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The Blasted Hold

September 22, 2010

Don't worry, Aroldis. We know Masset was to blame.

With the relatively new way of utilizing pitchers (by relatively new, I mean in the context of baseball history), starting pitchers have even less effect on the outcome of a game than they did, say, seventy years ago. With starting pitchers going about six innings now, more dependence is placed on the revolving door of middle relievers, whose efforts become more dramatic.

The hold was created in 1986 by the illustrious John Dewan and Mike O’Donnell in an attempt to give a statistic of worth to said middle relievers. The hold – not an official MLB statistic – was originally credited “any time a relief pitcher enters a game in a Save Situation, records at least one out, and leaves the game never having relinquished the lead.”

Which is problematic in and of itself. In theory, I find it very difficult to believe that a player should be credited with anything that can be construed as a positive statistic if the player makes it much more difficult for his team to win the game than the situation he was originally presented with. So if, say, Mark Buehrle is staked to a 10-0 lead before he pitches a single inning, and he then gives up eight runs, ethically I do not want to see this train wreck of a hurler honored with a “win.” He did not win the game. But that specific argument has been going on for thirty years now, so let’s just focus on holds.

In 1994, SportsTicker changed the definition of a hold, making it even easier for a middle reliever to earn a hold with a shitty performance. That is, SportsTicker eliminated the requisite of recording an out.

In 2000, Rob Neyer spoke to that discrepancy here, in which he in rather even-handed tones, explains why he favors the Dewan model.

(For what it’s worth, Dewan created STATS, Inc. in 1981, ushering in the legitimization of expanding recorded baseball statistics. STATS was purchased by Fox Sports in 2000, six years after SportsTicker was bought by ESPN. Oddly enough, STATS purchased the newly-available SportsTicker in 2009.)

It’s really, really difficult to assess a middle reliever’s worth, and I’m pretty damn sure that looking at holds isn’t a very good way to go about it. And admittedly, the only reason I wrote this intro is to highlight this strange game from September 11th.

Case Study!

September 11th, 2010.

The Reds are playing the Pirates. Edinson Volquez has pitched one hell of a game. Of course it’s frickin’ Pittsburgh Pirates, who, granted, have a better offense than the sad monstrosity they threw out against Stephen Strasburg’s first-ever, holy-crap start earlier this year. Neil Walker’s put together a fine season, Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen are slowly developing, and, uh, Ryan Doumit has never intentionally clubbed a baby seal. That we know of.

Anyhoo, in his first start since being recalled from the minors, Volquez goes seven innings, giving up one hit and striking out ten guys. He’s pulled in the bottom of the seventh for a pinch-hitter, Yonder Alonso. So it’s the top of the eighth, Nick Masset strides to the mound trying to preserve a 3-0 Reds lead.

Masset strikes out Ryan Doumit. Doumit’s about a league-average hitter this year, posting – as of today, September 22nd – a 102 OPS+. (.255 BA / .335 OBP / .441 SLG.) Fair enough. One out.

Masset then gives up a single to Ronny Cedeno. Ronny Cedeno is a terrible, terrible hitter. Awful. Just frickin’ unbelievably bad. His career 65 OPS+ makes me want to put a pot on my head and hit it with a metal spoon. By most metrics, he’s one of the five or ten worst batters this year.

One out, guy on first, pinch-hitter John Bowker at the plate.

Masset gives up a double to Bowker on an 0-2 count. The last time Bowker had recorded a hit in a major league game was May 25th, when he was with the Giants. Since then, he had gone 0-for-19 in the bigs. (Granted, he had a good campaign in the minors.) Bowker’s OPS this year has been .598 over 123 at-bats. So Cedeno scores.

One out, guy on second, one run in, Delwyn Young at the plate.

Masset induces a groundout from yet another Pirate who has a sub-.300 OBP; Bowker advances to third base.

Two outs, guy on third, one run in, McCutchen at the plate.

Masset walks McCutchen. Ok, whatever. McCutchen has a good batting eye. But it’s still two damn outs. Pitch to him.

Two outs, guys on first and third, one run in, Jose Tabata at the plate.

Masset yields an infield single to Tabata. Bowker scores. Tabata’s hit wasn’t a dribbler. (Here’s the video of it.) This was legitimately in between third and short, and Orlando Cabrera made a good play to keep it in the infield before dropping it in the transition from glove to hand.

Two outs, guys on first and second, two runs in, Neil Walker at the plate, and Aroldis Chapman comes in.

The Pirates pull of a double steal (Chapman doesn’t do a good job of holding runners), and Neil Walker drives in both guys with a single up the middle. The Pirates take a 4-3 lead. Chapman catches Walker trying to steal; in the ninth inning, Chapman records a 1-2-3 inning.

All four runs were attributed to Masset; he also – somehow – earned the hold, while Chapman earned the blown save. Boo on all accounts. These things don’t make sense.

The Pittsburgh Tribune doesn’t mention Nick Masset or his role in the near-loss, but instead attributes the blame to Chapman. Same with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

And MLB.com phrases the Cincy implosion this way:

Nick Masset struck out Ryan Doumit to open the eighth inning, but the Pirates responded with four runs on four hits. Masset was charged with all four runs, although it was Neil Walker’s two-out, two-run single off phenom Aroldis Chapman that put Pittsburgh into the lead.

Once again, the lone hit (and baserunner) that Chapman allowed, in a situation much more difficult than Masset’s scenario, focus of culpability.

Parcel the blame! Baseball’s a democracy! Etc.

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