After tabbing new Padres closer Heath Bell as one of my "breakout candidates" last week over at Rotoworld, a reader sent me the following e-mail:
I usually find you informative, and I agree with you more often then not. However ... Heath Bell, a breakout candidate? Granted he has good stuff, but this is a guy who clearly chokes in pressure situations. He was 0-for-7 in save situations last year, after being 2-for-6 in 2007! Following Trevor Hoffman isn't easy, and this guy doesn't have the makeup to be a big-time closer.
I've learned two things in my years writing about baseball on the internet. One is that whenever an e-mail starts out with a compliment it won't end that way. The other is that citing blown saves for non-closers is incredibly misleading.
Bell's "blown saves" did not take place in the ninth inning. They took place in the seventh and eighth innings, and thus he had no chance to actually pick up a save in those spots regardless of how well he pitched. All he could do was either blow the save or get nothing.
If you count "holds," which are the setup man's version of saves, then Bell went 23-for-30 last season and 36-for-40 in 2007. In other words, he successfully held a lead 59 times in 70 chances over the past two seasons, which works out to 84.3 percent.
And even that number is misleadingly low, because he was often asked to protect a lead for multiple innings, whereas closers typically only have to get three outs. Oh, and if you're curious: Trevor Hoffman's save percentage during that same two-year span was 86.7 percent.
Bell got his first post-Hoffman save chance last night and struck out the side in the ninth inning to close out a 4-2 victory over the Dodgers.