Shutdowns (SD) and Meltdowns (MD) were created as an alternative to Saves and Blown Saves in an effort to better represent a relief pitcher’s value. While the Save rule is odd and complicated, Shutdowns and Meltdowns strip away these complications and answer a simple question: did a relief pitcher help or hinder his team’s chances of winning a game? If they improved their team’s chances of winning by a certain amount, they get a Shutdown. If they instead made their team more likely to lose by a certain amount, they get a Meltdown.
While Shutdowns and Meltdowns are a fairly simplistic tool, but they offer an opportunity to evaluate pitchers who don’t pitch in the “closer’s role” and provide a way to judge “closers” when they pitch in non-save situations.
To determine if a pitcher has earned a Shutdown or Meltdown, you simply need to check their Win Probability Added (WPA) for the game in question. WPA is a measure of how much the team’s Win Expectancy changed while a given pitcher was on the mound. If you enter a game with a WE of 84% and exit the game with a WE of 94%, the pitcher is credited with +0.10 WPA. If you enter with a WE of 64% and leave with a WE of 46%, the pitcher earns -0.18 WPA.
In order to delineate between outings of consequence and those without much, relievers only earn Shutdowns if they register a WPA of +0.06 or greater in a given game. The same is true on the negative side of the ledger, earning a Meltdown if they produce a -0.06 WPA or lower during a game.
Keep in mind that Win Expectancy is based on the odds an average team would win on average, so if the 2001 Mariners were playing the 2003 Tigers, WE would treat a 4-0 game in the 9th the same as if two very equal teams were in the same situation. Additionally, a WPA of 0.40 and 0.08 both earn a Shutdown, even though the former is very likely a more impressive performance.
Shutdowns and Meltdowns provide a useful counting stat for relievers. Saves are often considered the reliever gold standard by the population at large, but Saves are not a useful statistic for evaluating relief pitchers because you can only earn Saves in very specific situations, and can pitch poorly while earning a save or pitch very well and not earn one.
Shutdowns and Meltdowns give you a way to glance at a reliever’s stat line and determine how often they register a good or bad outing. Good relievers generally have a high SD/MD ratio, and Shutdowns and Meltdowns communicate reliever performance in a discrete way rather as run values like ERA, FIP, or RE24. Shutdowns and Meltdowns correlate very well with saves and blown saves; in other words, dominant relievers are going to rack up both Saves and Shutdowns, while bad relievers will accrue Meltdowns and Blown Saves. But Shutdowns and Meltdowns improve upon SVs/BSVs by giving equal weight to middle relievers, showing how they can affect a game just as much as a closer can, and by capturing more negative reliever performances.
How To Use SD/MD:
Generally, SD/MD line up well with Saves and Holds in terms of the number you would expect from a good reliever. 35-40 Saves is often the target for a good closer, and the same would be true for relievers looking to accrue Shutdowns.
You do want to keep in mind that not all Shutdowns (or Meltdowns) are created equally. A +0.40 WPA game and a +0.07 WPA game each earn a single Shutdown, to say nothing of the fact that Win Expectancy is based on average teams in average situations, not the two specific teams in the specific contest. The best three hitters on a team with a platoon advantage are a much taller task than the bottom of the order, but that information isn’t included when looking at Shutdowns and Meltdowns.
Think of Shutdowns and Meltdowns as a simple way to determine whether or not the pitcher had an effective outing or not. They don’t necessarily tell you if a pitcher pitched well, but they do tell you if the team had good outcomes when the pitcher was on the mound in a particular game. Over a full season, you will typically see good relievers rise to the top and bad relievers sink to the bottom, but like any other statistic, the results won’t be perfect reflections of the truth.
The +/- 6% cutoff puts SDs and MDs on a similar scale as saves and holds, meaning 40 shutdowns is roughly as impressive as 40 saves or 40 holds. Dominant closers or set-up men will typically have 35 to 40+ shutdowns and a handful of meltdowns.
Meanwhile, meltdowns are more common than blown saves, and they can happen to both closers and non-closers alike. The worst relievers will rack up around 10 to 15 meltdowns in a season.
Links for Further Reading: