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:
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).