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Clippard’s Vulture Win and the Braves’ Double Plays September 13, 2015

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During last night’s 6-4 win over the Braves, Mets setup man Tyler Clippard allowed three runs in the eighth, when Adonis Garcia hit a game-tying home run. Tyler finished the inning gamely, and then (through no fault of Clippard’s) the Mets scored two runs – Kelly Johnson batted Eric Young, Jr., home off of closer Arodys Vizcaino, and Yoenis Cespedes batted Johnson home off of reliever Peter Moylan.

Clippard’s sixth blown save of the year was a special kind of decision called a vulture win, which exists when a pitcher blows a save but gets the win anyway. It was Tyler’s first this year. Jeurys Familia relieved him immediately in the ninth for the save. Of the 492 blown saves thus far in 2015, 185 were in games the pitcher’s team won. Vulture wins are a very tiny proportion of those blown saves. Brad Boxberger has two; so do David Robertson, Greg Holland, J.J. Hoover, John Axford, Justin Wilson, and Luke Gregerson. No one has three this year.

In addition, the Braves (led by Andrelton Simmons) turned four inning-ending double plays with a runner on third. Of the 2228 inning-ending double plays this year, 429 came with third base occupied. Atlanta, including last night’s 4, has turned 27, or over 6% of them – almost double what would be expected. The Cubs have turned the fewest, with 6. 7, including all four of last night’s, were turned behind Braves starter Williams Perez.

Behind all of this, Noah Syndergaard shined, facing 223 batters in 7 innings of one-run baseball. Despite his hopeless inability to bunt (which set up a double play with Wilmer Flores on third), he managed to pitch to a 76 game score and hold the game in check so that even Clippard’s buzzarding didn’t cause any major issues.


The Vultures of Capistrano April 10, 2014

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As with the swallows returning to Capistrano, every April brings the return of the Vultures to Major League Baseball.

A vulture win is a special kind of decision for a reliever. In its purest form, it occurs when a pitcher enters the game in a save situation – usually, a lead of 3 runs or fewer, although a larger lead is allowable if the tying run comes to the plate no later than two batters after the batter currently at the plate – and promptly blows the save before the team takes the lead back to win the game. Some commentators require that the pitcher then leave the game, allowing the win to occur through no fault of the pitcher’s own; others will allow a pitcher to acquit himself by closing the game and still call it a vulture win – that is, any game in which a pitcher has both a blown save and a win is a vulture win. The World’s Worst Sports Blog follows the latter convention, due to it being easier to find in stat sheets.

The first vulture win of the season was picked up by Kansas City’s Wade Davis on April 5th. Davis entered the game in the 8th inning to a 3-1 lead and promptly allowed a single to Marcus Siemen before hitting Jose Abreu with a pitch. Dayan Viciedo then walked to load the bases. Conor Gillaspie singled to bring Siemen home, and Paul Konerko hit a sacrifice fly to score Abreu. Magically, the lead was gone; having blown the save, Davis promptly struck out Alejandro de Aza and coerced a line out from Alexei Ramirez. In the next inning, Salvador Perez scored Alex Gordon to re-establish the lead, which was finally saved by Greg Holland.

The second was another pure vulture win by Tony Watson on April 8th. Watson came in to pitch the 7th for Pittsburgh; ahead 6-5, all it took was a single and stolen base by Emilio Bonifacio (plus a sacrifice from Ryan Kalish) to set up Anthony Rizzo‘s tying RBI. Hilariously, Watson then struck out Nate Schierholtz and got Luis Valbueno to line out, having summarily blown the save. In the 8th, Russell Martin sacrifice-flied Starlin Marte home to take back the lead, earning the W for Watson. Mark Melancon got the hold for the setup, and Jason Grilli saved the game for the Pirates.

Finally, Dan Otero of the As just last evening picked up a vulture win of the “kept pitching” variety. Otero relieved Jim Johnson in a 4-3 game in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, then allowed Brian Dozier to sacrifice-fly Kurt Suzuki in to tie the game. Nonetheless, Otero pitched a clean tenth; in the top of the eleventh, Derek Norris homered himself, Daric Barton, and Alberto Callaspo in. Otero allowed two hits and a walk, but no runs, in the eleventh for the win.

Weird Pitching Decisions Almanac in 2010 December 24, 2010

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I’m a big fan of weird pitching decisions. A pitcher with a lot of tough losses pitches effectively but stands behind a team with crappy run support. A pitcher with a high proportion of cheap wins gets lucky more often than not. A reliever with a lot of vulture wins might as well be taking the loss.

In an earlier post, I defined a tough loss two ways. The official definition is a loss in which the starting pitcher made a quality start – that is, six or more innings with three or fewer runs. The Bill James definition is the same, except that James defines a quality start as having a game score of 50 or higher. In either case, tough losses result from solid pitching combined with anemic run support.

This year’s Tough Loss leaderboard had 457 games spread around 183 pitchers across both leagues. The Dodgers’ Hiroki Kuroda led the league with a whopping eight starts with game scores of 50 or more. He was followed by eight players with six tough losses, including Justin Verlander, Carl Pavano, Roy Oswalt, Rodrigo Lopez, Colby Lewis, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, and Tommy Hanson. Kuroda’s Dodgers led the league with 23 tough losses, followed by the Mariners and the Cubs with 22 each.

There were fewer cheap wins, in which a pitcher does not make a quality start but does earn the win. The Cheap Win leaderboard had 248 games and 136 pitchers, led by John Lackey with six and Phil Hughes with 5. Hughes pitched to 18 wins, but Lackey’s six cheap wins were almost half of his 14-win total this year. That really shows what kind of run support he had. The Royals and the Red Sox were tied for first place with 15 team cheap wins each.

Finally, a vulture win is one for the relievers. I define a vulture win as a blown save and a win in the same game, so I searched Baseball Reference for players with blown saves and then looked for the largest number of wins. Tyler Clippard was the clear winner here. In six blown saves, he got 5 vulture wins. Francisco Rodriguez and Jeremy Affeldt each deserve credit, though – each had three blown saves and converted all three for vulture wins. (When I say “converted,” I mean “waited it out for their team to score more runs.”)

Adventures in the Mets Bullpen: One-Run No-Decisions and Vulture Wins July 19, 2010

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A close cousin of the Tough Loss discussed earlier is what Jayson Stark of ESPN calls the Criminally Unsupported Start. Stark defines a CUS as a start in which the pitcher pitches 6 or more innings but the offense scores one run or less in support. Johan Santana didn’t fit that definition last night, but he was close: he left the game with a 2-1 lead after 8 innings pitched and ended up with a no-decision. (A friend of mine liked to call that “the ol’ Roy Halladay” back when Doc was pitching in Toronto.) Just as he was the centerpiece of Jayson Stark’s CUS standings back in 2007, Santana currently leads the league in starts with 6.0 or more innings pitched, at most one run allowed, and no decision. He has six such games, and no other pitcher has more than four. (Yovani Gallardo, however, has a respectable 3.)

In all of 2009, no one hit the six-game mark in one-run no-decisions. Surprisingly, this year the Mets aren’t leading the league in these one-run no-decisions – the Cubs are, led by Randy Wells and his impressive 4, along with Ted Lilly with 3.

Francisco Rodriguez also picked up his third Vulture Win of the year last night. A vulture win is the combination of a blown save and a win in the same game. Usually, that happens when a hometown closer blows the save in the top of the 9th and his teammates score in the bottom for the win. Frankie blew the save in the bottom of the 9th last night, but they left him in to pitch the bottom of the 10th and he held on (despite Phil Cuzzi’s hissyfit and some questionable umpiring going in both directions). Tyler Clippard leads the league in vulture wins this year with four.