The hold also benefits long relievers, who may be the most frustrated pitchers of all. They occupy the lowest rung on the relief ladder and get virtually no credit for one of the grimmest jobs in baseball. "A long reliever just has to work his way up to short reliever," says Bob Sykes, who was traded from the Cardinals to the Yankees over the winter and was sent down to Columbus last week. Long men need at least three pitches; they often warm up without entering the game; and they must be durable enough to last six or seven innings.
Players back the hold concept overwhelmingly. Speaking eloquently for all relievers, Minnesota short man Doug Corbett says, "The hold brings grandeur to the long or middle reliever who otherwise ends up in oblivion."
So does first-batter effectiveness. A few relievers don't like this category, claiming they're often asked to pitch around the first batter. However, such managers as Mauch and the Cardinals' Whitey Herzog disagree. "Getting the first guy out is the only thing that matters," says Mauch. "So many times the game's right there," says Herzog.
Especially when men are in scoring position, which brings us to run prevention. This category awards relievers points for men who are left in scoring position and subtracts points for runners who are allowed to score. With two out in the ninth, runners on first and third and a one-run lead over the Cubs last May 4, Sambito had just one job upon entering the game: Retire Leon Durham. Sambito struck him out. "A reliever's job is to keep runs from scoring," says the Yankees' recently acquired Shane Rawley. Hume agrees, saying, "It bothers me more when I give up a run that's charged to the pitcher I replaced than to give up one that's charged to myself." Managers and pitching coaches point out that some situations (man on first, two out) are less challenging than others (men on second and third, none out). Thus, SI restricts the run-prevention category to men in scoring position; it judges only effectiveness under stress.
Among our other categories, players consider ERA a fair standard for long relievers who start many of their own innings, saves a good measure for short relievers and win/save/hold percentage a means of equalizing pitchers on winning and losing teams. The best equalizers of all may be our final two categories—runners on base per nine innings and innings pitched in relief. The runners-on-base category applies equally to all relief pitchers. Relief innings, surprisingly, are as fair a gauge for short relievers as for long. A long reliever may pitch more innings in a single outing, but he can't pitch every day and may be diverted by spot starts. A good—and healthy—short man will rack up innings galore.
To be eligible for our charts, a pitcher had to make at least 25 relief appearances in 1981. He got 10 points for each first-place finish in a category down to one point for each 10th.
Some of the findings are anything but surprising. As the most celebrated and salaried of their kind, short relievers dominate the overall standings, and Gossage and Fingers are the best. You expected Bobby Sprowl?
The most impressive new stat on Gossage is his win/save/hold percentage: He got one of the three in 87.5% of the games in which he appeared. Why wasn't Gossage—baseball's best relief pitcher—the American League's MVP and Cy Young winner instead of Fingers? Because redoubtable Rollie appeared in 47 games to 32 for Gossage; Goose, remember, missed 40 days of the already shortened season with various back, shoulder and groin ailments.
As expected, Davis dominated the hold category and finished fifth overall in the league. But how did a third Yankee, Dave LaRoche, who starts this season as a player-coach in Columbus, inch into the top 10? In a typical outing LaRoche—and his LaLob delivery—pitched five scoreless innings against the Royals on May 20 and left with the score 4-4 in the ninth. He was forgotten by the time the Yanks won 5-4 in 11. "Anybody who follows a team knows who's doing his job," says LaRoche, who figures to be recalled later in the season.
Even devoted Astro fans may be surprised at Sambito's first-place finish in the National League. Sambito was understandably overlooked on a staff featuring the highest-salaried starting rotation in baseball and two other good relievers, Dave Smith and Frank LaCorte. But Sambito's grip is solid. He was the only pitcher in either league to place among the top 10 in seven of the eight categories. No National Leaguer was more effective at retiring the first batter with men in scoring position. After Aug. 27 Sambito relieved with 12 men on base, and none scored. No wonder Houston won the NL West's second-half title.