It’s a pretty well documented sabremetric notion that pitching your closer when you have a three run lead in the ninth is probably wasting him. You’re likely going to win the game anyways, since the vast majority of pretty much everyone allowed to throw baseballs in the major leagues is going to be able to keep the other team from scoring three runs.
But we still see it all the time. Teams keep holding on to their closer and waiting until they have a lead in the ninth to trot him out there. One of the reasons for this is that blowing a lead in the ninth is devastating—it’ll hurt team morale more to blow a lead in the ninth than to slip behind in the seventh. And then this decrease in morale will cause for the players to play more poorly in the future, which will result in more losses.
Or will it?
We’re going to look at how teams play following games that they devastatingly lose to see if there’s any noticeable drop in performance. The “devastating blown save” stat can be defined as any game in which a team blows the lead in the ninth and then goes on to lose. Our methodology is going to look at team records in both the following game as well as the following three games to see if there’s any worsening of play. If the traditional thought is right (hey, it’s a possibility!), it will show up in the numbers. Let’s take a look.
All Games (2000-2012)
9+ Inning Games
Following Game W%
Three Game W%
In the following game, the team win percentage was very, very close to 50%. Over a sample size of 1,333 that’s completely insignificant. But what about the following three games, where the win percentage drops down to roughly 48.4%? Well, that’s a pretty small deviation from the 50% baseline, and is of questionable statistical significance. And wouldn’t it make sense that if the devastating blow save effect existed at all it would occur in the directly following game, and not wait until later to manifest itself? It seems safe to say that the “morale drop” of devastatingly losing is likely nonexistent—or at most incredibly small. We’re dealing with grown men after all. They can take it.
Another thing you might want to consider when looking at these numbers is that teams with lots of blown saves are probably more likely to be subpar. Not so fast. The win% of teams weighted to their amount of blown 9th innings over the years is .505. This is probably because better teams are more likely to be ahead in the first place, and so they are going to be on the bubble to blow saves more often even if they blow them a smaller percentage of the time. Just for the fun of seeing how devastation-prone your team has been over the past 13 years, however, here’s a table of individual team results.
Devastating Blown Saves By Team (2000-2012)
Devastating Blown Saves
Next Game W%
Chicago White Sox
New York Yankees
Congratulations Pittsburgh, you’ve been the least devastated full-time team over the past 13 years! Now if there’s a more fun argument against the effects of devastating losses than that previous sentence, I want to hear it. Meanwhile the Braves have lived up to their nickname, winning in an outstanding 74.3% of games following devastating losses (it looks like we’ve finally found our algorithm for calculating grit, ladies and gentleman) while the hapless Expos rebounded in just 20% of their games. Milwaukee leads the league in single-game heartbreak, etc. etc. Just read the table. These numbers are fun. Mostly meaningless, but fun.
Back to the point: team records following devastating losses tend to hover very, very close to .500. Managers shouldn’t worry about how their teams lose games—they should worry about if their teams lose games. Because, in the end, that’s all that matters.
Raw data courtesy of Retrosheet.
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