One mean streak

How incredible was Eric Gagne during his streak? For starters, he totaled more saves (84) than hits allowed (71).

Originally Published: July 6, 2004
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Any time a guy blows a save for the first time in 23 months, we're required by law to fire off an emergency Eric Gagne edition of our Useless Information Department. So here goes:

Useless Gagne-Vs.-Everyone-Else Info

  • In that 23-month period in which Gagne was blowing no saves, all those other, slightly more human, relievers combined to blow 969 saves. In fact, there were 28 blown saves just against the Dodgers during the streak.

    Eric Gagne
    Eric Gagne's shot in the arm could boost the Dodgers.

  • The five closers with the next-most saves during the streak -- John Smoltz, Billy Wagner, Eddie Guardado, Mariano Rivera and Keith Foulke -- blew a combined 34 saves while Gagne was blowing zero. That breaks down this way:

    Smoltz 69 of 74
    Wagner 63 of 68
    Rivera 70 of 77
    Foulke 58 of 66
    Guardado 65 of 74

  • So if the best relievers on earth were blowing 34 saves during this streak, just imagine how many some of the more mortal relievers were blowing. These guys blew the most saves during Gagne's streak:

    14 Danys Baez
    12 Francisco Cordero
    12 Jason Grimsley
    11 Armando Benitez
    11 Damaso Marte
    11 Tim Worrell

    Useless Domination Info

  • How overpowering was Gagne during this streak? Incredibly, he totaled more saves (84) than he allowed hits (71). And that just ain't normal.

    Next-best on Planet Closer (but not even close) during the same stretch were Smoltz (83 H - 69 SV), Wagner (77-63) and Guardado (79-65).

  • This guy was so unhittable, a hitter was three times more likely to strike out against Gagne during the streak than he was to get a hit. (Strikeout-to-hit ratio: 207 whiffs, 71 hits). The only other closer with even twice as many whiffs as hits in that span was Wagner (158 strikeouts, 77 hits).

  • Speaking of unhittable, Gagne had one stretch during the streak (last July 27-Aug. 14) in which he made 10 straight appearances without giving up even one hit. He made another (May 31-June 12, 2003) in which he made eight straight appearances without giving up a hit.

    He steamrollered 25 consecutive hitters without a baserunner in the July-August streak, and 24 in a row in the May-June streak. Ridiculous.

  • Even though almost half of Gagne's saves came in games the Dodgers won by a run (40 of 84), he was so untouchable that just once did he come within 90 feet of blowing a save. The only time during the streak that the other team even got the tying run to third base was last Sept. 18, when Arizona did it.

  • As loyal reader Eric Orns, president of the Useless Eric Gagne Infomaniacs Assn., reports, Gagne faced the minimum number of hitters in nearly half of his 84 saves (40 of 84, 48 percent).

  • Orns also reports that Gagne allowed one hit or none in 92 percent of his saves (77 of 84) -- and gave up zero hits in an amazing 60 percent of them (50 of 84).

  • Strikeout machine that he was, Gagne punched out at least one hitter in 77 of the 84 saves.

    He whiffed three hitters or more in 16 of them (19 percent).

    He recorded every out on a strikeout in 14 of them (17 percent).

    He struck out every hitter he faced in seven of them (8 percent).

    And ohbytheway, in one stretch, he struck out at least one hitter in 35 straight trips to the mound.

  • But in the meantime, his strikeout-walk ratio was an insane 207-34. And only once (April 17, vs. LA) did he walk more than one hitter in any appearance.

  • Not many strikeout pitchers are also as pitch-efficient as this guy. Gagne got through nine saves in the streak (11 percent) in 10 pitches or fewer, according to Eric Orns. And only twice did he throw more than 25 pitches in a save.

  • Think this guy got a little stoked when the game was on the line? During just the save opportunities in the streak ...

    His ERA was 0.82.

    He struck out 14.3 hitters per nine innings.

    He gave up only 4.1 hits per nine innings.

    Bonds
    Bonds

    Feliz
    Feliz

    He allowed just three homers (to Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Pedro Feliz).

    He totaled many more saves (84) than baserunners (61).

    He racked up almost 100 more strikeouts (139) than hits (43).

    And of the 23 runners he inherited in those games, none of them scored.

    Useless What-If Info

  • We often overlook the role that great -- and lousy -- closers play in their teams' records. So one of our favorite What-If games is: What if Gagne closed for every team?

    To find that answer, we needed to subtracted all blown saves by closers from each team's record. In most cases, we defined a "closer" as anybody with at least 10 save opportunities this season. In the cases of the two clubs that have had been through multiple closers (Toronto and Cleveland), we subtracted all blown ninth-inning saves.

    So how would that have changed the standings heading into games of Tuesday? Here's how:

  • The A's (10 blown saves by Arthur Rhodes and Octavio Dotel) would have the best record in baseball (56-24).

  • The Reds (seven blown saves from Danny Graves) would be 20 games over .500 instead of six over.

  • The Phillies (with a combined six blown saves by Billy Wagner and Tim Worrell) would lead the NL East by seven games instead of three.

  • The Angels (eight blown saves by Frankie Rodriguez and Troy Percival) would be 19 games over .500 instead of three over.

  • The Indians (with six blown ninth-inning saves) would be tied with the Twins instead of five games behind -- although both of them would trail the White Sox by a game and a half.

  • The Cubs (six blown saves by Joe Borowski and LaTroy Hawkins) would have as many wins as the Yankees.

  • And the Blue Jays (six blown ninth-inning saves) would be at .500 instead of 10 games under.

    Useless Quality-Control Info
    You don't have to be Rollie Fingers to know that not all saves are created equal. But in the old saves column, there's not a whit of difference between coming into a one-run game and striking out the side and coming into a three-run game and giving up two runs on six hits, then collecting your save on a bases-loaded line drive.

    So the big question is: How many of Gagne's saves were cheapies and how many were of the rarified break-a-sweat variety?

    Well, of Gagne's 84 saves, he entered the game with a one-run lead 38 times, a two-run lead 17 times and a lead of three or more 29 times. So that tells us something. But we need to know more.

    So the Elias Sports Bureau has devised a formula for something called a "Quality Save." To earn a Quality Save, a pitcher needs to:

  • Earn a save in a game in which the tying run was in scoring position when he entered.

  • (And/or) save a game in which he protected a one-run lead for at least one inning.

    And if you use that definition, it's clear Gagne didn't just earn the most saves in baseball during his streak. He also earned the toughest.

    During Gagne's streak, just 30 percent of all saves qualified as "Quality Saves." But almost half of Gagne's saves were Quality Saves. Here's the leader board, courtesy of Elias:

    MOST QUALITY SAVES DURING THE STREAK:

    Gagne 38 of 84 (45.2%)
    Guardado 21 of 64 (32.8%)
    Rivera 21 of 70 (30.0%)
    Wagner 21 of 63 (33.3%)

    Nathan
    Nathan

    HIGHEST PERCENTAGE OF QUALITY SAVES DURING STREAK (MIN.: 10 QUALITY SAVES):

    Eric Gagne 38 of 84 (45.2%)
    Joe Nathan 10 of 23 (43.5%)
    Matt Herges 10 of 24 (41.7%)
    Trevor Hoffman 11 of 27 (40.7%)
    Joe Borowski 17 of 42 (40.5%)
    Mike DeJean 10 of 25 (40.0%)
    Jose Jimenez 14 of 35 (40.0%)

    Of course, there's one big difference between those other guys in the 40-percent group of Gagne. They blew 36 saves in that time -- and Eric Gagne blew nada.

    Useless Streaks-During-The-Streak Info
    Finally, Gagne might have had the most visible streak of the last two years -- but not the only streak. So with the help of Elias, we've compiled some other notable baseball streaks during Gagne's streak:

    Consecutive games played
    270 Aubrey Huff (current)
    268 Miguel Tejada (current)

    Consecutive games with a hit
    30 Albert Pujols July 12-Aug. 16, 2003

    Consecutive games with a home run
    7 Barry Bonds April 12-20, 2004

    Consecutive games scoring a run
    11 Bobby Abreu May 11-22, 2004
    11 Shawn Green Sept. 9-19, 2002

    Consecutive games with an RBI
    10 Vinny Castilla April 14-25, 2004
    10 Manny Ramirez Sept. 14-24, 2002

    Consecutive wins
    15 Roy Halladay May 1-July 27, 2003

    Consecutive losses
    11 Mike Maroth Sept. 22, 2002-May 18, 2003
    11 Glendon Rusch April 13-July 18, 2003

    Consecutive starts with a win
    11 Roger Clemens Sept. 11, 2003-May 11, 2004
    11 Roy Halladay May 1-June 22, 2003

    Consecutive starts with a loss
    9 Mike Maroth Sept. 22, 2002-May 1, 2003

    Consecutive starts without a win
    19 Dan Wright May 9, 2003-May 1, 2004

    Consecutive wins (team)
    15 San Francisco Giants Sept. 20, 2002-April 7, 2003

    Consecutive losses (team)
    13 Detroit Tigers Sept. 26, 2002-April 11, 2003

    Most consecutive games without a save
    136 Ray King (but only 2 blown saves)

    Triviality
    Do you know me? I've won more games (124) than any active pitcher who has never made an all-star team, even though I have the eighth-highest winning percentage (.611) among active pitchers with at least 100 wins. In fact, no pitcher in the last half-century has as many wins as I do and a career winning percentage over .600 without making an all-star team. Who am I?

    ANSWER: Kirk Rueter.

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to send Jayson a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

    Jayson Stark | email

    Senior Writer, ESPN.com