Shutdown Innings

Primarily due to the MLB Extra Innings package and my sheer love of the sport I am a true baseball junkie. I don’t care if it’s the generic Red Sox/Tigers matchup on ESPN or the local feed of a Reds/Nationals game; watching various games helps me connect better with players who would otherwise be nothing more than names on a page. Something that comes with the territory of watching so much baseball is listening to different sets of broadcasters and their terminology or beliefs.

Though many differ in opinion over issues pertaining to clutch hitting, or Barry Bonds, one common weapon in their broadcasting arsenal involves some form of the following phrase: “Well, (insert pitcher) needs to just shut them down this inning to keep the momentum going.”

These assertions generally occur after their team has scored to either a) take the lead, b)tie the game, or c) make a significant effort to come back. Regardless of which takes place, the idea is that momentum has begun its shift into their dugout and, by shutting down the opponent in the following half-inning and preventing them from tacking on more runs, it can sustain its new position.

Hearing about these magical shutdown innings so much made me research which pitchers are truly the best at ensuring a change in momentum is not a fluke. Essentially, I’m defining these Shutdown Innings (SHIP) as any half-inning following one in which the team scores, to bring themselves within a maximum of four runs (ahead or below).

Trailing by nine runs and scoring two would not cause the following half-inning to qualify as a potential shutdown inning; trailing by nine runs and scoring five or six would. On a similar token, leading by one run and then scoring five would not lead to a SHIP; however, leading by one and then scoring two or three would.

Just looking at the National League, for now, I took every pitcher with 41+ innings (the top 25) and scanned their individual game logs to come up with the following top ten:

1) Todd Wellemeyer, 9-9, 1.000
2) Braden Looper, 10-11, .909
3) Scott Olsen, 7-8, .875
4) Ryan Dempster, 11-13, .846
5) Tim Lincecum, 10-12, .833
6) Jake Peavy, 9-11, .818
7) Mark Hendrickson, 13-16, .813
8) Jair Jurrjens, 12-15, .800
9) Dan Haren, 12-15, .800
10) Aaron Cook, 11-14, .786

Wellemeyer and Looper have provided 19 SHIP out of a possible 20. Of these 25 players, the worst three were:

23) Roy Oswalt, 6-11, .545
24) Adam Wainwright, 5-10, .500
25) Brett Myers, 8-16, .500

The next step of this, which I’ll get into later in the week, deals with just how much the failed SHIP attempts (trying really hard to resist a dock or anchor or sea metaphor) effected the teams; some players may be handed a four-run lead and give up just one run whereas others will be given a four-run lead and give up four runs. Shutdown Innings do not tell us which pitchers are better but rather who sustains the momentum discussed by broadcasters most often.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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David Appelman

This kind of feels like a holds type of stat for starting pitchers. Do you think -4/+4 runs is too loose a criteria? At the start of any inning with a +4/-4 score differential the leverage index is always below 1, which suggests there shouldn’t be much pressure on the pitcher. You only start to get LIs above 1 at the -3/+3, and then it’s also only with the lead.

Pitching from behind leaves you with a much lower LI than pitching with the lead, which says pitchers have way more to lose when trying to hold a lead than they do when trying to keep the game close.