The save stat and perverse incentives

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Ted Berg flagged something pretty darn illuminating this morning.  The quotes of the principles in yesterday’s Yankees game, happy that they failed on offense so that Mariano Rivera could get his 602nd save:

“I couldn’t believe they were cheering me for hitting into a double play,” Swisher said. “I said: ‘Whoa, what’s this? And then I looked at the bullpen and saw Mo coming out and I said: ‘Now I get it!’ This was the greatest double play of my life.”

“Runners at first and second…it was unbelievable,” Rivera said. “I don’t ever want my teammates to do bad so I can pitch, but this time I was happy for the opportunity. I’m listening to the fans and I said: ‘Wow, these guys are into it!’”

The most common critique of stats and stat-oriented analysis is that it allegedly elevates that which isn’t truly important over on-the-field baseball.  Yet there is nothing in baseball that does that more than the save stat, which non-stats oriented analysts love about a zillion times more than the SABR-nerds.