On Tuesday, I posted a little something about the closer carousel that's already swept the first couple months of this spring. Today, I'd like to review which relievers are having the best seasons by a couple of win probability-based measures: shutdowns and meltdowns.
If you're not up to speed on these statistics, they're an alternative way of quantifying reliever performance that I find pretty valuable. In lieu of the complex save or hold rules, shutdowns occur when a reliever positively changes his team's WPA by .06 or more. Meltdowns are the opposite, occurring when a reliever negatively changes his team's WPA by -.06 or more. Steve Slowinski, keeper of the FanGraphs Library, has a better and more detailed explanation here.
Suffice it to say, shutdowns and meltdowns are able to identify when a reliever has done something to substantially affect his team's chances of winning a ball game. They can be found in the ninth inning, but also in high-leverage spots throughout the late game. As such, these stats tend to be middle relievers, set-up guys, and closers all on the same scale of effectiveness.
So, as of this morning, here's the leaderboard for shutdowns, along with meltdowns and two advanced pitching stats (SIERA and xFIP):
Looks like a pretty good group of relievers, no? There's quite a few closers on the list, but there are some elite set up men, and more than a couple of surprises on the list.
The top four guys on the leaderboard are something else, and none of them should be an out-and-out surprise. Jansen has been dynamite since last year, striking out unreal numbers of hitters for the Dodgers and recently displacing Javy Guerra (we'll get to Guerra in a minute) as the Dodgers' closer. Johnson is a rock-solid closer in Baltimore, and though his numbers aren't quite as good as the next two guys, he's established himself as a high-quality late-game reliever. Alexi Ogando moved from being a pretty-good starter last season back to the bullpen, where he's been even better, naturally. And Aroldis Chapman is basically pitching like the kid from Rookie of the Year, and making hitters look ridiculous.
There are also a few guys on this list who seem to be doing well via the SD/MD metric, but their SIERAs and xFIPs tell a different story. Jon Broxton has been closing for the Royals, but hasn't put up the numbers to make anyone comfortable, and may lose his spot to the returning Greg Holland. Chris Perez is the very definition of a cardiac closer, and has been terrifying Cleveland fans since he came over from St. Louis. He's just not striking out enough guys to continue this level of performance. The same's true for presumptive new Cubs closer Rafael Dolis. And Juan Cruz made the list, but I'm not sure anyone a) expects this to continue or b) knows what team he plays for at this point.
Hey, look! The Braves' ridiculous one-two punch of Kimbrel and Venters is represented on this list! Sometimes things turn out exactly like you'd expect! 14 shutdowns and 2 meltdowns, with ridiculously great peripherals is about what we've come to expect from these two stoppers.
Then there's Javy Guerra. Guerra's SIERA and xFIP seem to indicate that he's pitching well, but 5 his meltdowns tells another story. I looked a little deeper at Guerra, and the guy is suffering from a .459 BABIP and 63.6% strand rate. Those are both unsustainable, and if Guerra can keep up his improved strikeout numbers, I'd expect his ERA to drop substantially over time. Still, Jansen appears to be the better reliever, so Don Mattingly probably wasn't wrong in making the switch.
And, even though it's (quite) early in the season, both Brett Myers and Fernando Rodney, two closers who've been surprisingly effective, are showing that their stellar SD/MD performance is being backed up (more or less) with solid SIERA and xFIP numbers. I'm surprised by both players, but moreso Rodney, who was pretty terrible last year for the Angels and pretty average over his career.
So there you have it! Share your thoughts on this season's current shutdown relievers in the comments below, and feel free to ask any questions if they come up.
All stats courtesy of FanGraphs.