Here They Come to (Non-)Save The Day

(Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press)

Following John Axford’s uninspiring outing against the Rockies on Wednesday, Ron Roenicke said something we’ve heard some version of before – that for whatever reason closers do not perform well in non-save situations.  I wondered how true that is, so I did a little research.

It probably wouldn’t be fair to compare Axford to guys like Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman.  Axford has been his team’s closer for three seasons, so I think it makes sense to compare him to his peers: guys who have been in the closer role for two to four seasons.  Looking at earned running average, opponent batting average, and walks/hits per inning pitched, here is what we find.

John Axford (Brewers)

2.80 / .200 / 1.19  Save

3.86 / .248 / 1.43  Non-Save

Whoa.  Axford is remarkably less effective, including a whole ‘nother earned run in non-save situations.

Carlos Marmol (Cubs)

3.35 / .170 / 1.29  Save

2.73 / .176 / 1.23  Non-Save

I didn't realize players hit so poorly against Marmol overall.

Craig Kimbrel (Braves)

1.59 / .149 / 0.83  Save

1.19 / .149 / 1.02  Non-Save

Lights out.  Interesting that, like Marmol, Kimbrel’s ERA is higher in save situations.

Rafael Soriano (Nationals)

2.47 / .191 / 0.96  Save

2.64 / .197 / 1.07  Non-Save

No big difference for Mariano Rivera's 2012 stand-in.

Joel Hanrahan (Red Sox)

2.76 / .216 / 1.19  Save

3.81 / .238 / 1.39  Non-Save

Hanrahan seems to share Axford’s tendencies in allowing earned runs.

Chris Perez (Indians)

3.18 / .222 / 1.22  Save

3.29 / .195 / 1.14  Non-Save

For what it's worth, Perez has almost the same number of career saves as Axford, 108 to Ax's 106.

Fernando Rodney (Rays)

3.53 / .238 / 1.31  Save

3.97 / .228 / 1.41  Non-Save

Based on this modest sample size, it seems clear that calling on Axford (or Hanrahan) in non-save situations is a dubious proposition.  However, there does not appear to be a general pattern of closers significantly underperforming in these roles.  Hopefully Rick Kranitz can work some magic here.

Enrique Bakemeyer

About Enrique Bakemeyer

Enrique is a writer and baseball enthusiast living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has been contributing to The Brewers Bar since 2013, and has previously written for Follow him on Twitter at @C_Enrique_B