Hoffman: 300 saves is like 3000 hits

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Trevor Hoffman is all over the news today, having given his farewell press conference and all of that stuff.  He was asked about the role of the closer today too, and to comment on what makes an elite one. His comments:

“The 300 (save) mark hasn’t been done by a lot of people,” says Hoffman, who retired Wednesday as the only man with twice that figure — plus one. Though Hoffman, 43, warned of the difficulty of comparing closers from different eras, he says, “The role probably isn’t going to get tweaked much more so 300 probably is a good number.”

Hoffman compared 300 saves — a number 21 pitchers have reached — to 300 victories and 3,000 hits.

I think this is less misguided due to the cutoff than it is due to the metric.

As far as cutoff goes, what else could Hoffman say?  If you say that 400 is some magic number you leave off Eckersley and Sutter and Rollie Fingers. Plus, you’re only saying that five guys are truly elite, as only he, Mariano Rivera, Lee Smith, John Franco and Billy Wagner are elite. Seems a bit, well, elitist. Truth is that there is no satisfying number.

The problem is saves themselves. We all know its limitations as a stat. It’s a function of opportunity and chance and manager’s whim, not true excellence. All of the big, globally-recognized stats have that problem. But saves are way worse in even roughly approximating greatness. Hits aren’t the be-all, end-all, of course, but are there any truly blah players who got 3000 of them?  Then realize that Francisco Cordero will join the 300 save club before the All-Star break next year. I don’t think anyone is comfortable including him in some best-of-the-best club.

Thankfully it seems that no one is all that impressed with save totals in and of themselves when it comes to assigning greatness to relief pitchers. John Franco just got next to no Hall of Fame support, after all. Still, I wonder if Hoffman’s comments won’t be thought of as instructive by anyone going forward.  Hope not.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.