In yesterday’s action alone, there were seven blown saves, adding to the perception that closers have been under siege in the season’s first week. However, as is often the case when making observations based on small samples, perception doesn’t quite match up with reality.
So far this season, relievers have converted 68.1% of all save opportunities (saves plus blown saves), which is almost exactly the same as the 68.3% conversion rate for all of 2011. In fact, the league-wide save percentage in the first week of this season is in line with the rates recorded over the past 20 years and right around the midpoint of the yearly range since the save became an official statistic in 1969.
Source: fangraphs.com and baseball-reference.com
Not only have this year’s relievers lived up to historical efficiency rates, but their performance over the first six games has actually been better than similar periods over the last five seasons. Although far off the 91.3% conversion rate recorded over each team’s first six games in 1972, this year’s save percentage doesn’t come close to being a negative outlier. That distinction belongs to the 2005 season, when 53.6% of save opportunities were squandered, including two by the immortal Mariano Rivera.
So, why does it seem as if closers are under siege this year? The high profile Opening Day failures of Rivera and Jose Valverde have probably contributed to the faulty perception, not to mention the Red Sox’ bullpen crisis and the early struggles of closers like Heath Bell and Joe Nathan who are trying to fit in with a new team. With offensive levels continuing to decline, the impact of and pressure faced by the closer could be enhanced, but, at least based upon early returns, there’s no reason to anticipate an epidemic of blown saves.