Worthless Stats 101: The Hold

Some people don't like the batting average, or the earned run average.  From certain perspectives, there's a logic to the detractors of those old school stats.  But there's a relatively new one that I despise, because I'm not even really sure what it tells me.

If you play fantasy baseball (which I'm not this year, for the first time since 2005...or the season before I started on this SB Nation journey), you might be the commissioner of a league who gets to decide whether or not to use the Hold as a category for your pitchers.  Some people might think this legitimizes the statistic, but I'm promising you right now that it doesn't.

Wait, what's that?  You don't know what a "Hold" is?  You're not alone, my friend.  Allow myself to enlighten...myself.  And you.  We'll borrow from Yahoo Help's answer to the query, "What is a hold?"

The hold stat was created in part to measure the effectiveness of middle relief pitchers. Put simply, holds are to middle relievers what saves are to closers.

A hold is earned when a reliever comes into a save situation and gives way to another reliever without giving up the lead.

Even in theory this sounds pretty arbitrary (not to mention vague), particularly when the Save itself comes under its own fair share of scrutiny.  It's a stat that shows that a pitcher has essentially done his job, but it's so narrow of a focus that it really doesn't tell us anything about his performance.

Without a reference of how, when, playing time or against whom, it's difficult to tell if the number is representative of a decent body of work or if the number is just a combination of luck and being in the right place at the right time.  So the Hold, like the Save or the Win or the RBI, is a subjective stat.  Except that people don't know what it is.

Let's put the number into context.  Scot Shields of the Angels led all of baseball in 2008, for which I'm sure he received a participatory ribbon and a coupon for a Big Mac, with 31 holds.  He was also the proud owner of a 2.70 ERA and a 9.1 K/9.  Not bad.  Following him on this prestigious list are Carlos Marmol (awesome), Kyle McClellen (good), Dan Wheeler (effective), Eddie Guardado (I'm serious, he's fifth) and Damaso Marte (decent).  Just a couple of places below Marte is Arthur Rhodes, who shows up on the leader board with 24 holds...in 35.1 innings.  Sure, that's over 61 appearances (which is ridiculous...this guy had a roster spot?), but it doesn't do anything for the legitimacy of The Hold.

Here's a comparison from a message I received from a friend recently:

Name

IP

ERA

Holds

Joey Devine, OAK

45.2

0.59

11

Eddie Guardado, TEX/MIN

56.1

4.15

25

Devine struck out more than a batter per inning, posted a WHIP well under 1.00, and walked an acceptable number of hitters.  Guardado...well...he didn't have his best season.  But that didn't stop him from being on the leader board, and it's pretty clear that Devine's stellar year didn't earn him any honors.

Using the hold to determine the worth of a pitcher is useless.  It's pretty clear that mediocre (or worse) players can be near or at the top of this list, while perfectly good bullpen arms aren't, and from where I'm sitting that's the end of the argument.  The hold isn't like the home run, where in spite of being a narrow focus it gives us a clear indication of an asset, it's more like the win for a pitcher...arbitrary and entirely dependent on use and the game situation.

If you are playing fantasy baseball this season, and you're wondering how to boost your hold stats, my advice is this:  write down a list of your 20 favorite relief pitchers and tack/tape/glue/zip them to a poster of Cher or The Jonas Brothers.  Then go rent a monkey, blindfold it, feed it some Guiness, spin in around six times and then give it some darts.  Try to leave the room before the monkey starts throwing the darts (or something much smellier), and go back after he's passed out.  Choose the reliever with the most darts.  It's that simple.

Let me know how it works out for you, and don't do that to any monkeys.

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