This week saw the end of Eric Gagne's streak of eighty-four consecutive saves when he blew one against Arizona Monday night. It turned out to be harmless as the Dodgers won in extra innings. How impressive was the streak? The previous record was forty-five in a row by the Sox' Flash Gordon a few years back. Gagne blew by that mark almost a year ago. Still, streaks are often viewed as statistical anomalies, and there's truth in that. Joe Dimaggio's fifty-six game hitting streak in 1941 is not necessarily a measure of how great a hitter he was (which he was), but rather of how consistent he was. Ted Williams was actually the best hitter in baseball that year. Orel Hershiser's streak of fifty-nine consecutive scoreless innings is probably a better example of a streak actually meaning something. For that month and a half at the end of the '88 season, Hershiser was the best pitcher in baseball, carrying a weak Dodger team on his back into the playoffs. Six straight shutouts to end the season. Then he threw eight more scoreless innings in the first game of the playoffs. (The 1988 playoffs and World Series were probably the most unlikely ever. I need to go back and take a good look at the whole thing.)
The other knock against the streak is that saves are a weird statistic, because the rules are arcane, and perhaps not as rigorous as they could be. Rule 10.20 in the Official Rule Book states:
Credit a pitcher with a save when he meets all three of the following conditions:
(1) He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his club; and
(2) He is not the winning pitcher; and
(3) He qualifies under one of the following conditions:
- (a) He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning; or
- (b) He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, or at bat, or on deck (that is, the potential tying run is either already on base or is one of the first two batsmen he faces; or
- (c) He pitches effectively for at least three innings.
No more than one save may be credited in each game.
It's 3a that some people have a problem with, because giving up two runs in the bottom of the ninth? Not usually good pitching, but still eligible for a save if the lead isn't blown. What it means is that individual saves are sometimes held in suspicion. OTOH, stringing together eighty-four of them in a row without blowing any? That's pretty amazing. It means Gagne went out there eighty-four straight times, and the Dodgers won every time. Gagne's ERA over the span of the streak was 0.82, and of the twenty-nine runners he inherited during the streak, not a single one scored. That's some pretty good pitching.
It's a gray day outside, and very humid. Tonight is Somervillain game night, so another drive is in my future.