Jason Isringhausen and 300 Saves

MIKE SILVA: The save statistic is probably one of the least sexy marks in baseball history. First, it’s controversial, due to its nature. We have seen very nondescript hurlers accumulate huge single season save totals. Relievers like Jeff Shaw, Joe Borowski, and Antonio Alfonseco saves over 40 games in a season. Every team is going to win at least 60 games, and in the age of specialization someone is going to need to get the last three outs. Actually, Borowski’s 47-save 2007 campaign might have been one of the worst of any closer in history. The only closer with a lower ERA+ than Borowski’s 97 was Randy Myers in 1992 (84). There is also the large latitude pitchers are given to earn a save. They could just pitch three innings or more when closing out the ballgame, regardless of score, or come into a game with the tying run on deck. Not all saves are created equal, which makes it hard for even the most statistically inclined to use it as a measure to evaluate performance.

With that said, to date, only 23 players have saved 300 or more games. As the game ages, this number will grow, making Jason Isringhausen’s 300th save accumulated on August 15th even less relevant. You can, however, evaluate his performance with respect to his era. Isringhausen became a full time closer in Oakland during the 2000 season. Over the last 11 years only four other pitchers have more saves than Isringhausen. Two are future Hall of Famers Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. The other two are Billy Wagner and Francisco Cordero; not Hall of Famers, but elite closers in their own right. It’s hard to argue that Izzy is one of the top relievers of the turn of the century.

It’s not easy to close out ballgames. Many have tried and failed, and although anyone can close, not anyone can sustain a period of success long enough to save 300 games. It requires consistency, health, and performance. How rare is it for all three to be in the affirmative for over a decade? Isringhausen stumbled to the finish line health-wise, but he got there nonetheless, and demonstrated remarkable consistency for about 7 years.

Jason Isringhausen is not a Hall of Famer. Other relievers such as Doug Jones, Jeff Montgomery, and Todd Jones have saved more ballgames. None of those names come up when discussing elite closers in the history of the sport. Although this is not a record that should be celebrated like 3,000 hits or 600 home runs, it’s still an accomplishment worth noting. It shows that Isringhausen was able to perform a very important duty for his team consistently over a long period of time. Anyone who played professional sports knows how hard is it to make it and stay in the big leagues for one season, much less perform at a high level for 10 or more. That’s what should be celebrated when you think about 300 saves.

CHRIS PUMMER: Not a lot of people seem enthused about Jason Isringhausen getting his 300th save, and I think that’s too bad. Ok, as far as milestones go, it’s not a big deal. But considering the injuries and struggles he had earlier in his career as a starter, why can’t we enjoy this kind of marker as a celebration of second chances?
Maybe you Mets fans will remember this better than me, but  I don’t recall Isringhausen even having the tools we think of when considering reshaping a starter into a closer. I don’t know about his fastball, but his strikeout rates were not eye-popping. His walk rate was, and the HRs allowed induce heartburn to think about a guy like that pitching late in a game with a small lead.
So he never became Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman. Ok, but now you’re talking about the standard for a Hall of Famer. Not the standard for a useful pitcher who did help some teams win ballgames, even if the market overvalued his services in terms of dollars spent relative to contributions on the field. That’s true of all closers.

Isringhausen has still fashioned a pretty nice career for himself, and that’s noteworthy. It’s worth some celebration. At least if you’re willing to appreciate comebacks and overachievers, even they don’t reach the mythical standards which some say you must to merit celebration.

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