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Hold up: Middle relievers have a stat of their own

Statistic helps to show effectiveness of pitchers who don't get a lot of credit

Baseball games require successful execution of a series of small tasks in order to piece together a victory. Commonly referred to as the game within the game, one pitch, one swing or one out can make all the difference.

There is nothing that personifies that more than the position of middle reliever and the statistic created to reward them: the hold.

Invented in 1986 by John Dewan of STATS, Inc., and Mike O'Donnell, the hold gives middle relievers credit the same way the save credits closers. A hold is awarded when a pitcher enters the game in a save situation, records at least one out and leaves the game without relinquishing the lead.

It is important to note that, unlike a save or win, a hold is not an official MLB stat. However, its usage is growing in popularity, as fans, management and players pay an increasing amount of attention to it.

"I think it's a very good stat," said Rex Brothers, who was third on the Colorado Rockies last season with 12 holds. "It is an accomplishment. This game take so much [physically and mentally], to get a little bit of credit back, as far as a stat like holds, is nice."

There is little glory and no adoring fan clubs for middle relievers, so the hold stat provides a little taste of the grandeur the ninth-inning specialist senjoy.

"A closer gets a lot of attention in today's game," Brothers said. "There are tons of relievers who are capable of closing, and the holds stat goes to their benefit."

It's a middle reliever's only exclusive stat.

As Brothers pointed out, "If there wasn't a hold, what would be their benchmark in arbitration cases?"

While many arbitration-eligible pitchers have used holds to their benefit in negotiations, not all relievers find the hold overly useful.

"If you're in the situation, you're in it. If you're not, you're not. All that matters is getting your outs and doing your job," said Los Angeles Angels reliever Joe Smith, who led the Cleveland Indians with 25 holds last season. "If you're worried about whether it's a hold situation or not, you're already beat."

Others find the stat unnecessary.

"I don't really see the importance of the hold," said Kansas City pitcher Tim Collins, who led his team with 21 holds last season. "Obviously, it's important to get outs. We're not going out there trying to get as many holds as we can."

The hold stat does have its flaws.

By its current definition, it is possible, albeit unlikely, for a pitcher to earn a hold and a loss in the same game. Because the final threshold of earning a hold is leaving the game without losing the lead, any runners who score after the reliever exits do not invalidate the hold, even if the runs are charged to that reliever and result in a loss.

Like saves, holds are not awarded in tie games or when the pitcher's team is trailing. Unlike closers, not all middle relievers specialize in pitching late in games with the lead. Relievers can still succeed with low hold totals, while closers with low save totals are not afforded the same luxury.

The stat's popularization in fantasy baseball has shed light on a crucial position that is often in the shadow of closers and starters.

"Nowadays, when you see pitch counts come into play, you don't see a lot of starters -- especially young starters -- [going deep into games]," Smith said. "Because of that, you need a couple guys to bridge that gap to get to the closer in the ninth inning."

Bridging that gap is what being a middle reliever is about. The ability to pitch multiple days in a row in a variety of situations is a unique skill set, so it only makes sense the statistic designed for them is a little different as well.

Jaime Eisner is a senior majoring in journalism at Arizona State University. This story is part of a Cactus League partnership between and Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.