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Baseball has always used statistics to keep track of what happens on the field of play. As technology has improved, teams can now capture new data and information to create more complex statistics. For lifelong fans who grew up with very basic statistics or those who are new to baseball, it can be a daunting task to try and understand what these numbers mean.
Fortunately, there are a few basic statistics that serve as building blocks to understanding the game of baseball. The hold statistic, often referred to as a HLD, H, or HD, is one that is easy to understand and can be used to learn more about the game and help you become more confident with baseball statistics.
Most baseball fans are familiar with the pitching statistics “wins” and “saves,” given to the pitchers who directly affected the game to help their team win. But besides starters and closers, there are middle relievers who can earn a “hold.” How does a pitcher get credit for a hold? Three things must happen for a reliever to earn a hold:
- The reliever comes into the game with a lead of three or fewer runs.
- The reliever records at least one out.
- The reliever leaves the game with his team still winning.
The concept of this baseball statistic is simple, but a hold is one good way to show how a reliever contributes to his team. Middle relievers are often overlooked, but they have a big impact on the game. One good pitch could end the inning and help the team move closer to a victory, but one bad pitch can give up the lead and push their team into a losing situation.
Although their job may seem small, relief pitchers have a very important role on their team. They strive to pitch well, earn a hold, and help their team win. These contributions set pitching records and even earn them high-valued contracts.
How a Relief Pitcher Achieves a Hold
There are a few things that must happen in order for a pitcher to record a hold. As we mentioned above, a reliever must enter the game with a lead of three or fewer runs, record at least one out, and leave the game with a lead. Let’s discuss those points in more detail to understand exactly what a relief pitcher must do to achieve a hold.
A pitcher’s job on the mound is to record outs efficiently and limit runs scored by the other team. Starting pitchers used to regularly pitch six or seven innings, then the bullpen would take over. More recently, teams use a starter for four to five innings, then bring in multiple relief pitchers before handing the ball to the closer in the final inning. The basis of the hold statistic is that those middle relievers hold the team’s lead until the closer comes into the game in the final inning.
If you’re wondering why a lead of three or fewer runs is required to earn a hold, that’s because it’s tied directly to the “save” statistic that can closers earn. Holds and saves are only given when it’s a close game, usually a high-pressure situation. If a team is winning by 10 runs, they’ll likely cruise to a victory, so there’s not really an opportunity to “hold” or “save” the game — it’s already a blowout win.
If the game situation has the opportunity for a save (a lead of 3 or fewer runs), a middle reliever can earn a hold if he keeps that save opportunity alive. The minimum he must do to qualify for a hold is record one out. He can record more than one out if the team asks him to, but he still has to leave the game with his team ahead.
Let’s look at an example: Bulldogs’ starting pitcher Billy pitched five innings and left the game with a 3-1 lead. Bulldogs’ relief pitcher Tommy entered the game in the sixth inning and is tasked with getting as many outs as he can while still maintaining the team’s lead. Tommy gives up a single to the first batter but got the next batter to ground into a double play. He strikes out the next batter for the third out of the inning. Tommy recorded three outs and successfully held the Bulldogs’ lead, handing the ball off to the next relief pitcher. The Bulldogs would go on to win the game 3-1 and Tommy was awarded a hold for his work holding the team’s lead in the sixth inning.
Other Ways to Earn a Hold
The scenario we mentioned above is the most common way relief pitchers get credit for a hold in a baseball game. However, there are other ways a relief pitcher can earn a hold.
If he records at least one out while maintaining his team’s lead in any of the following situations, a relief pitcher can earn a hold:
- He enters the game with the tying run on-deck (up to bat next), or
- He enters the game with the tying run at the plate, or
- He enters the game with the tying run on the bases
Each of these situations are considered “high leverage,” meaning the at-bat is pivotal to the outcome of the game. For example, let’s say the relief pitcher’s team is winning the game. He enters the game with two outs and the tying run in the on-deck circle. If the relief pitcher strikes out the batter, the inning is over and he did not allow the tying run a chance to step to the plate. That out was crucial to keeping his team’s lead and he successfully kept the save situation alive for the closer, earning himself a hold.
Why Is the Hold Statistic Important?
When a starting pitcher throws five or six strong innings, the home crowd gives him a standing ovation as he walks off the field. When a closer records the final out to win the game, fans cheer and players high-five each other. Because they start and end the game, these two pitchers get a lot of well-deserved recognition.
Starters and closers aren’t the only pitchers on a team, however. Middle relievers are an integral but underappreciated part of a pitching staff. The hold statistic is important because it highlights the ways middle relievers contribute to the team and aid in a win.
In addition to giving recognition to middle relievers, the hold statistic serves as a way to quantify a middle reliever’s performance. A pitcher who records many holds proves himself to be effective in his role of maintaining the team’s late-inning lead. Because a hold is only available when the team is up by three or fewer runs, these innings tend to have high stakes. Coaches trust relief pitchers with a high number of holds because they’ve proven themselves to be effective in high-pressure situations. When a middle reliever earns holds, he’s proven himself worthy of handling clutch situations.
Other Relief Pitching Scenarios and Whether or Not a Hold Is Earned
The vast majority of hold situations occur like the simple scenario we gave you with Bulldogs’ pitchers Billy and Tommy. But like every rule, there are a few exceptions.
Depending on the game situation, a relief pitcher can enter the game, pitch well, and not get credit for a hold. On the other hand, a relief pitcher can enter a game, give up two runs, and still be awarded a hold.
For example, Tommy would not earn a hold in either of the following scenarios:
- Tommy enters the game with a 6-1 lead, strikes out three batters, leaves the game with a 6-1 lead. Hold? No, he came into the game with a lead larger than 3 runs.
- Tommy enters with the game tied 3-3. He retired the first three batters he faced and leaves the game with the score still tied at 3-3. Hold? No. Even though he held the other team scoreless, he did not enter or leave the game in a save situation.
In both of these scenarios, Tommy pitched very well. He didn’t allow a run in either scenario, but he does not earn a hold because neither game was in a save situation.
On the other hand, Tommy would earn a hold in each of the following scenarios:
- Tommy enters the game with a 3-1 lead, allows a solo home run, then records one out. He left the game with a 3-2 lead. Hold? Yes!
- Tommy enters the game with a 7-4 lead, gives up 2 runs, and records three outs. He left the game with a 7-6 lead. Hold? Yes!
Although Tommy gave up a home run in the first scenario, he successfully recorded one out and left the game with the potential save still intact and his team still in the lead. This qualifies for a hold situation.
In the second scenario, Tommy allowed two runs to score and put the opposing team within striking distance. While this doesn’t offer his team a better chance to win, he walked off the mound with a lead and the potential save intact. This would earn Tommy a hold.
Can more than one pitcher earn a hold in the same game?
Yes! If the first relief pitchers successfully holds the game, the pitcher after him can also record a hold if he records one out and leaves the game with a lead. Any reliever that enters with a 3 run or fewer lead, records one out, and maintains the lead can earn a hold.
Who owns the record for most career holds?
Tony Watson, a left-handed pitcher who began his career in 2011, has collected 246 holds in his 11-year career. He is still playing Major League Baseball and could add to his lead. Before Watson, Arthur Rhodes was the leader with 231 holds in his career.
When was the hold statistic created?
The hold statistic was created in the 1980s, but Major League Baseball did not keep track of the statistic until 1999. Because of this, there are no hold records for pitchers before 1999. All hold records are from 1999 to the present.
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