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i save at the office

after is'hausen's 1st appearance this season -- a skin-of-teeth "save" against the phillies in the 2d game of the schedule -- i more or less offered to catalogue izzy's 2006 appearances by the degree of nervousness they induce :

the last couple of years, it seems as if every outing goes like last night's -- he uses 25 pitches and every last inch of clearance before he finally gets the game parked in the hangar. but really, how common are those close calls?

i propose the following cataloguing method -- subject to comments and suggestions from all of you:

  • a "shutdown" save is one in which izzy retires the side in order.
  • a "solid save" is one in which nobody advances into scoring position
  • a "shaky save" is one in which either a) at least one run scores, or b) the tying run advances into scoring position.
  • a "cliffhanger" is one where the winning run advances into scoring position.

and then of course there's the plain old "blown save." and there's "departs game with injury."
i didn't follow through on the promise, but after the griffey debacle last week i decided to dust this idea off, and after nibbling away at the project i've finally completed the album to date --- and, right on cue, izzy had another near-miss last night, providing me with an excellent opening to lay the numbers on you. considerate of him.

before i do that, however, i have to lay out a revised filing system, with three add'l categories to plug gaps in the original. i sorted only the save opportunities, which account for all but three of izzy's appearances, and placed each into one of 7 folders:

  • shutdown save -- side is retired without a hit, walk, or hit batsman
  • solid save -- a baserunner gets on but does not advance into scoring position
  • standard save -- a runner advances into scoring position but a) does not represent the tying run, and b) is stranded
  • shaky save -- either a) the tying run advances into scoring position, or b) at least one run scores
  • cliffhanger -- the go-ahead run advances into scoring position
  • blown save -- the tying run scores, but not the go-ahead run
  • hose job -- the cardinals fall behind
as far as i'm concerned, any of the 1st three categories represents a pretty routine outing; none puts the team in great peril or provides much reason for card partisans to fret. i would add that the "shaky save" standard is a pretty strict one; in one game this year izzy came on with a three-run lead, allowed a walk, allowed the guy to advance to 2d via defensive indifference, and then allowed him to score on a two-out hit. because a run came home, it counts as a "shaky" save, but he actually threw the ball quite well that night -- struck out two of the five men he faced -- and didn't put the lead at serious risk.

all of which is to say that any game in categories 1 through 3 -- shutdown through standard -- is an acceptable performance from a top-shelf closer.

ok, now that we've built up the suspense (just like izzy, right? draw it out as long as you can), let's take a look. through 63 games and 25 save opportunities, isringhausen has registered

  • 7 shutdown saves
  • 4 solid saves
  • 4 standard saves
  • 4 shaky saves
  • 2 cliffhangers
  • 2 blown saves
  • 2 hose jobs
that's not as bad as i would have guessed. in 15 of his 25 appearances, the game has ended with a yawn. he has encountered serious difficulty -- cliffhanger, blown save, or hose job -- only 6 times in the first 10 weeks of the year. but 2 of those teeth-gnashers came in the season's opening week; in his 1st five appearances he took two losses, one of them in a non-save situation (he entered a tie game and yielded a homer). that set a tone that we fans have never gotten over; we didn't notice that for 6 weeks -- from mid-april through last week -- is'hausen was virtually automatic. he had 17 save opportunities over that span and converted 16 of them; 12 of the conversions fell into the shutdown, solid, or standard category. during that stretch izzy also tossed two near-perfect innings in a non-save situation, preserving an extra-inning tie on may 31 vs houston.

then came the first week of june, and the blown save vs the cubs -- abetted by rolen's uncharacteristic error -- followed by the meltdown vs the reds, izzy's first "hose job" outing in nearly two months. but who remembers is'hausen's two saves over the weekend against milwaukee? if you took a poll, i bet half the respondents would remember them as typically wobbly is'hausen outings; but in fact he turned in two "shutdown" saves, including his first four-out save of the year.

i'm not saying that is'hausen's struggles don't concern me; they do. but they're isolated incidents. he had a terrible week to open the season and a terrible week to open june; other than that he has been outstanding. he is quick to make adjustments and adapt his approach to fit whatever is working for him at a given time. early in the year he saved a couple of games with almost nothing but his curveball, the only pitch that was remotely effective; once he got his fastball back and started getting a better feel for the cutter, he was largely unbeatable. the cutter misbehaved again on this last homestand, causing the two blown games, so he has banished it to its room and is throwing straight fastballs for the time being. call me nuts, but i still have confidence in the guy.

is he overpaid? absolutely. but the closer position is one that i think it makes sense to overspend on when tony la russa is your manager. he has never, ever won without an established closer -- a veteran with a proven track record. the presence of that automatic 9th-inning guy is tony's insurance policy; it gives him license to run through four relievers from the 6th through the 8th, playing the percentages and shielding his setup guys from adverse matchups. it's an expensive formula, but it has worked -- and it's largely working this season. here is izzy's game log, for anybody who wants to nose around in this further.

i'll keep the catalogue current moving forward; look for it in the perfect world box.