A save opportunity occurs every time a relief pitcher either records a save or a blown save. For a save opportunity, a pitcher must be the final pitcher for his team (and not the winning pitcher) and do one of the following:
- Enter the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitch at least one inning.
- Enter the game with the tying run in the on-deck circle -- or closer to scoring.
- Pitch at least three innings.
Save opportunities are crucial in determining saves, blown saves and holds. In order for any of those three to occur, a pitcher must first have a save opportunity.
Typically, closers will receive the most save opportunities during the course of a season because their role is to maintain leads at the end of games. A setup man who earns a hold is not credited with a save opportunity, because he neither completed nor blew the save.
The term save was used by general managers in the 1950s, without specific parameters. It simply referred to a pitcher who entered the game with a lead and finished off a win -- regardless of score. Writer Jerome Holtzman was the first to give specific criteria to saves in the early 1960s. But saves didn't become an official stat until 1969.