Fuentes Debunking Saves Singlehandedly

If you ever need to convince someone of the uselessness of the save statistic, make them watch Brian Fuentes pitch. Fuentes leads the major leagues with 41 saves, and is simultaneously on the verge of losing his job. And for good reason – he’s been pretty bad this year.

After dominating the National League with his unique brand of walks, strikeouts, and non-HR flyballs (while pitching in Colorado, nonetheless), Fuentes has seen the critical component of that trio abandon him in the switch to the AL. His strikeout rate has fallen from 11.78 a year ago to 7.71 this year, a precipitous drop that he simply could not afford.

As a flyball pitcher (47.3% of his balls in play this year are FBs) with below average command, Fuentes has to limit the amount of contact he allows. When he’s not striking batters out, bad things happen. And bad things are happening to him a lot lately.

He blew another save last night, costing the Angels a win over the Red Sox, and Mike Scioscia had already been talking about working Kevin Jepsen into some ninth inning situations. Given the difference in how the two are pitching, that’s not a bad idea.

Jepsen has a similar strikeout rate to Fuentes, but he’s walking a batter less per nine innings and is an extreme groundball guy, which helps him limit the number of soul-crushing home runs he gives up. And for a closer, that’s a pretty important factor.

If the Angels want to win the World Series, they probably need to stop giving Fuentes so many high leverage opportunities. He’s not their best relief pitcher, even if he does lead the league in a remarkably meaningless statistic.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.