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

Associated Press
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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.