Proposal: Blown-Save Wins Should Revert to Starter

I know. Pitcher wins don’t matter. Starting pitchers are better measured by FIP and xFIP and BABIP. Relief pitchers are better measured by K/BB ratios and WPA and the percentage of inherited runners left on base.

And yet, pitcher wins matter to pitchers.

A relief pitcher shouldn’t be rewarded with a win when his performance caused his team to lose its lead, only to regain the lead while he is pitcher of record. A starting pitcher who pitches at least seven innings and leaves with the lead shouldn’t be penalized with a no decision when the relief pitcher who replaces him coughs up the lead.

I propose a change to MLB rules as follows:

(1) When a starting pitcher pitches at least seven innings and leaves the game with at least a one-run lead;

(2) When the starting pitcher leaves the game, the bases are empty;

(3) The relief pitcher who replaces the starting pitcher allows the tying run to score; and

(4) The starting pitcher’s and relief pitcher’s team then re-takes the lead, keeps the lead and wins the game (which under current rules would result in the relief pitcher being credited with a win); then

(5) The win shall be credited, instead, to the starting pitcher and the relief pitcher shall be credited only with a blown save.

First, some background.

Under Rule 10.19 of the Rules of Major League Baseball, the official scorer is to award a save to a pitcher when:

(a)  He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his team;

(b)  He is not the winning pitcher;

(b)  He is credited with at least 1/3 of an inning pitched; and

(d) He satisfies one of the following conditions:

1.  He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning; or

2.  He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, at bat or on deck; or

3.  He pitches for at least three innings.

A blown save occurs when a pitcher enters a game in a save situation but allows the tying run to score. That pitcher then records a blown-save win if his team retakes the lead when he is the pitcher of record, maintains that lead, and wins the game. Neither a blown save nor a blown-save win is an official MLB statistic.

Second, some data points.

I’ve focused on the previous twenty seasons. Putting aside the strike-shortened seasons of 1994 and 1995, the number of blown saves per season and the number of blown-save wins has held fairly steady. I was surprised by this, given changes in how managers have used starters, middle relievers and closers in that time period.

Again, without the 1994 and 1995 numbers, the average number of blown saves over the last 20 seasons is 585. The fewest was 483 in 1992; the most was 627 in 2000 and 2006. The average number of blown-save wins in that same time period is 76. The fewest was 63 in 1992; the most was 87 in 2004.

Here’s a chart with the data from the 1992-2011 seasons.

Blown Saves and Blown-Save Wins: 1992-2011

Blown-save wins come in all shapes and sizes. My focus is on those blown-save wins credited to the relief pitcher who pitches immediately after the starting pitcher leaves the game clean — meaning bases empty — with the lead. In those situations, the least deserving of a win is the relief pitcher who blows the save. And while the starting pitcher didn’t finish the job by pitching a complete game, he is more deserving of the win than the pitcher who replaced him and immediately lost the lead built by the starting pitcher.

If this rule had been in effect, how many blown-save wins would have reverted to the starting pitcher?

Not that many. Then why go through the effort of a rule change that would affect so few games, if the past twenty years are any guide?

Because as much as we believe that pitcher wins don’t matter, they do. They matter to the pitchers. They matter in arbitrations. They matter in free agency. They matter to award voters. They matter to the record books. They matter to the Hall of Fame.

If my proposed rule had been in effect, Greg Maddux would have had five more wins, bringing his career total to 360, instead of 355. Randy Johnson would have had two more wins, bringing his career total to 305. Jamie Moyer and Kevin Brown also would have two additional wins each. And so on. (If you’re interested, I can publish a list of all of the games that would have resulted in a reverted win to the starting pitcher. Let me know in the comments.)

Let’s not give credit to the one pitcher on the winning team who contributed the least amount to his team’s ultimate victory. Let’s instead reward the starting pitcher who gave his team the best chance to the win the game.

Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and You can find her work at and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

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10 years ago

Five. A rule change to give Greg Maddux five more wins over a 20 year career. Much ado about nothing.

I don’t want to give the guy who blows the save the W. Maybe just make it a “team W” or something. Or, hell, give it to the starter. Or the manager. Maybe the SS should get it, because he’d look awesome that way.

10 years ago
Reply to  MrKnowNothing

Yeah, five is a really small number. I wouldn’t bother with a rule change. But considering Maddux, his two best years(ERA<1.70) were both in the strike years of 1994 and 1995, so he might have had six or seven more wins. Still doesn't really matter, though.

Steve Arendash
9 years ago
Reply to  MrKnowNothing

Relief pitcher comes in with a 6 run lead in the 9th. This is not a “save” situation. But, gives up 6 runs and the game is tied. Since there is no “save” to “blow”, there is no blown save charged against him? Losing a 6 run lead is worse than blowing a 1 run lead. So, my question is: no “blown save” here? That is a majir inequity.