Bullpen Shutdowns and Meltdowns
The save — and the blown save — have received plenty of press in Philadelphia over the past two years. Brad Lidge, of course, converted all 48 of his save opportunities in 2008. Last year, he converted only 31 of 42 (74%). Ryan Madson has received some heat from Phillies fans and the media for a seeming inability to convert saves. He has converted four saves in six opportunities, but his last failed attempt resulted in his kicking a metal folding chair and breaking his toe, sidelining him for at least two months. Last year, Madson converted 10 of 16 opportunities (62.5%).
Of course, if you have read any Sabermetric takes on the save, you are aware of its flaws. For one, a reliever can be credited with a blown save prior to the ninth inning, but he can only be credited with a save if he finishes the game in the ninth inning or later. That means that non-closers (like Madson was prior to the last month of 2009) will have save conversion rates that aren’t representative of actual skill. There’s also “The Wes Littleton Save”. Take a look at the score of this game and then look at what is next to Littleton’s name in the box score. The Rangers, Littleton’s team, won 30-3 over the Orioles and Littleton was credited with a save. MLB’s official rules state, “Credit a pitcher with a save when he [...] pitches effectively for at least three innings.”
Most Sabermetricians have scrapped the save statistic and for good reason. Many have worked to develop a way to accurately depict a reliever’s skills and contributions. I believe Jeff Zimmerman of Royals Review, inspired by Tom Tango, may be on the right track. For Royals relievers, he logged each pitcher’s “shutdowns” and “meltdowns”. A shutdown is when a reliever increases his team’s chances of winning by five percent and a meltdown is when a reliever decreases his team’s chances of winning by five percent. While the cut-off point of five percent is arbitrary, it is better than using saves (and holds) because it is blind to actual bullpen roles and focuses solely on performance.
There are still problems with S&M (ha, get it?), such as that a pitcher will still be penalized for events beyond his control. For example, if Jose Contreras does exactly what he’s supposed to do and induces a bunch of ground balls, but Wilson Valdez misplays a couple and allows several runs to score, Contreras will still bear the blame. It logs results, not performance. The most you can conclude from this is that, “Player A did or did not contribute to helping his team win in X games,” not “Player A is a good/bad pitcher”. With that in mind, here are this year’s Shutdowns and Meltdowns. I also included INH% which is the percentage of inherited runners each reliever allowed to score (note that INH% is much less meaningful for relievers with defined roles, such as closer and set-up).
Before we jump to the numbers, you may be asking, “Five percent — what?” Take this chart of last night’s 4-0 win over the Cardinals as an example. Head over to the “play log” and look at the top of the ninth inning. Heading into the inning, the Phillies had a 98.4% chance to win the game. When Jose Contreras got David Freese to ground out to end the game the Phillies, of course, had a 100% chance, a difference of 1.6% or .016. That is Contreras’ Win Percent Added (WPA) to the game. It does not qualify for Shutdown or Meltdown consideration. That is an example of how a reliever increases or decreases his team’s chance of winning a game.
Without further ado, this year’s relief corps:
It is interesting to note how evenly-split the “opportunities” are: Contreras and Madson have six, Durbin and Baez have five, Figueroa has four, and Herndon has three. With Lidge and Romero having started the season on the DL, the Phillies were forced to make a bullpen out of a motley crew.
Last year’s relievers:
A tip of the cap, as always, to Tom Tango and Jeff Zimmerman.