OAKLAND, CA - MAY 10: Jose Valverde tied the Astros single season save record before he left in free agency for the Tigers (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
The Astros have had an exceptional history of closer pitchers out of the bullpen. Even as far back as the late 1960's, the Astros had a good hard throwing closer, Fred Gladding (No. 4 in all time saves), aka "Fred Flintstone." In those days, it was common to refer to the closer as a "fireman."
The save is a much maligned statistic, but it is the most popular mark used in baseball for closers. I will focus on the six best save seasons among Astros closers. Today is game 36, which coincides with the 36 saves that all six of these seasons equalled or exceeded. Why six seasons, instead of the top five? If I had chosen the top five, it would have encompassed only three relief pitchers, given Billy Wagner's dominance of this statistic. So, I selected the top six seasons, since it would include one more rellef pitcher.
Astros' Top Six Save Seasons
Jose Valverde 44-T 2008
Billy Wagner 44-T 2003
Brad Lidge 42 2005
Billy Wagner 39-T 1999
Billy Wagner 39-T 2001
Doug Jones 36 1992
The save statistic has its flaws. I have suggested that two newer Fangraphs statistics, the shutdown (+) and the meltdown (-), can be summed to produce a net number for evaluating relief pitchers. (Timothy has begun to do this for the relief pitcher performance rankings, by the way.) I thought it would be interesting to re-order the top six save seasons with the SD - MD result. This will reward consistency (e.g., avoidance of meltdowns) and discount saves in which the closer was not dominant (e.g., give up two runs in a three run save). Notice that Wagner's 1999 season now rises to the top, and Doug Jones' 1992 season looks like the second best season.
Shutdown Minus Meltdowns
Wagner - 34 (1999)
Jones - 32 (1992)
Wagner - 28 (2001)
Wagner - 27 (2003)
Valverde- 24 (2008)
Lidge- 23 (2005)
Do you have any recollections or observations you would like to share about these four closers? I'll start with my one or two liner comment about each one.
Billy Wagner--As the lists above demonstrate, Wagner was the best closer in Astros' history---actually one of the best in baseball history. In my opinion, he deserves to be voted into the Hall of Fame.
Jose Valverde-- He took a line drive to the coconut and continued to pitch and got the save. What more can you say about his desire to save games?
Brad Lidge-- This is totally subjective, but at his peak I felt that he was the best closer in the National League. One word for his success, slider.
Doug Jones-- He was unique among closers with his repertoire of slow and slower pitches---perhaps the slowest pitches ever thrown by a professional pitcher in modern history. A low 80's fastball, a slower knuckle curve, and a really slow change up.