Deeper into Shutdown Mode

Just prior to the season’s official start, we covered a “new” set of stats unveiled by Fangraphs used to measure reliever contributions. The glee of another counting stat to play with provoked quite a bit of internet conversation.

I thought I’d put them to the test after through the first month of the season. Do they paint a clearer picture than saves? What about middle relievers/setups guy – who is locking it down in 2011?

What you see below is a graph of all the relievers with at least 5 saves in 2011. What I’m looking for here is the relationship between saves and shutdowns. Which pitchers rack up their precious (and valuable!) saves in the highest-pressure situations.

As an added bonus, the points are sized as to the average leverage when each reliever enters the game. The bigger the point, the tighter the game. Click to make it to a more agreeable size.

A few notes on the image: many of the pitchers grouped with 5 saves have very, very similar leverage index numbers (thus the similar number of shutdowns). Jonathan Broxton, Brandon League, and Neftali Feliz all have five saves, four shutdowns, and virtually the same leverage index. Same with Jonathon Papelbon and Jose Contreras with three shutdowns.

Click to enlarge

From this graph we can see that Craig Kimbrel is the proud owner of the cheapest saves in baseball. Very low leverage with very few shutdowns. Brian Fuentes, on the other hand, has taken years off his life closing games for the A’s. Which is weird because he’s basically a zombie, those years are a hot commodity. Unlike Fuentes during your fantasy draft. But I digress.

Huston Street is the best of both worlds, earning each and every save. Not surprisingly, Papelbon is among the cheaper save vultures, tough to do on a team that didn’t win many games for much of the month.

What about setup guys and middle relievers – do shutdowns tell us anything the garbage stat holds does not? I took a different approach to this chart, using the shutdowns to determine the size of the bubble while the higher the leverage when they enter the game, the higher up on the graph they sit.

Joaquin Benoit – money well spent.

A slightly different story. One big thing I like about shutdowns is you can still earn them in a tied game or even earn them when your team is behind. This is the big advantage of unhittable Mike Adams and lizardman Aroldis Chapman. Their managers put them in when they need outs and these guys deliver. The score almost doesn’t matter.

Tyler Clippard might just be the most effective reliever so far in 2011. Always in a high leverage situation, he is just behind Street with 8 shutdowns without a single meltdown to his name. All arms, legs, and glasses coming at you, I can understand why.

I’d love to hear your take on both shutdowns and how they reflect the way relievers are used. We often complain about managers who fall in love with all the wrong pitchers at all the wrong times. In the near future I think we’ll look at meltdowns and blown saves as they bring these two groups together.