Save in Baseball: Rules & MLB Save Leaders

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In the sport of baseball, the term save holds significant importance, encapsulating a critical aspect of game strategy and player specialization. This concept is not only a defining statistic for pitchers, especially those designated as closers, but also a turning point in the dynamic of baseball matches, directly impacting the outcome and the energy on the field. Understanding the role and intricacies of a save in baseball unfolds the layers of tactical depth and personal achievement that contribute to the rich tapestry of the game.

What is Considered a Save in Baseball?

A save in baseball is a statistic credited to a relief pitcher, often referred to as a closer, who finishes a game for the winning team under certain prescribed circumstances. The concept behind a save is to preserve a lead for the team, usually entered into the game with a relatively slim margin of victory in sight. The rules for what constitutes a save have evolved over time, but generally, a pitcher earns a save when they enter the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitch at least one inning, or they enter the game with the tying run in the on-deck circle, at the plate, or on the bases, and finish the game without relinquishing the lead. This role is pivotal in the strategy of baseball, as it places a significant emphasis on the bullpen’s ability to protect leads late in the game.

Evolution of the Save Statistic in MLB

The concept of the save in Major League Baseball can be traced back to 1952 when team executives and a statistician acknowledged pitchers who finished games successfully without getting the win credit. Initially, this achievement went unnoticed in the baseball community.

The save statistic, as recognized today, was formalized by baseball writer Jerome Holtzman in 1960. Holtzman noticed a gap in measuring relief pitchers’ effectiveness, suggesting that neither the Earned Run Average (ERA) nor win-loss records fully captured a reliever’s performance in protecting leads. This view was influenced by Elroy Face of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1959, who, despite a good win-loss record, often allowed tying or lead runs before his team regained the lead. Holtzman’s approach aimed to address these issues and better reflect a reliever’s impact on game outcomes.

J.G. Taylor Spink, the publisher of The Sporting News, supported Holtzman’s idea, resulting in the unofficial tracking of saves in the publication for nine years. In 1969, the save became an official MLB stat. Simultaneously, The Sporting News introduced the Fireman of the Year Award in 1960, honoring relievers based on saves and wins, solidifying the save’s significance and acknowledging the key role of relief pitchers in baseball.

How to Get a Save in Baseball

To achieve a save in baseball, a pitcher must meet specific criteria set by the MLB rulebook. Firstly, the pitcher must enter the game with their team leading and finish the game without surrendering the lead. Additionally, the save situation requires one of the following conditions to be met: the pitcher enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning; or, enters the game, regardless of the score, with the potential tying run either on base, at bat, or on deck; or, pitches for at least three innings. This rule ensures that the credit for a save is awarded to pitchers who genuinely preserve their team’s victory under pressure, highlighting their crucial role in the outcome of the game.

What is the difference between a hold and a save?

While both a hold and a save are statistics used to measure the effectiveness of relief pitchers, they vary significantly in terms of when they are awarded. A save, as detailed above, is credited to a relief pitcher who finishes a game his team wins, under specific conditions that demonstrate his direct role in preserving the victory. On the other hand, a hold is awarded to a relief pitcher who enters the game in a save situation but does not finish the game, instead handing over the game to another reliever without the team losing its lead. Essentially, the hold measures a reliever’s ability to maintain the team’s lead until the closer or another reliever takes over, whereas a save confirms the pitcher’s crucial role in finalizing the team’s win. This distinction highlights the collaborative effort in the bullpen, recognizing different pitchers’ contributions to a single game’s success.

MLB All Time Save Leaders

In Major League Baseball (MLB), the role of the closer is paramount, with pitchers specializing in securing victories for their teams in the game’s final innings. Throughout MLB history, several remarkable talents have excelled in this demanding role, amassing impressive save totals during their illustrious careers. Here, we recognize and celebrate the top 10 MLB players with the most career saves.

Most Saves in a Career

Below is a table highlighting the 10 MLB players with the highest number of career saves during the regular season:

Mariano Rivera†6521995–2013
Trevor Hoffman†6011993–2010
Lee Smith†4781980–1997
Francisco Rodríguez4372002–2017
Craig Kimbrel*4172010–present
Billy WagnerL4221995–2010
Kenley Jansen*4202010–present
John FrancoL4241984–2005
Dennis Eckersley†3901975–1998
Joe Nathan3771999–2016


  • Players marked with an asterisk (*) are currently active.
  • Players marked with ‘L’ are left-handed pitchers.
  • Players marked with ‘†’ have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.*


  • Mariano Rivera: Revered for his incomparable cutter, Rivera stands atop the all-time saves list, showcasing unrivaled consistency and postseason brilliance.
  • Trevor Hoffman: Renowned for his devastating changeup, Hoffman’s career was defined by his reliability and dominance, earning him a well-deserved spot in the Hall of Fame.
  • Lee Smith: A towering presence on the mound, Smith paved the way for future closers, leaving a lasting legacy as one of the game’s greats.
  • Craig Kimbrel:* Armed with electric stuff, Kimbrel continues to etch his name in MLB history, demonstrating his prowess as one of the premier closers in the game.

Baseball Save Situations

Baseball save situations arise when a game’s outcome hangs delicately in the balance, pushing managers to call upon their most reliable relief pitchers to secure a win. These crucial moments not only test a pitcher’s skill and composure under pressure but also directly affect their statistics and career accolades. A save situation is officially recognized when a reliever enters the game under one or more of the following conditions: with a lead of no more than three runs and the responsibility to pitch at least one inning, as the tying run in the on-deck circle, at the plate, or on the bases, or when pitching for at least three innings with a lead regardless of the score. Understanding save situations is essential for appreciating the strategic depth of baseball and recognizing the crucial role relief pitchers play in the outcome of a game.

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James Arnold
I'm James, and I live in Stanislaus County, California. I'm playing Baseball for many years, and I love this sport so much that I also encourage my kids (Danny and Sara) to play Baseball & Softball.