Building a Stat: What is a “Shutdown Inning?”
As baseball fans, we hear The Phrase often. Who knows where it originated or if managers or coaches hold court, using The Phrase, on how to go about executing? Some buy into it, some don’t.
This website is named after it (Editors Note: the website was named by the late Richard Durrett), but officially, there is NO stat for it and no tracking. When you think about it, it’s actually a decent measure for how a pitcher performs under added pressure and, in some cases, can help determine “Ace” status. So what exactly is it?
What is a “Shutdown Inning?”
I first heard the phrase used by the voice of your Texas Rangers, Eric Nadel. It only took the context of the half-inning in which it was used to get the general idea of, “He executes the Shutdown Inning.” But, as stats generally go, there can be many, many interpretations of what constitutes the event known as a “Shutdown Inning.”
What began as something of an inside joke among the staff here at SDI about creating our own stat, became a personal mission that I resurrected from when this site saw its first incarnation. I queried several baseball personalities – play-by-play people, color commentators, bloggers, radio hosts – to ascertain if there was any common ground amongst interpretations. As I had guessed, and what you might believe as well, there is one common denominator for everyone I polled.
A Shutdown Inning is “any half-inning in which a pitcher surrenders zero (0) runs AFTER a half-inning in which the pitcher’s team scored.”
That’s the baseline definition. From there, certain people have certain qualifiers that they believe need to be met for a true Shutdown Inning.
1. How many runs must a pitcher’s team score?
I, personally, thought this was pretty cut-and-dried. When the pitcher’s team either ties the game or comes from behind, that would trigger the opportunity for a Shutdown Inning. My line of thinking intersected with Nadel’s:
“[A Shutdown Inning is] …Zero runs allowed immediately after your team takes the lead or ties it up.”
So, too, thinks ESPN’s former Rangers Pre- and Post-game host Mike Peasley:
“For me….it’s putting up a zero on the scoreboard right after scoring…Now I will say you need to have a lead in order to have a Shutdown Inning[,or] a tied game as well.”
Frisco Roughriders’ broadcaster Nathan Barnett acknowledges his belief in the previously mentioned scenarios, but doesn’t think anything besides that is wrong.
“To me, any time your team breaks a tie or comes from behind, the following inning allowing no runs. I think technically it’s posting a zero anytime after your team scores, but to me I will only use it in the instances mentioned.”
I asked each person I interviewed about the scenario of a pitcher’s team being down by five runs and only scoring one. Would that trigger a Shutdown Inning opportunity? Said Barnett,
“I’d say no. Would need to score five or more runs for me. But if someone called that a shutdown inning I wouldn’t argue.”
“A shutdown inning ultimately is something that occurs when you want as little runs (hopefully none) as possible in an inning where the other team has scored…One run is still considered a change in momentum.”
Shutdown Inning’s own Billy Casey agrees with Jessica.
“A shutdown inning would consist of not allowing a run the inning immediately after your team scored a run. Score is irrelevant. If you’re losing and score (but still losing), then a shutdown inning is necessary to keep the comeback alive. If you’re winning and scored more runs to add to the lead, then a shutdown inning would still count because you didn’t allow them to start a comeback.”
Matt Hicks, who calls games with Eric Nadel, tends to think of Shutdown Innings as early or late game happenings, with ties or leads as the trigger point.
“I usually only think of the phrase or situation “shutdown inning” either early in the game when a team scores the first run or runs and its pitcher responds by putting up a zero in the next half inning…or, late in the game if a team scores to take the lead and its pitcher responds with said zero.”
The number of runs scored by a pitcher’s team is up for debate. What about the other features of a Shutdown Inning?
2. Does it have to be a clean inning?
Kleinschmidt says, “The easiest answer would be ‘3up/3down,'” an ideal that I tend to agree with. After all, what says “Shutdown” more than facing the minimum and setting them down? That would keep momentum in your favor and get the other pitcher back on the mound as quickly as possible.
Eric Nadel, however, notes that it wouldn’t necessarily matter how many batters were faced or how many pitches were thrown – the “zero” is the important part. Mike Peasley, who, of course, worked closely with Nadel while ESPN hosted the games, and Nadel’s broadcast partner Matt Hicks share that sentiment, with Peasley saying it “doesn’t matter if it’s a clean inning,” and Hicks saying that it means, “zero runs allowed, even if it’s not clean.” Billy Casey also agrees.
“How you get to that point is irrelevant as well. If you get out of a bases loaded jam without allowing any runs, it’s still an SDI.”
It’s easy to envision that scenario. In fact, it can be just as, if not more, demoralizing to a team if they get a couple of runners on and then come away with nothing. Not that I’m advocating getting one’s self into trouble within an inning, but that’s certainly part of the “game within the game” of baseball.
For Mike Ferrin, MLB Network Radio host and Arizona Diamondbacks’ Pre- and Post-game host, says there’s a caveat to just putting up a zero.
“…it’s about putting up a zero. Now, if it’s a 30-pitch bases loaded jam, I wouldn’t call that a shut down. The term is more about keeping the momentum in your favor…Does it feel like momentum is changing? If so, yes. If not, no. It’s not something that’s easy to quantify.”
True words. With that in mind…
3. How do you measure “Momentum?”
Similar to the “Leadership” trait, it is practically impossible to assign a number to something as intangible as “Momentum.” As Ferrin says,
“Yeah, it’s a tough one because it’s more about the feel/emotions of the game than the numbers.”
Video games have creative license to measure “Momentum.” Using a meter that fills up in value when positive actions are taken, “positive” momentum results in perks like increases in velocity, sharpened senses and even probability changes. Jessica Kleinschmidt put it into words, and placed the burden on the pitcher.
“…I’ve always believed shut down innings occur when there’s a shift in the pitcher’s performance. For instance, when the game is close and all of a sudden the pitcher’s velocity changes or he altered his pitching, that can create a shift in performance so it turns into [a] zero runs allowed scenario.”
Undoubtedly, tying a game or taking the lead is a definitive momentum shift. Could the same be said about scoring one or two runs off of an otherwise dominant pitcher, even if those don’t tie it up or result in a lead change? Consider this, from a FanGraphs.com from 2008:
“These assertions generally occur after their team has scored to either a) take the lead, b)tie the game, or c) make a significant effort to come back. Regardless of which takes place, the idea is that momentum has begun its shift into their dugout and, by shutting down the opponent in the following half-inning and preventing them from tacking on more runs, it can sustain its new position.”
4. What does a Shutdown Inning represent?
As mentioned in the FanGraphs article above, a Shutdown Inning is indicative of a pitcher’s ability to sustain the team’s momentum, while “Shutting Down” or stopping the opponent’s. Aces, or number one pitchers, should have a higher conversion rate of Shutdown Innings. Likewise, high-leverage/late-inning relievers, as mentioned above, measure their “Shutdown Innings” as holds and saves, although, in those cases, a pitcher’s team does not have to immediately just obtained a tie or lead.
It’s clear that there is no clarity in defining a Shutdown Inning. With that in mind, several stats and rules are open to interpretation. An SDI should be measured like saves and holds – a measure of opportunities and successful conversions. Zero runs should be put up by the pitcher in question, and after his team has scored.
But whether the inning should be clean or not is a big question, left either completely open, as Eric Nadel and Mike Peasley believe, or highly specific, as ESPN Baseball Tonight’s Chris Singleton suggests:
“I would say three of the most dangerous hitters shut down by way of at least 2 K’s and one broken bat dribbler in about 12 pitches or less after pitcher’s team takes lead.”
The common thread is, of course, zero runs allowed. Who knows if this makes its way to Baseball-Reference.com or FanGraphs or Bill James and sparks a debate as to whether to start keeping track of and documenting Shutdown Innings?
What’s my definition of a Shutdown Inning?
- “A Shutdown Inning is any half-inning, immediately following a half-inning in which a pitcher’s team either A) ties the game, B) takes the lead, or C) scores 4 or more runs, in which a pitcher surrenders zero runs to the opponent.”
That’s my definition. What’s yours?