Update on Shutdowns/Meltdowns

With the recent implosions by Phillies relievers, coupled with the season-ending injury of Jose Contreras and the debut of Michael Schwimer, much of the discussion about the Phillies recently has centered around the bullpen. After all, the starting pitching has been pristine as always and the offense has not caused any concerns ever since Chase Utley came back. As the Fightins are the class of the National League, the big concerns lie not with the rest of the regular season, but with the playoffs. Will the Phillies’ bullpen be good enough in October?

About a month ago, I wrote about the bullpen using stats from FanGraphs called shutdowns and meltdowns. The two stats track a reliever’s contributions to his team’s chances of winning the game. Increase the probability of winning by six percent or more, get a shutdown; hurt your team’s odds of winning by six percent or more, get a meltdown. At the time, it was no surprise just how well the Phillies graded out. To that point, Ryan Madson had been lights out and Antonio Bastardo was nearly unhittable.

With two depressing losses against the Washington Nationals — one where Madson gave up six runs in the bottom of the ninth, and another where Bastardo allowed a two-strike, two-out game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth — the bullpen was starting to look vaguely human. Fans on Twitter started worrying and talk radio callers prophesied doomsday scenarios; the team on pace for 105 wins was growing a bald spot!

The bullpen is not an issue — not even close. The Phillies have the second-best shutdown-to-meltdown ratio in all of baseball at 2.8 percent, exceeded only by the Atlanta Braves (3.1) and tied with the San Francisco Giants. That’s quite good company to keep. The Phillies also have the fewest meltdowns in baseball with just 35. The Boston Red Sox have the second-fewest with 40; the MLB average is 53.

Obviously, a factor in the Phillies rarely melting down is having few opportunities in which to melt down. The starting rotation eats up the lion’s share of the innings, a fact that should surprise nobody. In fact, in four fewer games, Phillies starters have pitched 37 more innings than the Milwaukee Brewers in second place with 799.2 starter innings pitched. Additionally, Phillies starters have tossed 15 complete games, a whopping nine more than the Los Angeles Dodgers, in second place with six.

On an individual level, Bastardo ranks among the elite. Just five relievers in Major League Baseball have a shutdown-to-meltdown ratio at 10.0 or greater; Bastardo is one of them.

Name Team SD MD TOT SD/MD
Greg Holland Royals 19 1 20 19.0
Jonny Venters Braves 43 3 46 14.3
Jonathan Papelbon Red Sox 27 2 29 13.5
John Axford Brewers 37 3 40 12.3
Antonio Bastardo Phillies 30 3 33 10.0

Madson isn’t far behind at 24-4 with a SD/MD ratio of 6.0, good for eighth place.

The Phillies may not have the best bullpen in baseball, but they are as safe as anybody if the starters can get through seven innings with a lead. Going into the post-season, the Phillies are just fine with the bullpen as presently constructed.

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8 comments

  1. Cutter McCool

    August 24, 2011 01:27 PM

    Maybe the Phillies only have the fewest Bullpen “meltdowns” because they use their bullpen the least?

    A more telling statistic would be bullpen meltdowns per innings pitched.

    Would the Phillies still be first in that?

  2. Cutter McCool

    August 24, 2011 03:07 PM

    Never mind your condescension, I just checked the math myself.

    Phillies bullpen averages a “meltdown” once every 10 and 2/3 innings pitched by their bullpen.

    While the BoSox average a “meltdown” once every 9 and 2/3 innings pitched by their bullpen.

  3. kc

    August 24, 2011 06:05 PM

    oh snap.

  4. LTG

    August 24, 2011 08:51 PM

    The dialectic between BB and Cutter is confusing. On the one hand, BB addresses the question Cutter raises. On the other hand, BB does so only in a rather superficial and hand-wavy way, which Cutter clearly found unsatisfactory, and BB could have easily surmised this from Cutter’s post. In light of these points, was BB’s response condescension? Perhaps a borderline case, but certainly not an uncontroversial one. So, it is probably unreasonable to expect the stat to provide

    Anyway, how would one establish a causal relationship between number of meltdowns and use of bullpen in a particular case? I don’t have an answer to that question, but MDs/IP seems insufficient. A low MD/IP rate with a low raw denominator relative to normal could indicate either that the bullpen is intrinsically good or that it is operating at a higher efficiency level due to being used less. Thus, that stat could not return a negative answer to the question of causality. Maybe it could return a positive answer, as I suppose Cutter expected since he compared the Phils rate to the Red Sox rate. But that would only be helpful in light of more information concerning what a good rate is. And this information requires years of data collection and summarization, which has not taken place yet. So, it is probably also unreasonable to expect the stat to provide a positive answer. Perhaps this is why BB only addressed the issue in a hand-wavy manner.

  5. Bill Baer

    August 24, 2011 08:53 PM

    ^ The first paragraph read like the thatcan.be/my/next/tweet that was making the rounds on Twitter. Or maybe my brain is just fried from reading so many of them.

  6. LTG

    August 25, 2011 08:11 AM

    hmmm… I just noticed that I failed to delete a misplaced partial sentence from the end of my 1st paragraph. Is that what you meant, BB?

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