The Art of the Shutdown Inning


Momentum is one of the greatest yet unmeasurable concepts in all of sports. There is no better example of it right now than the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards find themselves riding one of the biggest waves of momentum in recent history as they came back from 10.5 games not long ago and now hold a 1-0 series lead in the World Series. Despite my deep hatred for the whole Cardinals organization [sans Albert Pujols, I respect that man], there is no hiding the fact they have caught fire at the right time and are just 3 wins away from hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy. Not even the most die hard Cardinals fans could have seen this coming but it all comes down to getting hot at the right time, and keeping up that key word: momentum.

Obviously during a 162 game season there are going to be more highs and lows than Charlie Sheen experienced during his epic benders. Keeping that in mind, I decided to look at a “stat” that I feel deserves more exposure and might be more telling than some think. I’m hesitant to refer to it as a stat because there is no official criteria for what someone considers a shutdown inning. The term is thrown around as loosely as Merril Hoge throws around the term “factor back”. Wikipedia [clearly not the best source out there] refers to a shutdown inning as “when a team follows a half-inning in which they scored at least one run with a half-inning in which they allowed no runs”. Not bad, but not good enough for me. People in different circles are going to have their own definition of shutdown inning and I am no different. For the purpose of this article I defined a shutdown inning opportunity as any half inning that follows an inning in which your team either tied the game or took the outright lead. As a fan I find few things more nerve wracking than when the offense has a big inning to put your team back in the game only to have your team’s pitcher give runs right back the following inning. Whether it is a lack of focus or a false sense of security, there is no excuse for a pitcher that has just been handed a lead to immediately give runs back.

I understand this stat may not be the “be all end all” when judging pitchers, but as a fan I want my pitchers converting as of these chances as possible. Heading into 2012 there are many questions surrounding the Reds rotation. No one has any idea what the Opening Day rotation is going to look like aside from Cueto being the ace. Hopefully these numbers can provide a little insight to Reds fans on who we should expect in the rotation next year. After completing the mind numbing task of looking over 200 box scores from the past season, these are the numbers I found: (SIC = Shutdown Inning Converted; SIO = Shutdown Inning Opportunity; SIP = Successful Shutdown Inning Percentage)

For comparison purposes, I also calculated the numbers for 5 of the best pitchers in the league.

Clearly it is evident that Reds pitchers had trouble converting shutdown inning chances. Without Johnny Cueto in the mix, no other permanent member of the rotation had a percentage above 62%. That number may not sound terrible but when you look at the top notch pitchers in the league producing successful shutdown innings at least 8 out of 10 opportunities it doesn’t look that promising. The number that shocked me the most out of the Reds staff was Mike “The Drip” Leake’s rather poor 62% showing. Most Reds fan would agree Leake was the second best pitcher on the staff this year and he will only continue to improve. The difference between his 62% and Cueto’s 75% could be the difference in a 12-9 season which he had or a potential 15-6 season. Another player that stood out to me was Travis Wood. Granted he had a dismal season overall, there is reason to believe he can’t be a key member of the Reds staff next season if he can produce a >80% shutdown inning rate. The fact that Clayton Kershaw only had 2 failed shutdown inning attempts is INCREDIBLE. Only two times all season did Kershaw fail to shutdown the opposing team after the Dodgers offense had given him a lead or tied the game. Some pitchers might have two failed shutdown inning chances in a single game so what Kershaw did is simply amazing. Crazy stuff.

Some of you probably just finished reading this are saying to yourself, “what in the world is this guy talking about?”. Hell, the thought crossed my mind after going through the box scores and calculating these numbers but I do believe this stat could grow and expand. Shutdown Inning Percentage surely does not tell the whole story when taking a look at starting pitchers, but it is another potentially useful tool managers might want to start utilizing. You can’t put a tangible number to go hand in hand with that all important word momentum, but pitchers who are converting a high percentage of shutdown inning opportunities sure are doing their part in keeping the big M-O on their club’s side.

Oh, and Go Rangers!

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