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Baseball-Reference FAQ: Pre-1975 Save Statistics

Posted by Neil Paine on July 15, 2010

Over the years, many users have written to us expressing confusion over the assignment of saves for seasons prior to 1975, the year the current save rule was put into effect. This post will hopefully set the record straight on what changes the rule has seen over the years, which version of the rule we apply to older seasons, and why the save totals on a player's main page might not always match those you find in the player's game logs and splits.

Evolution of the Save Rule

As most of you know, there was no official statistic for saves prior to the 1969 season. But with relief specialists becoming more and more common during the 1960s, Chicago Sun-Times and Sporting News writer Jerome Holtzman successfully lobbied MLB to add the category to their official stats following the 1968 season. The original save rule, Rule 10.20, went into effect with three provisions:

  1. The relief pitcher must enter the game with a lead and hold it.
  2. He can be taken out of the game only for a PH or PR.
  3. If more than one pitcher qualifies, the scorer gives it to the "most effective" one.

The first change to the rule came after the 1973 season, in an effort to simplify matters:

  1. The relief pitcher must face the potential tying or winning run at the plate or on base, or pitch effectively for at least three innings, and in either case preserve the lead.
  2. Same as #3 above, one save per game, given to the most "effective" reliever.

This rule was only in effect for the 1974 season. Note that the stipulation about leaving for a PH or PR was removed, eliminating the requirement that the reliever must actually finish the game to earn a save.

In 1975, the rule was changed for a second and final time:

  1. The reliever must be the finishing pitcher in a game won by his club.
  2. He cannot be the winning pitcher.
  3. He qualifies under one of the following conditions:
    • He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning; or
    • He enters the game, regardless of the score, with the potential tying run either on base, at bat, or on deck; or
    • He pitches for at least three innings.

The basics of the 1973 rule were retained, except the reliever was once again required to finish the game to earn the save, the tying or winning run could also be on deck when he entered the game, the subjectivity of choosing the "most effective" reliever was removed, and a third way to earn a save was added (pitching for at least one inning with a lead of no more than 3 runs).

Application of the Rule(s) at Baseball-Reference

Now that we have box scores for every game since 1920, it creates many opportunities to retroactively expand our statistical knowledge about older seasons. However, with that comes the reality that we must make judgment calls for categories like the save, which didn't exist for most of baseball history and was defined differently at various times even after it became an official stat.

Our policies are the following, based on Retrosheet's procedures:

  • For 1920-1949, saves are awarded on the "encyclopedia basis": a pitcher who finished a game his team won, but did not get the win himself, is awarded a save. This policy is so named because it was used by the first Big Mac encyclopedia and later by Pete Palmer.
  • For 1950-1968, the policy is to use the 1969 rule (the first official one) and apply it retroactively. However, David Smith of Retrosheet admits that it hasn't been applied as rigorously to these seasons as the encyclopedia rule was applied to 1920-49, so there may be instances where saves were or were not awarded precisely according to the 1969 rule.
  • For post-1968 seasons, the rule in place at the time is used.

Why Do Full-Season Stats Not Always Match the Game Logs/Splits?

We have two competing sources for our data:  Full-season data comes from Pete Palmer, and the game-by-game data comes from Retrosheet.org.  For some stats these are not always going to match up -- this goes for every stat on the site, but especially the save rule, where Retrosheet has in some cases applied a different rule than Pete did. David Smith will be reviewing the 1950-68 seasons this summer and will make the appropriate changes to the game-by-game stats, which will eliminate some of the discrepancies, but there will likely always be some differences between the datasets simply because of the nature of each one.

Hopefully this post has cleared up some of your confusion regarding our retroactive application of the save rule for seasons in which the stat was not originally tracked. But if you still have questions or comments, feel free to email us at bugs@sports-reference.com.

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 15th, 2010 at 11:41 am and is filed under Administration, Announcements, Frequently Asked Questions, Gamelogs, History, Mailbag, Stats. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

12 Responses to “Baseball-Reference FAQ: Pre-1975 Save Statistics”

  1. Two people can have a save in the same game?
    Any example around here?
    "Give it to the guy that's more effective" Why not just skip the other guy and give it to the more effective one anyway...

  2. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    Somrhoe, I wish we could have a more accurate way of evaluating that rare avis, an underrated Yankee great; Wilcy Moore

  3. Chipmaker Says:

    The rules available on MLB.com include a fourth condition -- the pitcher must be credited with at least 1/3 of an inning to qualify for a save.

    It seems to be a recent addition, and I'm not even sure why such a distinction is necessary, given the "must be the last pitcher" condition doesn't give a way around being credited at least 0.1 IP that I can see.

  4. For 1950-1968 seasons, since the 1969 rules are in effect, who is the "scorer" that determines the most effective pitcher that is awarded the save?

    I would think that the current rules would be used, because with complete game data, there is no judgement required.

  5. @2
    I think the "must be credited with at least 1/3 of an inning" comes into play when the "hold" statistic is determined. Holds and Saves are closely related. Before that clause was added, you could be credited with a Hold without recording any outs as long as you didn't blow the save situation.

  6. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Another problem with some of the old games (which Neil didn't mention above, but is aware of) is that there are some pitchers who finished games and get credited with Holds when they should be getting Saves. For instance, there is a huge discrepancy on Allie Reynolds in 1953. The seasonal record shows him with 13 saves, but his game log gives him only like 5 saves, and turns the others into holds. One of the problems of automation, I suppose.

  7. Spartan Bill Says:

    Chipmaker

    I doubt if it has ever come up like this, but here may be one instance why the distinction is necessary. Let's say Mariano Rivera is working on a save and with 2 outs and the count 1-2, he pulls a muscle and has to leave the game. Joba Chamberlain comes in, throws one pitch and finishes the strikeout. In that scenario, Joba finished the game, but does not get credit for a save or even a 0.1 IP. Therefore since he was the last pitcher, no save would be awarded.

    Compare that to the same scenario, but the batter grounded out on Joba's one pitch. He gets 0.1 IP and the save. That's one reason the rule might be there.

  8. I thought if you finish a strikeout, then you get credit for it. I thought it was a walk that goes to the original pitcher.

  9. dodgerdave Says:

    How many saves would Mike Marshall have had in 1974 under the current rules? His performance that year was subhuman. 106 games, finished 83 of them, and threw 208.1 IP, all in relief. He finished 83 games and only had 21 saves. That was a ridiculous save rule that they had at that time.

  10. Not as many as you think. In addition to pitching in may losses, Marshall also earned 15 wins that season.
    I believe we can find the would be saves by searching for games in which Marshall earned a hold while finishing the game. The are 8 such games in 1974. http://bbref.com/pi/shareit/ggM7K

  11. [...] Yesterday, Neil discussed the strange definition of the save rule in 1974.   One of the major differences between saves in that season and others is that: "The relief pitcher must face the potential tying or winning run at the plate or on base, or pitch effectively for at least three innings, and in either case preserve the lead." [...]

  12. Chipmaker Says:

    Fair enough. I hadn't considered the "change pitchers during final PA" scenario. Wonder if that's ever come to pass?