A save (abbreviated SV or S) is a statistic awarded to a relief pitcher, often called a closer, who enters the game under certain conditions and maintains his team's lead until the end of the game. The save rule was first adopted for the 1969 season and amended for the 1974 and 1975 seasons. Baseball researchers have worked through the official statistics retroactively to calculate saves for all major league seasons prior to 1969.
A relief pitcher is awarded a save when he meets all three of the following conditions:
- He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his club; and
- He is not the winning pitcher; and
- 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 word "effectively" has been removed from the MLB rules.)
No more than one save may be credited in each game. A pitcher who comes into the game in the circumstances described above is said to have a save opportunity.
The current rule has been in effect since the beginning of the 1975 season. Two earlier versions of the rule awarded saves differently. Starting in 1969, a relief pitcher earned a save when he entered the game with his team in the lead and held the lead for the remainder of the game, provided that he was not credited with the victory. A relief pitcher could not be credited with a save if he did not finish the game unless he was removed for a pinch hitter or a pinch runner. When one or more relief pitchers qualified for a save under the provisions of this rule, the official scorer would credit the save to the pitcher he judged to have been the most effective.
Before the 1974 season, the save rule was modified and simplified. Under this new rule, a relief pitcher earned a save under one of two conditions:
- He had to enter the game with either the potential tying or winning run either on base or at the plate and preserve the lead; or
- He had to pitch at least three or more effective innings and preserve the lead.
A pitcher could be credited with the save even if he had not finished the game, provided he had been removed either for a pinch hitter or a pinch runner. When more than one pitcher was in a position to qualify for a save, the official scorer had to judge which of them had been most effective and award the save to him.
It was possible, under both earlier versions of the save rule, to see boxscores in which pitchers were credited with saves in situations where they would not earn them under the current rule. See for example the game of April 25, 1970, where Claude Raymond entered the game with a four-run lead in the ninth but was awarded a save anyway: . For games played before 1969, saves have been figured retroactively using the 1969 definition.
The save was created as a statistic as a result of a lobbying effort by sportswriter Jerome Holtzman of the Chicago Sun-Times during the 1960s. He argued that traditional pitching statistics - relief wins and losses - were not adequate in capturing the work done by relief specialists and proposed the save as a way of measuring the number of times a relief pitcher was successful in one of the most critical missions that he had to accomplish - preserving a lead. The Sporting News, a weekly publication for which Holtzman also wrote, began calculating saves several seasons before the scoring rules provided an official definition.
The save has become so much an integral part of the contemporary game that a special category of relief pitcher - the closer - has emerged. Closers rarely enter a game except in save situations. This practice is in marked contrast to earlier patterns of bullpen usage, where the relief ace would be used in all situations where the game was close, either with his team in the lead, or tied, or trailing by one or two runs, and often for two or three innings or more. Nowadays, closers generally record few victories and often have losing records. This was not the case previously, as pitchers such as Roy Face in 1959, Dick Radatz in 1963 or 1964 and John Hiller in 1973, would pick up large numbers of victories in addition to saves (figured retroactively in the case of those pitching before 1969).
Another way to illustrate how the usage of top relievers has changed over the past four decades is to compare Hall of Fame reliever Rollie Fingers, who pitched in the 1970s and early 1980s, and Trevor Hoffman, who retired after the 2010 season and is second on the all-time list, have been used. Of Fingers' 341 career saves, 135 entailed pitching two or more innings, including 36 of three or more innings. In contrast, at the end of the 2006 season, Hoffman had 482 career saves, but only 7 of two or more innings, and none of three or more. Fingers obtained 101 of his saves when he entered the game with either the winning or tying run already on base; for Hoffman, only 36 of his saves had come in such situations.
There has been a lot of criticism of how the emergence of the save as the master statistic in evaluating contemporary relief pitchers has affected usage. Modern closers often pitch no more than about 70 innings a season, and in most of the games in which they pitch, their teams are already in the lead. Teams rely increasingly on a group of often unheralded middle relief specialists to hold the lead until the closer enters the game. The save thus measures only one task asked of relievers. Other jobs, such as keeping a team in the game, getting out of a jam, and pitching in extra innings, are not covered by official statistics. This is why sabermetricians have devised a number of other measurements for relievers that seek to indicate which pitchers have been most successful in relief, whether or not they post gaudy save totals.
A blown save (abbreviated BS) is charged to a pitcher who enters a game in a save situation but allows the tying run to score. Blown saves were introduced in 1988, but are not an officially recognized statistic although many sources keep track of them. Once a pitcher blows a save, he is no longer eligible to earn a save in that game (since the lead that he was trying to "save" has disappeared) although he can earn a win if his team regains the lead. He could, theoretically, earn the save if he moves to another position and resumes pitching at a later point if a save situation is once again in effect. For this reason, most closers' records include few wins. Closers make the majority of their appearances with their team already ahead, so when a closer earns a win, he has often blown a save first. Middle relievers often compile many more blown saves than saves, since they get the former every time they fail, but rarely get the chance anymore to finish the game and earn the save when they do their job well. As a result, ignorant commentators will often say that a middle reliever is not cut out to be a closer since he has such a poor save percentage, even though those numbers are not at all comparable to those of closers. To circumvent that problem, the hold statistic has been created, and is in effect a save credited to a middle reliever.
Tough saves are used to determine points for the Rolaids Relief Man Award. A "Tough Save" occurs when a pitcher gets a save with the tying run on base. Also, if a reliever enters a game in a non-save situation and gives up the lead before being replaced, he will be assessed a two-point penalty (same as a blown save) but will not be charged with a blown save since the opportunity for a save did not exist.
All Time Leaders
|All Time Leaders|
|MLB Career||Mariano Rivera||602|
|MLB Season||Francisco Rodríguez||62||2008|
|NPB Career||Hitoki Iwase||400+|
|NPB Season||Dennis Sarfate||54||2017|
|KBO Career||Seung-hwan Oh||277|
|KBO Season||Seung-hwan Oh||47||2006|
|Negro League Career||Andy Cooper||29|
|Minor League Season||Jamie Cochran||46||1993|
- Bill Felber: "Highly Paid Irrelevance", in The Book on the Book, Thomas Dunne Books, New York, NY, 2005, pp. 103-132.
- Bill James: "Valuing Relievers", in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, The Free Press, New York, NY, 2001, 232-239
- Joe Posnanski: "Save evolves from stat to game-changer", mlb,.com, April 13, 2017. 
- Gabriel Schechter: "All Saves Are Not Created Equal", in The Baseball Research Journal, Society for American Baseball Research, Cleveland, OH, # 35 (2007), pp. 100-103.
- Nate Silver: "The Save Ruined Relief Pitching. The Goose Egg Can Fix It.", FiveThirtyEight.com, April 17, 2017.