Weekly lineup

 Wednesday, September 8
On Holds
By Rob Neyer

 From time to time, I get a question about holds. The following was originally posted on September 11, 1996. However, all the specific points are just as valid as they were the day I wrote them.

Last Thursday I received the following note:

Hi Rob,

Maybe you can help me figure out the Hold statistic. The definition I read clearly says that the pitcher must record at least one out to get credit for a Hold. Yet, quite often I read a line like this one from yesterday's game:

Baltimore      ip  h  r er bb so hr
Orosco (H, 14)  0  0  0  0  1  0  0

Orosco walked the only batter he faced, and still gets a Hold? Sounds like a very bad metric.

Doug Dolbear

Very observant of you, Doug. The problem is, there is more than one definition of the "Hold," which in my opinion is a misguided and completely unnecessary situation.

First, a little background. The hold was invented in 1986 by John Dewan and Mike O'Donnell, who worked together on The Chicago Baseball Report. Here's their definition, as it appears in the STATS Baseball Scoreboard: 1996...

A Hold is credited any time a relief pitcher enters a game in a Save Situation, records at least one out, and leaves the game never having relinquished the lead.

In other words, you have to enter a game in a save situation, get somebody out, and exit the game with the same save situation intact. John Dewan is now the big cheese at STATS, Inc., where they continue to tabulate holds based on that definition. Holds were first exposed to a wide audience a few years ago, when USA Today, through box scores supplied by STATS, listed them on a daily basis.

However, in 1994 STATS lost the USA Today account to SportsTicker, and the latter parties decided to come up with their own version of the hold. The new definition was different in two respects. One, a pitcher does not have to retire a batter to get a hold. All he has to do is leave with the save situation intact, whether he gets anyone out or not. There's another difference. You know how a pitcher can get a save no matter what the score, as long as he pitches three or more innings? According to STATS, that save situation can lead to a hold opportunity as well, but SportsTicker doesn't credit holds in those big-lead situations.

(Before we go further, I should tell you that my loyalties are divided here. I used to work for STATS, and in fact I once wrote an essay defending the hold as a meaningful statistic. On the other hand, SportsTicker and ESPN both show up on Disney's corporate flow chart one way or another. For the sake of argument, let's assume that my eagerness to please my former and my current employers cancel each other out, leaving me completely unbiased.)

The result of all this is a contradiction here at SportsZone. We use SportsTicker's box scores, and hence their definition of the hold. But our player cards feature stats by STATS, which still uses the original definition of the hold. And that's why last night's Cleveland/California box score shows Jeff Russell earning his 20th hold, while Russell's SportsZone player card credits him with only 19.

Which definition is "better"? I prefer the STATS version, for three reasons.

First, the good people at STATS invented the hold, and it seems to me that if someone else "redefines" the hold, they should have a very, very good reason for doing so. And assuming they do, it still strikes me as a bit presumptuous to call the new statistic "hold."

Second, I don't think it makes sense to credit a pitcher with a hold when he doesn't record an out. Aside from being inelegant, it damages the credibility of the stat. When people see a guy with an "H" next to his name even though he didn't do anything right, they'll question the general credibility of the statistic, and rightly so. Last night, two straight Royal pitchers walked the only batter they faced, and each was credited with a hold in the box score. It just doesn't look right, you know?

And third, STATS is the only organization making any kind of effort to "preserve" the hold, to legitimize it as an analytical tool. They run a piece on holds in the annual Baseball Scoreboard book (which you really should buy next spring), and if you look hard enough -- in The Zone, for example -- you can find hold data for every active pitcher back through 1987. To the best of my knowledge, SportsTicker's holds disappear at the conclusion of the season, never to be seen again.

There's a positive to be found here. Since 'Ticker's holds aren't preserved in a book or anything anyway, no one would raise a fuss if they switched back to the original definition. Which is exactly what they should do.