Tracking Shutdown Inning Effectivness

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The first time I ever heard of a shutdown inning, it probably came from the golden tongue of Eric Nadel. It’s not a mainstream statistic. It is closer to an old school stat like pitcher wins than it is to a sabermetric measure, and yet I’m not sure that it is commonly used or widely known outside of the Rangers community. 
A shutdown inning, per Nadel’s definition, takes place when a pitcher’s offense has given him the lead, and in the following half inning he prevents the opposing team from scoring a run. This definition has been expanded by some to include shutting down the other team in any inning following a run scored by the offense, but the true meaning of the term only takes place after a lead has been granted.

About a week ago, I determined that I wanted to start tracking shutdown innings by Rangers pitchers. We are, after all, titled Shutdown Inning, and we should be the definitive site in tracking this obscure, yet interesting measure. It became of even more interest to me to collect this data in light of some comments that Nadel made during Saturday night’s Yu Darvish start.

In that start, Darvish failed to execute a key shutdown inning. Yesterday, Eddie did a great job of diving into Nadel’s comments. One area Nadel expressed disappointment, or concern, about Darvish was giving leads back after the offense has scored. Essentially, he’s talking about executing shutdown innings.

In pulling the data for shutdown innings by Rangers pitchers, I’m expanding the true definition of a shutdown inning only slightly to also include those innings where the offense has tied the game, as the perceived momentum shift of a shutdown inning is comparable to when the offense has taken the lead.

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As you can see, Darvish has had more opportunities for a shutdown inning than any Rangers pitcher. He has executed 76% of those innings, which is above team average, and equal to Derek Holland, who has the second-most opportunities.

On the other end of the spectrum, Matt Garza has only had 38% success converting shutdown innings.

Overall, relief pitchers have been more effective than starting pitchers, but that also speaks to reliever usage being in more optimal situations than starters (matching lefty-on-lefty matchups, only pitching one inning or to one batter, etc.). 

Not shown here, but the data also showed that Rangers pitchers execute shutdown innings 74% of the time in games they have won, and 66% of the time in losses. Although, 80% of SDI opportunities have come in games that resulted in a Rangers victory.

What this doesn’t tell us is the performance of the Rangers and their players to the rest of the league. To be honest, this was a manual process of going through every box score from the Rangers schedule this year and tabulating the shutdown innings, so I’m not eager to do it 29 more times. If you know of a better way, I’m open to your input.

As far as Darvish is concerned, all this tells us is that he does not stand out as a superior SDI executor compared to the rest of the team. Nadel’s comments would lead you to believe that he expects Darvish to do just that. Perhaps that’s the price to pay for being a staff’s ace. Sometimes, unreasonable expectations are the burden you carry.

A shutdown inning, or SDI, is really an intangible. The only true value that an SDI brings is sustaining or shifting momentum, if you believe in momentum and its impact on a singular game. There isn’t really a value to preventing runs in the immediate half-inning after a team’s offense has scored, compared to preventing runs in any other inning.

Nadel’s response to Darvish’s failed SDI attempt on Saturday night was an emotional one based on an emotional measure. Looking at the real data, he may still hold to his opinion. That’s in the eye of the beholder. As for me, I agree with Nadel that Darvish can be better, but that’s not a bug, that’s a feature.

We still haven’t seen the best from Darvish, and the fact that what we’ve seen has already been incredibly special only gets me more excited about the next three, four, or ten years we watch Darvish pitch with “TEXAS” printed on his chest. I’ll be equally excited and fully believing something special can happen the next time Darvish’s turn comes up in the rotation, just like I am every time he takes the ball. 

Peter Ellwood is a Senior Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @FutureGM
Peter Ellwood

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