Phillies Bullpen: Shutdowns and Meltdowns

Happy off day. I think we all, fans, writers, and players alike, needed it dearly. This morning Bryan Grosnick of Beyond the Boxscore posted a Shutdowns and Meltdowns leaderboard for Major League relievers so far in 2012. For those unfamiliar, an extensive explanation by Fangraphs’ Steve Slowinski can be found here. In short form, a reliever who adds .060 or more to his team’s win expectancy — that is, increases his team’s probability of winning the game by 6% or more — receives a “shutdown.” A reliever who decreases his team’s win probability by 6% or more receives a “meltdown.”

The 6% threshold is calibrated so that a shutdown’s value corresponds roughly with that of a save, while disposing of the statistic’s needless complicating factors and removing the emphasis on closers. Middle relievers, long relievers, set up men, and specialists have just as much an opportunity to receive a shutdown. Meltdowns have the same egalitarian quality, and demarcate blow-ups that the Blown Save statistic takes far less frequent notice of. So rather than a simple look at peripherals or ERA (always a dicey metric, both this early in the season and for relievers in general), Grosnick’s leaderboard notes the contributions of relievers who have most positively contributed to their team’s chances of winning the game with their appearances.

Let’s take a look at the embattled, migraine-inducing Phillies bullpen through this lens:

Jonathan Papelbon 5 1 3.25 2.69
Antonio Bastardo 5 3 5.31 5.19
Chad Qualls 5 3 4.15 4.25
Jose Contreras 2 3 3.32 2.86
Kyle Kendrick 1 1 7.09 6.58
Joe Savery 0 1 5.40 5.16
Joe Blanton 0 1 11.50 6.13
Michael Stutes 0 1 6.40 5.36
David Herndon 0 1 1.96 2.09
Brian Sanches 0 1 5.65 4.75
Michael Schwimer 0 3 6.29 6.24

So that’s 18 shutdowns and 19 meltdowns total thus far from the bullpen. The large proportion of Phillies games decided in the 9th or later probably washes away some of the statistic’s aforementioned egalitarianism. Still, it’s not pretty. There is some evidence that unluckiness is a factor — the bullpen’s 5.59 ERA doesn’t quite sync with its 4.67 xFIP or 4.31 SIERA, and their strand rate is only 63.6%. But they’re certainly striking out too few (16.6% of batters faced) and walking too many (10.8%), and their 37.9% ground ball rate is a recipe for disaster.

I think it’s fair to say that the team as a whole is not that much better than what we’ve seen so far, though the improbable prevalence of walk off losses has probably made it look worse than it really is. Don’t be surprised though, if the bullpen looks like less of a culprit down the road. The offense has been scoring 4.9 runs per game in the last 5 series, a pace that is impossible to sustain with the talent currently on the roster. The bullpen is not exactly an all-star cast, but it’s a sure bet to improve on its current ERA (and here again I must mention that the way it has been utilized is partly to blame).

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  1. KH

    May 10, 2012 10:21 PM

    The Phillies were nuts to think Chad Qualls at this stage of his career could be a shut down eighth inning reliever. This is what happens when you concentrate a large percentage of your resources to a few areas and try rounding out the rest of your roster with bargin bin type players.

  2. KH

    May 10, 2012 10:30 PM

    Not to just focus on Qualls other guys have been worse just making the point that the 8th inning guy is arguably the most important reliever and we go with a guy like Chad Qualls in that role. Teams like the Braves have someone like Johnny Venters. We used to have Ryan Madson in that role. Talk about a downgrade.

  3. LTG

    May 11, 2012 07:59 AM

    Hey, maybe we can get Kelvim Escobar to help the ‘pen. I hear he’s making a comeback…

  4. Phillie697

    May 11, 2012 01:32 PM


    Nah, concentrate on a few areas and bargain shop the rest works, IF you have a bargain shopper who knows what he’s doing. RAJ ain’t that.

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