The Shutdown (and Meltdown) Relievers of 2011

Earlier this season, I re-introduced the two statistics Shutdowns and Meltdowns. In short, these two stats are an alternative way of evaluating relief pitchers, providing an alternative from the age-old standbys Saves and Blown Saves. If a pitcher enters a game and makes their team more likely to win, they get credit for a Shutdown; if they make their team more likely to lose, they get a Meltdown. It’s a simple enough concept, no?

Shutdowns and Meltdowns are a great way to look at which relievers are under- or overvalued based on their Saves total, and it can also be a useful tool for evaluating middle relievers. So which relievers have are being sneakily good or bad this year? Let’s take a look.

Most Surprising Bad Reliever: Matt Guerrier (16 SD, 15 MD)

If you just look at his traditional statistics, Guerrier looks like he’s had a fine season. His 3.67 ERA might be slightly higher than he’s posted in recent years (3.40 career ERA), but it’s still quite respectable out of the bullpen and he’s increased his strikeout rate from last year by over 1.0 K/9. He’s only blown two saves all season, and if you look at his advanced stats — like FIP, xFIP, and SIERA — he’s having his best seasons since 2007.

Yet despite all the positives about his year, Guerrier has been one of the most bipolar relievers in the majors. He’s tied for the major-league lead in Meltdowns, and he’s also around the 50th percentile mark for Shutdowns. As you’d expect, he’s been one of the most unclutch pitchers in the majors, and he has an overall negative win probability added.

So despite his shiny ERA and FIP, when Guerrier has entered games for the Dodgers, he has made them overall less likely to win. Ouch.

Most Overrated Closer: Brandon League (20 SD, 8 MD)

Much like Guerrier, League is in the midst of one of the best seasons of his career. His 3.10 ERA is among the lowest of his career — and his lowest since 2008 —  and his 3.05 FIP is the lowest of his career. He has lowered his walk rate all the to 1.6 BB/9, and his 31 saves are ninth best in the majors. Considering the Mariners have only won 55 games, League has had a hand in closing out a high percentage of them.

And yet, League has one of the largest discrepancy between his Saves and Shutdown total of any closer this season (11). Out of the 1o closers with the most saves totals in the majors, League is tied for the most Meltdowns of the bunch and is the only one with an overall negative win probability added.

I’m not saying that League has been bad, but simply that his Saves total is misleading. Considering he also has a negative clutch rating — something he’s had every season in the majors — he may not be cut out for high-leverage situations.

Most Shutdowns from a FanGraphs Reader: Daniel Bard (30 SD, 7 MD)

He may be a Red Sox player, but I can’t help but like Bard. He’s on pace for another fantastic year as the set-up man for the Sox, doing his very best to improve upon his totals from last season. While his 2.10 ERA isn’t quite as good as his 1.93 ERA from last season, he’s increased his strikeout rate, decreased his walk rate, and started generating over 50% groundballs. He’s one heck of a reliever, and thankfully, we now have a stat that can give him credit for his success.

For comparison, Jonathan Papelbon has 27 Shutdowns and 2 Meltdowns. That’s quite the duo.

The Chicago Comparisons: 

I keep hearing how it was a great decision to bring Kerry Wood back, but does Sean Marshall get any love? For the second season in a row he’s been a force out of the back of the Cubs’ bullpen, yet I can’t say I’ve heard much at all about him.

And for all his early season struggles, Chris Sale is quite good. Matt Thornton, though…what happened?

Best Reliever of the Year: Jonny Venters (43 SD, 3 MD)

There has been much attention given to fellow Atlanta bullpen ace Craig Kimbrel, but Venters has arguably had an even better season. Sure, Kimbrel has saved a major-league leading 40 games and his strikeout rate is out of this world (14.5 K/9), but you can’t forget about Venters. While Kimbrel has 35 Shutdowns and 6 Meltdowns, Venters has closed out more games while blowing fewer. He has excelled in clutch situations, and has allowed only 10 runs over the entire season.

For comparison, only 12 players in all of baseball’s history have ever had more than 43 Shutdowns in one season, and no player has ever had at least 43 Shutdowns without also posting at least 5 Meltdowns. The record for most Shutdowns in one season is 53 (set by Francisco Rodriguez in 2008), which should be in reach of Venters considering there is still around a month left during the season.

Jonny Venters is having a historic year, but you wouldn’t know it unless you looked beyond his Saves total. Mark this down as yet another reason I love Shutdowns and Meltdowns.

We hoped you liked reading The Shutdown (and Meltdown) Relievers of 2011 by Steve Slowinski!

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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

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Wonderful! May I have a sortable SD% though?