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.