13. kds Says:

    From 1997, when he became the closer, to the present, Rivera is over 60% saves/games. Wilhelm was used in a very different way than modern closers, giving him many more relief wins and fewer saves.

  14. Charles Says:

    Wilhelm was a reliever in 1018 Games.

    687 were non-Save situations, where he got 6 saves
    He had 331 save situations, he finished 248 games and received 217 saves. His own W/L was 18-26 in those game

    Maybe with his knuckler, they generally didn't use him in save situations. The year he earned his most saves, 1964, it was 42 to 31 non-save vs save situations. He still pitched 31/61 team save situations. He was never above 50% in a single year in saves/games.

  15. Chris Says:

    I'm a bit surprised the list is as short as it is, since it seems like closers nowadays are being used in situations specifically to rack up saves.

  16. Charles Says:



    Apparently when Mariano throws a WP the batter gets in the way.
    Even though he's faced nearly an equal number of LHB and RHB its 33 to 12 hitting RHB vs LHB

  17. Brett Says:

    @16 - Good point. It's always seemed to me that Mo would plunk people for situational purposes (ie, an intentional walk, which he has very few of) and that it was usually deliberate.

  18. Charles Says:


    With 9 pitcher's over 100 saves from ages 25 to 35 with at least 55%, it's easy to see that if they had a year or two early in their career or a year or two at the end when they were not closers, they could fall below 55%.

    Hoffman was 30/182 his first few years, but overall above 60% the rest of his career.

    Brin Wilson is 162/256 his last 4 years, over 60%, but he was 7/55 his first two.

    Francisco Rodriguez 14/133 first 3 seasons, 277/465 since then.

  19. Detroit Michael Says:

    That's a surprisingly short list and Papelbon might drop off of it. Given guys who become closers quickly -- Andrew Bailey, Craig Kimbrel, Neftali Feliz, Drew Storen, Joaquin Soria (mentioned earlier) -- still have enough pre-closer games to drag them down or they don't play for good enough teams to clear the 55% bar to make up for when they were still gaining the closing roles.

  20. Charles Says:


    Good point. I wonder how often he hit a batter with first base open and a runner on 2nd or 3rd in a tie game.

  21. Charles Says:

    I checked the last 5 years. There are 8 pitchers who earned saves in at least 55% of the games in relief over the 5 years (minimum 50 saves). There have been 31 pitchers to do it at least one year in the last 5(minimum 10 saves).

  22. Spartan Bill Says:

    had you decided to round upwards, Jonathan Walden with 30 saves in 55 games would have made your list. his percentage is 54.545454.

    If he gets a save in his next outing, he qualifies.

  23. Charles Says:

    Jordan Walden pitched in the AS game after only 53 ML games. On July 7, he was selected as an injury replacement for Rivera for the July 12. He did not pitch well.

  24. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Maybe with his knuckler, they generally didn't use [Wilhelm] in save situations.

    No. He *was* used in save situations. He became the all-time saves leader in his 13th season. He was the first to reach 200 saves. His career record wasn't broken until 7 years after he retired. But he wasn't used only in save situations, because they weren't thought of as save situations. There was no such thing as a "closer." He might come in in the 6th inning. He might come in in the 3rd. There were no relief roles.

    In 1952, his rookie season, he led the league in ERA despite never starting a game. The bullpen consisted of Wilhelm, whichever starters had had some rest, and a bunch of bums. That's what most pens were like at the time. Wilhelm led that team with 11 saves (3rd in the league). He also entered 12 games before the 5th inning. It was just a completely different job than anything that exists now.

  25. Doug Says:


    "I am sure Hoffman is pleased that it will take Mariano more games (1038+) to reach 601 saves than it took Trevor to reach 601 (1035)."

    A nit, but if you take away Mariano's 10 career starts (Hoffman had zero), then Mariano "wins".

    Regardless, as you say, quite remarkable they've arrived at the same place in essentially the same number of games.

  26. Steve Says:

    Why does Rick Ankiel have an Amish beard?Leadoff and 2 hitters for the Nats?OBP of .290 and .306,and they both reach base in the top of the 1st.Sigh.

  27. Charles Says:


    OK, Twisto You got me. I wasn't 100% clear based on the fact that only about 1/3 of his games non-save situations.

    "Maybe with his knuckler, they didn't use him PRIMARILY in save situations"

    The first thing I noticed about Hoyt Wilhelm when I saw his baseball card in 1970 and all the yearly stats was the ERA. All those years under 2.00 in the 60s. And, as I remember and I just checked it at this site, he had the lowest ERA in the majors going into the 1970 season.

    The knuckleball pitch is a great weapon if the pitcher can use it properly, which Wilhelm did. Few can pitch it well and few will even try. It's easy on the arm. Wilhelm was used in many ways that would never have gotten him a save, often entering the game very early as you already know.

    Not only did he not get 55% in his career, he never even reached 50% in a single year. You know this, I know this and we both know why.

    "He (Hoyt Wilhelm) had the best knuckleball you'd ever want to see. He knew where it was going when he threw it, but when he got two strikes on you, he'd break out one that even he didn't know where it was going." - Brooks Robinson

  28. Charles Says:

    I will be away from my computer for about a week. Enjoy the baseball season everyone. Hope your teams do well unless they play mine.

  29. Johnny Twisto Says:

    It is worth considering, as bullpen roles slowly became more specialized later in Wilhelm's career, whether there were times his managers went to another pitcher instead because they were worried about the knuckler getting away. I doubt it was often, because Wilhelm was so effective and did get a lot of saves for his time, but it's possible it occurred when certain catchers were in, runners were on 3rd. It would be a tough thing to tell from the records but maybe I'll put it on my long list of things to look into that I'll never do.

    If there were quotes from his managers to that effect, it would be interesting. But I doubt they were ever quite so honest.


    Charles, which is your team?

  30. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    Among the "what-ifs" -- like Wilhelm, whom I mentioned earlier -- would be people like Clay Carroll, Wilcy Moore {a distant cousin of mine} and Mike Marshall as well. I wonder also if there is some sort of adjustable stat to accomodate the strategic changes that have transpired in the years since Ruth redefined baseball strategies.

    I have been watching baseball for a majority of those years {I saw my first game at Crosley in 1941}, and I often hear that the players were better in "the good old days"; but when I point out how measurable records {i.e., track times, etc.} all favor modern athletes, I usually get grudging agreements from the greybeards like me {albeit with an occaisional dirty look or extended middle finger}.

  31. Johnny Twisto Says:

    when I point out how measurable records {i.e., track times, etc.} all favor modern athletes, I usually get grudging agreements from the greybeards like me {albeit with an occaisional dirty look or extended middle finger}.

    Ha! Frank, your contributions here are always great. Always interesting to get a perspective from way back when.

    Here's something I wonder. In the '40s and '50s, it seems bullpens were mostly afterthoughts, though there were the occasional relief specialists (e.g. Johnny Murphy, Joe Page...). Did teams worry about their bullpens at all, like they do now? When do you remember the Reds beat writers or TV/radio broadcasters first expressing concern (or excitement) over the state of the Cincy bullpen/relief corps (independent from the pitching staff as a whole)?? Obviously there were a lot of guys who both started and relieved, but most did more of one than the other.

  32. The Chief (tm) Says:

    Seeing as how opinions vary on the "meaningfulness" of the save stat, has anyone ever tried to use PI to come up with something more of a "quality save" measure? Not being a subscriber, I realize that it might be a pain. But can you filter out some of the noise, and see about situations when relievers were credited with saves only when they did, in fact, *face* the tying run, or mebbe even enter the game with the tying run on base? Do any of the historic rankings (season, or career) change dramatically?

  33. Doug Says:


    When did relief pitchers cease to be an afterthought?

    I ran a query of pitchers by year that met these criteria:
    - 50+ IP, and 5 or more Games Finished
    - Games Finished > 5 * Games Started

    Starting in 1919 with one matching pitcher, the number has grown steadily, and remarkably consistently, ever since. Normalized for numbers of teams, here is the progression:
    - less than 1 pitcher per team: 1919-1946
    - over 1, but under 2 pitchers per team: 1947-1960
    - over 2, but under 3 pitchers per team: 1961-1982
    - over 3, but under 3.75 pitchers per team: 1983-1993
    - 3.75 to 4.5 pitchers per team: 1996-2010

    Only exceptions to above were strike-shortened seasons in 1994 and 1995 (1981 just managed to stay in the pattern range at 2.04). For 2011, we currently stand at 3.47 pitchers per team, but there are currently 26 otherwise qualifying pitchers between 45 and 50 innings, so I'm guessing this season will be like recent ones with a final number around 4.

    So, when did relievers start to become more than an afterthought. My sense would be in the 60s and especially the 70s. Once you have a couple of guys who are closing out games somewhat regularly, you have to start paying attention - it's become a significant part of your staff and is more than just a mop-up job in blowout games.

  34. Brett E Says:

    The save statistic was not invented until 1960 and did not become an official statistic until 1969. Since Wilhelm has saves beginning in 1952 (his first season), I am curious about a couple things...

    1. How far back in time were saves credited retroactively?
    2. When did this process occur?
    3. What criteria for saves were used?
    4. Did players get retroactive saves between 1969 and 1974 (and other years) when saves were official but were awarded under a more stringent criteria?

    I was surprised not to see K-Rod, Feliz, Billy Wagner, and Robb Nenn on this list. On the other hand, if I knew there were only 4, I would have guessed the first two obviously and then possibly Papelbon (He was the 4th or 5th player I thought of).

    I wonder: Does Kaz qualify if you include his Japanese games?

  35. groundball Says:


    Well, I believe in his later years his top bullpen mate was Wilbur Wood who also threw a knuckler. But, I dont think the save was an official stat (or one thought much of) till late in his career. (I dont remember the exact year)

  36. groundball Says:

    1969, Iwould have seen if more patient

  37. Nash Bruce Says:

    @32: I think that another cool stat would be IRA- Inherited Run Average. I'm sure that some manner of sabermetric measurement covers the dynamic of relievers allowing inherited runners to score- but, for the casual fan, this stat might work.
    Essentially, the idea of assigning bases value (if I am not stating that too awkwardly) is borrowed from SLG%- If a reliever comes in, with a runner on third base, and the runner scores, then add .25 to their ER total. If an inherited runner scores from second, then add .5. First, add .75. Then, (in the same manner as one would compute ERA) multiply this total by 9, and divide by IP.

    I don't even know, maybe this is being done already, somewhere, on a large scale- if so, sorry to take up everyone's time!! But, I do know, that during my Strat-O-Matic days, this was an effective stat, to ferret out bad relievers, who had a decent (conventional) ERA, despite (what was only starting to be known at the time as) a poor WHIP.

  38. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    Johnny Twisto {31}

    It seems to me that before the mid-Fifties, the bullpen consisted primarily of either fringe players, or old men trying to hang on just a little longer. In fact, other than Moore [who started some as well} the first pitchers used primarily as relievers that made anyone sit up and take notice were Jim Konstanty of the Phillies amd, of course, Hoyt Wilhelm. There were a few that had some decent years out of the 'pen, like Joe Beggs in 1940; but they were inevitably what would be called slash men -- starter/relievers.

    Nash Bruce {37}

    I also think that a stat like IRP {Inherited Runs Prevented} would be enlightening, maybe calculating on the position of the runners {the old "one point for a runner on first, two for a runner on second", etc., but also taking account the WHIP of the batters they face.

  39. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    One other thought:

    The way he used his bullpen {he was a forerunner of the modern strategies} is what earned Sparky Anderson his most familiar moniker -- Captain Hook. And, I believe, it was his success with this strategy that really opened the door for success stories like Sutter, Lee Smith ... the list goes on for a while.

  40. MLS Says:

    @ Twisto..You are spot on about the catchers role concerning Wilhelm. Wilhelm's knuckler was a great pitch but many of his catchers were baffled by it as the hitters were.

    As far as what the relievers "role" was in the early yrs, they were used as "stoppers". They stopped the bleeding before the game was out of hand, regardless of what inning it was. The managers had the mindset that the 9th inning wasn't the only inning the game could be won or lost. To me, unless you have a Rivera, Hoffman, Sutter, ect, that's probably the best philosophy even today.

  41. Merlin Says:

    I wondered why 55% and not 50% or 60%. The 60 answer is easy, there isn't anyone. But the rest ??? Anyway every 1% is change between 53-59 changes the list. (55 -54) makes the number to 6, oddly both Brian/Bryan's - Brian Wilson and Byan Harvey. Another 1% (54-53) makes it 9 - Wettland, Soria and Axford. At 56 you lose Papelbon,, 57 Sasaki and at 58 Rivera while Hoffman vanishes at 59.
    Means nothing of course so why does it fascinate me .... Okay off to see my shrink...

  42. Mike L Says:

    @38, a notable exception was Joe Page, who in his short career, was used mostly as a reliever. In 1949 Page was 13-8 with a 2.49 ERA in sixty appearances, all in relief, 135 IP, ERA+ of 156. Finished third in the MVP voting.

  43. Brent Says:

    @42, Casey Stengel used his bullpen, and in fact, his entire staff, in a way no one else did in the 40s and 50s. In fact, some of his usage really has never been repeated. The 1952 Yankees, for instance, only had two pitchers throw over 150 innings, and the best starter, Allie Reynolds, also went 6 for 6 in save situations.

    And yeah, that team won 95 games and the World Series.

  44. Mike L Says:

    @43, Brent, with the Yankees lack of success in the Stengel era, you can see why it was never duplicated....

  45. Bill Parks Says:

    In regards to Wilhelm - the use of relieve pitchers during his era (early '50s-to '70s) is in no way comparable to the way they have been used in the past 25 years or so. Wilhelm reached 100+ innings several times, and even qualified and won the era title as a reliever in 1954. He was used one year by Baltimore as a starter (1959) and once again won the era title. He pitchers over 2,000 total innings, and has the lowest era of all 2,000+ innings pitchers since WW2 ( just as a note-the starting pitcher with 2,000+ innings with the lowest era since WW2 is Whitey Ford). Forget the fact that he is clearly one of the greatest relievers of all-time, he is one of the greatest pitchers period.

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