The Shutdown (and Meltdown) Relievers of 2011

Earlier this season, I re-introduced the two statistics Shutdowns and Meltdowns. In short, these two stats are an alternative way of evaluating relief pitchers, providing an alternative from the age-old standbys Saves and Blown Saves. If a pitcher enters a game and makes their team more likely to win, they get credit for a Shutdown; if they make their team more likely to lose, they get a Meltdown. It’s a simple enough concept, no?

Shutdowns and Meltdowns are a great way to look at which relievers are under- or overvalued based on their Saves total, and it can also be a useful tool for evaluating middle relievers. So which relievers have are being sneakily good or bad this year? Let’s take a look.

Most Surprising Bad Reliever: Matt Guerrier (16 SD, 15 MD)

If you just look at his traditional statistics, Guerrier looks like he’s had a fine season. His 3.67 ERA might be slightly higher than he’s posted in recent years (3.40 career ERA), but it’s still quite respectable out of the bullpen and he’s increased his strikeout rate from last year by over 1.0 K/9. He’s only blown two saves all season, and if you look at his advanced stats — like FIP, xFIP, and SIERA — he’s having his best seasons since 2007.

Yet despite all the positives about his year, Guerrier has been one of the most bipolar relievers in the majors. He’s tied for the major-league lead in Meltdowns, and he’s also around the 50th percentile mark for Shutdowns. As you’d expect, he’s been one of the most unclutch pitchers in the majors, and he has an overall negative win probability added.

So despite his shiny ERA and FIP, when Guerrier has entered games for the Dodgers, he has made them overall less likely to win. Ouch.

Most Overrated Closer: Brandon League (20 SD, 8 MD)

Much like Guerrier, League is in the midst of one of the best seasons of his career. His 3.10 ERA is among the lowest of his career — and his lowest since 2008 —  and his 3.05 FIP is the lowest of his career. He has lowered his walk rate all the to 1.6 BB/9, and his 31 saves are ninth best in the majors. Considering the Mariners have only won 55 games, League has had a hand in closing out a high percentage of them.

And yet, League has one of the largest discrepancy between his Saves and Shutdown total of any closer this season (11). Out of the 1o closers with the most saves totals in the majors, League is tied for the most Meltdowns of the bunch and is the only one with an overall negative win probability added.

I’m not saying that League has been bad, but simply that his Saves total is misleading. Considering he also has a negative clutch rating — something he’s had every season in the majors — he may not be cut out for high-leverage situations.

Most Shutdowns from a FanGraphs Reader: Daniel Bard (30 SD, 7 MD)

He may be a Red Sox player, but I can’t help but like Bard. He’s on pace for another fantastic year as the set-up man for the Sox, doing his very best to improve upon his totals from last season. While his 2.10 ERA isn’t quite as good as his 1.93 ERA from last season, he’s increased his strikeout rate, decreased his walk rate, and started generating over 50% groundballs. He’s one heck of a reliever, and thankfully, we now have a stat that can give him credit for his success.

For comparison, Jonathan Papelbon has 27 Shutdowns and 2 Meltdowns. That’s quite the duo.

The Chicago Comparisons: 

I keep hearing how it was a great decision to bring Kerry Wood back, but does Sean Marshall get any love? For the second season in a row he’s been a force out of the back of the Cubs’ bullpen, yet I can’t say I’ve heard much at all about him.

And for all his early season struggles, Chris Sale is quite good. Matt Thornton, though…what happened?

Best Reliever of the Year: Jonny Venters (43 SD, 3 MD)

There has been much attention given to fellow Atlanta bullpen ace Craig Kimbrel, but Venters has arguably had an even better season. Sure, Kimbrel has saved a major-league leading 40 games and his strikeout rate is out of this world (14.5 K/9), but you can’t forget about Venters. While Kimbrel has 35 Shutdowns and 6 Meltdowns, Venters has closed out more games while blowing fewer. He has excelled in clutch situations, and has allowed only 10 runs over the entire season.

For comparison, only 12 players in all of baseball’s history have ever had more than 43 Shutdowns in one season, and no player has ever had at least 43 Shutdowns without also posting at least 5 Meltdowns. The record for most Shutdowns in one season is 53 (set by Francisco Rodriguez in 2008), which should be in reach of Venters considering there is still around a month left during the season.

Jonny Venters is having a historic year, but you wouldn’t know it unless you looked beyond his Saves total. Mark this down as yet another reason I love Shutdowns and Meltdowns.




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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.


34 Responses to “The Shutdown (and Meltdown) Relievers of 2011”

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  1. Dan says:

    Wonderful! May I have a sortable SD% though?

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  2. deadpool says:

    I think Venters and Kimbrel are close enough to where the limited opportunity to use Kimbrel plays a significant role in the difference in the SDs. Kimbrel would still have more MDs, but coupled with their age differences I’m still saying Kimbrel is the more impressive season.

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    • David says:

      What limited opportunity? Oh right, their hands are bound by a stupid statistic :)

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      • deadpool says:

        Bingo. If there was no save stat you have to wonder if this Braves team would have lost a late lead all season.

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    • kp says:

      Awesome stat of the day: Kimbrel has accumulated 3.1 WAR so far this year. That’s the most of any Braves pitcher, and behind only Brian McCann (3.7 WAR) for the team lead.

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      • Robbie G. says:

        Seems like a 3+ WAR season for a reliever is highly unusual. Is it? Anybody bored/ambitious enough to compile a list of 3+ WAR seasons by relievers? If it’s not at all unusual, disregard this comment.

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      • Dann M says:

        I know that Carlos Marmol went for 3.1 in 2010, with 9 other relievers between 2.0 and 2.7 (Brian Wilson, Sean Marshall, Joakim Soria, Heath Bell, Matt Thornton, Matt Belisle, Hong-Chi Kuo, Billy Wagner, John Axford).

        Rivera and Papelbon broke 3 in 2008.

        Betancourt hit 3.2 for the Tribe in 2007.

        2006 was a good year: JJ Putz at 3.6, Papelbon and Saita at 3.2, and Nathan at 3.1, plus BJ Ryan at 2.9.

        Mo had 3.2 in 2005

        But 2004 takes the cake:
        Nathan, Francisco Cordero, Eric Gagne and Tom Gordon all at 3.1; BJ Ryan at 3.4; Brad Lidge at 3.8, and K-Rod at 4.0 (!!)

        In 2003, Smoltz had 3.0, and Eric Gagne had 4.5 (!!!)

        Gagne had 3.3 and Nen had 3.0 in 2002.

        Mo and Dotel broke 3 in 2001.

        Gabe White (?) had 3.3 in 2000

        In 1992, when he won his CYA and MVP, Eckersley was at an even 3.0, edging out Doug Jones, Rod Beck, Duane Ward and Rob Dibble for the lead among relievers. Eck’s WAR was equal to starting pitchers Eric Hanson and Jimmy Key, far down from Clemens’ 8.5, Nagy’s 7.4, Kevin Brown’s 6.6, and even Melido Perez’s 5.9.Those 3 Wins are also on par to Donnie Baseball’s .332 wOBA/108 wRC+ season at 1B for the Yankees. Those crazy sportswriters…

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      • Scott says:

        Holy crap. I had no idea Gagne topped out at 4.5 WAR. That’s absurd. Like, asterisk it for roids or whatever, but still, 4.5 out of the pen is crazy.

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  3. trent says:

    Any love for Antonio Bastardo?

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  4. Joe says:

    This is probably the best method of bullpen evaluation but it’s not quite flawless.

    A ninth inning save allowing 1 or 2 runs would still be a shutdown as WPA is increased. Probably not true of a 7th inning guy. An 8th inning guy allowing 1 run but preserving a 2 run lead might get a shut down, I’m not sure.

    But it situations where the lead is only 1 run, you would get a meltdown for the same performance.

    My point is that this system favors pitchers who enter games in more favorable situations as a lesser performance can get a better WPA. Close games anything but perfect gives a loss of WPA.

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  5. ineedanap says:

    Downs.

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  6. Steve Balboni says:

    Of League’s 17er this season, 10 came in 4 appearances over 5 days, with high pitch counts in each. One theory: League dominates except when his Manager overworks him in a short period.

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  7. Phantom Stranger says:

    Venters is pitching on another level this year. As long as Fredi does not blow his arm out from overuse, we are witnessing the birth of the next Mariano. His sinking cutter/screw pitch is something that MLB hitters have never faced at 96 MPH. Some teams have so given up trying to hit him that many batters are simply hoping to get walked now when facing him.

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  8. CluckyB says:

    How can someone get a Save and not a SD? Presumably when you complete the save, your team’s chances of winning are 100%. Also when you entered the game, there was still a chance you’d blow it and thus the chances of winning are less than 100%. Am I missing something?

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    • Torgen says:

      There are appearances which are neither SDs nor MDs.

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    • Person says:

      +6 WPA or better = Shutdown
      -6 WPA or worse = Meltdown

      If your team’s win expectancy is higher than 94% when you come in, even finishing with a save won’t get you the shutdown.

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    • Lex Logan says:

      If you follow the link to the earlier article, a shutdown is defined as +.06 WPA, and a meltdown as -.06. So while any save adds to WPA, a top-of-the-ninth, 3 run lead save earns about .04 WPA. Of course you can simply evaluate relievers by total WPA, but the SD/MD stats correlate well with saves and blown saves for closers, while also highlighting good production from non-closers.

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    • Alex says:

      The win probability has to be affected by at least 6% to qualify as a SD or a MD (not made clear in this post, but an earlier one spelled it out).

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  9. RP says:

    Could we maybe get a Wilson vs Romo comparison on SD/MD?

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  10. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    This article fails to mention Clippard who is one of the best relievers in the game right now. ERA 1.54. So, I do not like it!

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  11. jts5 says:

    so if a closer comes in with a 4 run lead and gives up three runs he would still get a shut down right? because his team would win, thus giving them a 100% chance of winning. meanwhile if a pitcher gave up 3 runs with a 4 run lead in the 8th he would get a meltdown, no?

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    • cktai says:

      No because coming in with a 4 run lead his team has a 96.6% chance to win, which means the pitcher will get a maximum WPA of .034 in the game, while .06 is required for a shutdown.

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    • cktai says:

      Meanwhile, giving up 3 runs in a 4 run game in the top of the 8th reduces the win probability from .976 to .863 which is a WPA of -.113, which indeed is a meltdown.

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  12. Jeff says:

    To be fair to League, a decent portion of his MDs have been caused by horrible luck and defensive failures.

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  13. MK says:

    I pulled up the team stats and calcuated the SD% (SD/(SD+MD)). Unsurprising the Braves were the highest at 75.7%. I was a little surprised that the Giants and Phillie were next. The Rays are second worst at 55.8%, makes me wonder if they’re regretting letting all those guys go from last year.

    Also, Nats duo of Clip and Storen might be third best behind Venters and Kimbrel and Bard and Paps, but the rest of the BP is terrible. The rest of the BP has a SD% below 50% (They’re at 82.9%).

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  14. Craig says:

    Can we give some love to Axford and his 65/10 ratio over the past 2 years. Remember, he did not begin last season as the Brewers closer.

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  15. Wolverine says:

    John Axford might become the second reliever this season to have 43 SD with less than 5 MD.

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  16. Kevin says:

    Vinnie Pestano couldn’t even make it as a footnote?

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  17. CK says:

    Any love for Romo? I don’t know his SD/MD stats off the top of my head, but they have to be amazing, he’s having 1 of the best seasons for a reliever EVER. Sure, his recent injury means he’s had a few less chances as of late, but he’s still been amazing. 13.25 K/BB, are you kidding me???

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