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 a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


51 Responses to “Fuentes Debunking Saves Singlehandedly”

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  1. Andy S says:

    Two words:

    Joe
    Borowski

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  2. Jason H says:

    Isolated incident, but I’m sure last night helped in your timing on this piece. Not sure why he needed to throw 5 strikes to Nick Green Last night before giving up the walk. I almost threw up on Terry Francona’s shoes at that point.

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    • Tom B says:

      a 4.56 FIP for the season is not an isolated incident.

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      • Jason H says:

        I was referring to the events of last night as the II. I apologize if that was not clear. Instead of just listing FIP you may help your cause by listing some of his peripheral statistics as well, much like Mr. Cameron did.

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      • Tom B says:

        You are the one that thinks it’s isolated, i’m not going out of my way to prove it to you. if you click on his name i’m sure you’ll find all the stats necessary to show you it’s not an isolated incident, fuentes is just not a shut-down closer… never has been.

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      • mikkyld says:

        Tom is correct that he was never a shut down closer. Never as in, he wasn’t actually a shutdown closer in the NL who went to the AL so he could fail and demonstrate how superior the AL really is.

        he was NEVER a shutdown closer, period.

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    • scatterbrian says:

      Actually, no. There was a piece in the OC Register on Monday explaining why Fuentes’ job may be in jeopardy, after a closed-door meeting between Scioscia and Fuentes on Sunday. Key quote: “Scioscia has replaced Fuentes with Kevin Jepsen in the middle of a save opportunity four times since July 27, most recently on Saturday.”
      http://www.ocregister.com/articles/fuentes-scioscia-angels-2563761-jepsen-going

      Also, Nick Green wasn’t the only player who had low strikes called as balls:
      http://img179.imageshack.us/img179/6850/zoneplotnphp.png

      The fact is Fuentes put himself in a situation to risk walking in the tying run. Granted it was a walk and two infield hits that loaded the bases, but allowing baserunners has been Fuentes’ MO all season. He’s not a shutdown closer, and franky, closers shouldn’t have more hits allowed than innings pitched.

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      • Judy says:

        He was already lucky that the 2nd IF hit didn’t blow the save, since it was only thanks to a great play by Figgins. Why was he pitching David Ortiz like he was afraid of him with nobody on, 2 outs, and a 2 run lead?

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  3. Todd says:

    Another poor call on a strike low in the strike zone by a MLB umpire. It happens all the time. They call the high strike alot more than they did in years past but at the expense of not calling the low strike. The strike zone stayed the same size, it just moved up a few inches. That is a poor trade-off for the pitcher.

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  4. Derek says:

    Welcome to the American League, where hitters don’t swing at garbage.

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  5. The Joe From 1993 says:

    Fuentes FIP this year ranks only sixth among Angel relievers. In no particular order, he trails Bulger, Oliver, Jepsen, Loux(!) and Arredondo with regards to FIP.

    His 2nd half has been a disaster as opponents have posted a .311/.411/.541 line against him. But even worse is that his K/9 rate is 3.93 and his BB/9 is 5.89.

    His 2nd half K/9 rate is absurdly low. Perhaps it is an indicator that he is hurt as his 1st half K/9 rate was an acceptable 9.98.

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  6. Nick says:

    “Instead of just listing FIP you may help your cause by listing some of his peripheral statistics as well, much like Mr. Cameron did.”

    You don’t know what FIP is, do you.

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    • Jason H says:

      You’re joking, right? Dave at least made a mention of batted ball types. Don’t just quote FIP over a relatively small sample size and sit back arms crossed with a smirk on your face. Please make an attempt to add something of substance to the conversation.

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  7. Choo says:

    Fuentes was best when he could use his trademark “slange” or “chider” or whatever he calls that dead-ball era slurve that he grips like a circle change without the circle (seriously, what the hell is that pitch?) to attack hitters from a variety of angles and speeds. It used to be a true Swiss army pitch – he could roll it off the table, make it run, slow, fast – using one grip and one release point. Those days are gone. Check out his Pitch/Fx graphs. For whatever reason, Fuentes multi-faceted pitch has completely disintegrated in the span of one season to become one of the weakest sliders in baseball.

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  8. Joe R says:

    Fuentes, 1st half: 3.78 K/BB, 1.174 WHIP, 10 K/9
    Fuentes, 2nd half: 0.67 K/BB, 1.909 WHIP, 3.9 K/9

    I’m hard pressed to believe someone becomes that bad that quick without it either being 1) SSS alert or 2) Something wrong with him.

    Seriously, from effective reliever to career AA level player that fast?

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    • Wally says:

      Even considering the SSS, that difference seems huge. I’m guessing he’s hurt, maybe only in some minor way, but it doesn’t seem to be likely that good pitchers just turn into utter crap even over just 27 IP.

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  9. neuter_your_dogma says:

    Good article. Lidge for Fuentes straight up?

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  10. jim says:

    Lol. This argument came up last night while watching the sox game. Fuentes was in and I was like, “well luckily this guy sucks”. My dad was like “what are you talking about he’s the best closer in the game” clearly referring to his save totals. All i could do was shake my head!

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    • Joe R says:

      I would say you should’ve linked him her, or baseball prospectus, or fire joe morgan, but no one over the age of 35 wants to learn new things with baseball anyway.

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  11. Omar says:

    This is probably the best article title that this site’s ever written.

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  12. Danny says:

    You have to think he’s hurt. Fuentes has never been as good as his save totals would suggest, but there’s no way he’s as bad as hes been in the second half either. The Angels have the guys to take over his spot and need to take that dive, otherwise they could be going down to the red sox yet again.

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  13. Alireza says:

    Fuentes got completely screwed on that call to Green, but he has definitely never been as good as advertised. I think last year was his ceiling and not indicative of his overall talent. Whatever you think about K-Rod, he was worth paying $3 million more a year for.

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  14. JohnF says:

    Completely agree with the article. I think you can also say the same about Francisco Rodriguez to show how overrated he is (though still effective). If you want money as a reliever, try to close for the Angels at some point.

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  15. JohnF says:

    Sorry, let me clarify. I meant to say that Rodriguez loses a lot of effectiveness when he’s striking out fewer than 10 per 9, which is a ridiculous number to expect him to maintain for the rest of his career. And, of course, that his save total dropped big time switching to a lesser team.

    As for the choice for the Angels, neither Fuentes nor Rodriguez deserved the money they got. No closer does. I’m sure the Angels would have been as good if they found someone internally to convert their saves and would have had a lot more money to spend. And I’m not of the school of thought that anyone can be a closer, but I’m sure they could’ve found someone.

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    • mikkyld says:

      Boy do I agree with that assessment – closers are generally overpaid and overrated. The one thing they absolutely need to possess (the ability to ignore both bad and good results and go again the next day) no doubt merits more pay than an ordinary reliever, but that’s about it.

      The truly great ones seem to dominate and seem to deserve whatever they get, but really there are so few of them that the analysis shouldn’t wash over other closers. Think Rivera for this category.

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  16. Joe R says:

    Here’s my ironic baseball thought of the day.

    Many people, highly because of media types, think stats lie or are unreliable.

    These media types that cause these thoughts, are the ones that use stats wrong. W-L record for a starter, Saves for a reliever, BA and RBI for a hitter. Even some people who claim to be “in the know” do it, like using OPS in SS v. 1B comparisons (unfortunately, the FJMers kind of did that in reference to Jeter, who probably is the Yankee MVP in 2009.

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    • Chris says:

      Yeah, I noticed that they did that with Jeter. In their defense though, they did mention that Jeter was probably the Yankees best player this season.

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      • Dingo says:

        They also bagged on Brett Gardner for being one of the worst players in the league, ignoring his substantial contributions on defense. But what the Hell – those guys are still hilarious.

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      • Joe R says:

        Hey, they never claim to be experts on the stuff.

        I was just disappointed that they didn’t do a single JoeChat. Or announce a full return. Or something.

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  17. Eric Walker says:

    I pointed this out–the folly of the “Save”–in print at least 15 years ago. Consider a pitcher with an ERA of 4.25, virtually average; with unearned runs, he’ll allow just about 4.5 runs per 9 IP, which happens to be a run every other inning on average. Such a man, brought in to pitch the last inning with a mere 1-run lead must thus necessarily succeed at least 50% of the time. Moreover, he will not in reality give up 1 run every other inning: sometimes he will give up 2 or 3 or even more. That means that his number of scoreless innings will exceed 50%. Add to that the further reality that he will often have a 2-run or even 3-run lead to work with, and we see probable save totals in the range of 65% or so. And what is the ML average for saves? Um, 67%. In short, a mediocre, totally average pitcher can achieve what the typical closer achieves as to “Saves”. Duh.

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    • Joe R says:

      And that includes some relatively lights out guys like Rivera, Papelbon, Nathan, and Soria.

      But of course, you need a “Mental toughness” to be a closer. Or a good K/9 rate. For some reason I’d rather the guy with the K/9 rate than the mentally tough guy with a 1.8 K/BB.

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    • Jeremiah says:

      But that is exactly why Fuentes is a good closer. He’s not as good of a relief pitcher as Jepsen, but he’s usually going to be starting the ninth inning fresh with no one on base. That allows you to use Jepsen in the eighth with runners on first and third and no outs.

      This is the argument that has been made against the typical closer role for several years. Why use your best pitcher in a situation where an average pitcher would do? The Angels are not using their best pitcher as closer, so I don’t see why they should change.

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