Late Inning Shutdowns and Meltdowns by Starting Pitchers

Joe Blanton is king of the meltdowns - Jeff Gross

A look at starting pitcher's WPA performance in the 6th inning or later.

In a follow up from my article on Monday, I decided to specifically look at the performance of starting pitchers in late game situations to quantify late leads or close games blown, for Yu Darvish specifically and in the context of the league.

I borrowed a concept used for late inning relievers called Shutdowns & Meltdowns, which was initiated from a discussion on Beyond the Box Score then hashed out The Book blog, and is available on FanGraphs. In order to gain a Shutdown or a Meltdown, a relief pitcher's total cumulative WPA must either improve the team's odds of winning by 6% or more (shutdown) or hurt the team's odds of winning by 6% or more (meltdown).

In order to take a similar view for starting pitchers, I used the Event Finder tool from Baseball-Reference.com to pull every plate appearance from the beginning of the 2013 season through Monday, August 26th. I aggregated the events in the inning by pitcher for an Inning Summary that had a total WPA accumulated and rated each inning as either a Shutdown, Meltdown or Low Impact using the same 6% standard for the Shutdowns and Meltdowns and everything in between for Low Impact.

A pitcher can receive a meltdown even if no runs score by leaving an inning early after allowing runners on base for a relief pitcher to deal with, or a low impact after allowing lots of runs if the game is a blowout and the lead goes from 10 to 7. Shutdowns are almost exclusively scoreless innings in close games with the lead or the score is tied.

I limited the pitchers to evaluate only those who have appeared in at least 100 innings this season (though not necessarily 100 innings pitched, because innings with zero or partial outs are considered as an inning appearance). There were 130 starting pitchers in the result set.

After tallying the results, I determined a meltdown percentage (MD%) and shutdown percentage (SD%) as the percentage of meaningful appearances (MD + SD), disregarding low impact innings in the ratio. Starters are ranked by the lowest MD%, with Yu Darvish coming in 45th out of 130, a little better than the average of all 130 starters. Last year's numbers for Yu Darvish were also included in the list for comparison. The table below lists the top ten lowest MD% starters in the 6th inning or later, as well as several selected pitchers with either a top of the rotation reputation or of interest to Rangers fans. Additionally, the last place pitcher is listed for context (and hilarity).

The 8 late inning meltdowns for Yu Darvish show that Eric Nadel's eyes did not deceive him, meltdowns that hurt the team's chances of winning have occurred at a middle of the pack rate.

An important note on the RA/9 metric listed in the table is that it does not consider inherited runners, just runs scored while the pitcher was on the mound. Also, for those unfamiliar with RA/9 versus ERA, RA/9 doest not differentiate whether a run was earned or not. All runs, regardless of scorer judgement are in RA/9.

Here is a Google spreadsheet with tables for the data on all 130 pitchers, including a breakout of the first five innings and overall game. Each inning-by-inning summary is included as well its associated date.

A final note of interest, in the linked spreadsheet that shows similar data for the first five innings, Yu Darvish has the 5th lowest MD% and Cliff Lee the 7th lowest, compared to their 45th and 55th respective late inning rankings. Both are doing a great job of infrequently putting their team in a difficult position to win early, but not excelling at shutting down the late innings. But hey, at least neither are having the year of CC Sabathia!

2013 Starting Pitcher MD/SD, 6th Inning or Later - Top 10 and Selected Starters (min 100 overall innings appeared in)

Rank Pitcher App MD SD MD% SD% AVG OBP SLG OPS RA/9
1 Doug Fister 45 2 26 7.1% 92.9% .238 .276 .313 .589 1.73
2 Felix Hernandez 52 2 20 9.1% 90.9% .222 .259 .307 .566 0.91
3 Max Scherzer 51 2 18 10.0% 90.0% .211 .249 .320 .569 2.79
4 Rick Porcello 32 2 13 13.3% 86.7% .202 .233 .253 .486 0.64
5 Chris Sale 56 4 26 13.3% 86.7% .199 .239 .280 .518 1.70
6 Francisco Liriano 31 1 6 14.3% 85.7% .194 .259 .272 .531 1.84
7 Gio Gonzalez 34 2 12 14.3% 85.7% .212 .321 .336 .657 1.72
8 Clayton Kershaw 67 6 34 15.0% 85.0% .192 .231 .284 .515 1.28
9 Erik Bedard 25 2 10 16.7% 83.3% .219 .318 .315 .633 1.83
10 Jose Fernandez 32 3 15 16.7% 83.3% .144 .239 .231 .470 1.15
11 David Price 43 4 19 17.4% 82.6% .174 .190 .285 .475 2.25
13 Jered Weaver 30 2 9 18.2% 81.8% .274 .297 .377 .675 2.60
14 Matt Moore 27 2 9 18.2% 81.8% .200 .281 .224 .505 1.16
16 Bartolo Colon 40 3 11 21.4% 78.6% .259 .284 .315 .598 0.93
19 Stephen Strasburg 42 5 16 23.8% 76.2% .197 .242 .347 .589 3.51
26 Hiroki Kuroda 48 7 20 25.9% 74.1% .241 .256 .333 .589 2.28
- Yu Darvish (2012) 54 8 22 26.7% 73.3% .220 .319 .339 .658 3.04
44 Zack Greinke 39 7 15 31.8% 68.2% .198 .285 .302 .586 1.85
45 Yu Darvish 47 8 17 32.0% 68.0% .154 .246 .282 .527 1.88
46 Mat Latos 45 8 17 32.0% 68.0% .313 .356 .460 .816 3.38
47 Adam Wainwright 67 9 19 32.1% 67.9% .280 .307 .383 .690 3.11
48 Matt Harvey 53 11 23 32.4% 67.6% .274 .303 .353 .656 2.98
51 Jon Lester 45 5 10 33.3% 66.7% .248 .314 .338 .652 1.17
55 Cliff Lee 56 11 21 34.4% 65.6% .246 .276 .386 .663 3.35
56 Madison Bumgarner 47 10 19 34.5% 65.5% .252 .335 .419 .755 3.40
57 Derek Holland 49 9 17 34.6% 65.4% .250 .312 .369 .681 2.40
59 Justin Verlander 43 6 11 35.3% 64.7% .244 .298 .378 .676 2.41
- 130 Starter Average 4729 820 1399 37.0% 63.0% .259 .315 .407 .722 3.40
69 C.J. Wilson 44 9 15 37.5% 62.5% .259 .321 .327 .648 2.58
73 Cole Hamels 46 7 11 38.9% 61.1% .272 .328 .414 .741 3.07
76 Matt Garza 35 6 9 40.0% 60.0% .318 .360 .450 .809 4.99
83 Matt Cain 40 8 11 42.1% 57.9% .245 .271 .417 .688 2.23
86 Anibal Sanchez 36 3 4 42.9% 57.1% .185 .248 .252 .500 2.70
92 James Shields 48 12 15 44.4% 55.6% .250 .293 .352 .645 3.28
109 R.A. Dickey 47 14 14 50.0% 50.0% .264 .344 .521 .866 6.49
120 CC Sabathia 52 16 13 55.2% 44.8% .328 .384 .527 .911 6.80
130 Joe Blanton 41 11 1 91.7% 8.3% .354 .374 .619 .993 8.45
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