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Forget the save: Nate Silver introduces “The Goose Egg”

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We’ve talked for years about how the save statistic has been the tail that has wagged the relief-pitching dog. About how, often, managers reserve their best relief pitchers for save situations even if there may be more critical periods in the game when the best bullpen arm might be most needed.

We probably see less of this now than we did a few years ago — as we’ve noted recently, some managers are starting to think outside the box with this stuff — but the save is still considered by most to be the most important relief pitching stat.

Today Nate Silver has come up with a way to deal with that. He has announced the creation of “The Goose Egg”

But there’s a solution. Building on the work of Baseball Prospectus’s Russell Carleton,2 I’ve designed a statistic and named it the goose egg to honor (or troll) Gossage. The basic idea — aside from some additional provisions designed to handle inherited runners, which we’ll detail later — is that a pitcher gets a goose egg for a clutch, scoreless relief inning. Specifically, he gets credit for throwing a scoreless inning when it’s the seventh inning or later and the game is tied or his team leads by no more than two runs. A pitcher can get more than one goose egg in a game, so pitching three clutch scoreless innings counts three times as much as one inning does.

The goose egg properly rewards the contributions made by Gossage and other “firemen” of his era, who regularly threw two or three innings at a time, often came into the game with runners on base, and routinely pitched in tie games and not just in save situations.

I’m not sure that creating another stat to combat the tyranny of a different stat is the best thing, but it may be a better stat. And it’s certainly interesting.

The concept that Silver captures here — shutdown relief work at a game’s critical stages — is the one that matters most, whether we measure it formally or whether managers and clubs just observe it, acknowledge it and attempt to maximize it.

Battle of the Aces: Max Scherzer takes on Clayton Kershaw tonight

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I hope you don’t have any plans tonight at around 10PM Eastern time, because that’s when we get a pitching matchup for the ages as Max Scherzer will take on Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium. When they meet tonight it will be the first time two pitchers with three or more Cy Young Awards have matched up since 2006. That year, and in 2005 and 2000, Roger Clemens faced Greg Maddux. In 2001 Clemens faced Pedro Martinez.

Kershaw won his hardware in 2011, 2013 and 2014, with an MVP award in 2014 to boot. Scherzer collected trophies in 2013, 2016 and 2017. Each has started the 2018 season in Cy Young form. Kershaw is 1-2, but that record is due to poor run support. He has a 1.73 ERA and has struck out 31 batters and has walked only three in 26 innings. Scherzer is 3-1 with a 1.33 ERA and a whopping 38 strikeouts to only 4 walks in 27 innings.

This will be the third time that Kershaw and Scherzer faced each other if you include the playoffs. The first meeting was a decade ago when both were rookies. They most recently faced off in Game 1 of the 2016 NLDS, way back when Scherzer only had one Cy Young Award to his credit. Kershaw beat Scherzer in that playoff game and the Dodgers beat Scherzer’s teams in the two regular season matchups, with neither guy setting the world on fire. As so often happens in baseball, the hype hasn’t been matched by reality.

Still, there’s always a chance it will. And even if, in the end, this turns into a slugfest, the first couple of innings should at least give us some hope of something good. I’ll be watching.