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Shutdown Innings Join the Wall of Statistical Shame

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Just a quick pillory of ‘shutdown innings’, a concept that is sadly making its viral way into Baseball’s consciousness despite having all the validity of ‘pitching to the score’, ‘clutch hitters’, and the rest of that baseball folklore that sounds plausible at first, but then less and less the more you learn and the more you use your brain. Let’s go to Richard Griffin for a sweeping introduction to the idea:

There are two sets of circumstances when you should step up if you’re a No. 1 starter. First is when your team scores runs for you. The shutdown inning is imperative to winning and to leading. Romero failed in those situations, miserably.

This is followed by a long stream of numbers, without any real explanation as to exactly why this is true. I mean sure, yeah, it sounds great to ‘keep the lead’, and ‘not let them back in it’, etc, etc — but obviously if the opposing team scores three runs in the first inning, nobody gives a crap if your starting pitcher allows runs in the second and then none the rest of the way or spreads them out over his remaining innings. What we’ve got here is really a ham-fisted attempt to statify a pitcher’s performance in high-leverage situations (those cases where the game is late and close and your team scores to go up by one), but there’s so much irrelevant data thrown into this method of collecting it that anything read out of such a “stat” is just a mirage.

Because the whole concept is wonky…just for fun, imagine there was a guy who for some freakish reason only allowed runs immediately after his team scored. So the worst example of this supposedly lead-killing, win-stealing phenomenon. Compared to other pitchers with the same ERA, this choke artist would actually have the lead much more often, since he would never give up a lead before the offence got going — and get more wins, since he would never give up leads when his offence went cold (i.e. he would pitch better in higher-leverage situations).

That’s a ridiculous example, but illustrative of the fact that there isn’t anything to the numbers or the logic behind ‘shutdown innings’ being an important factor to your overall effectiveness. Really, it’s a slightly-hidden form of the old momentum-and-emotions-heavily-influence-the-game theory — that somehow ‘giving the lead right back’ deflates your team to the point that they go up to the plate hating you as a pitcher and a person and fail at hitting out of spite and/or a sudden lack of confidence mystically tied to your performance in the last half-inning. Which is silly twaddle long disproven, if you want to get into it.

Incidentally, Griffin’s argument that “There is statistical evidence that even within his starts, Romero’s primary issues were mental, not physical” is garbage as well. Griffy makes the classic mistake of presenting inflated numbers (to support his preconceived notion) without anything to compare them to or any kind of idea of what a reasonable amount of deviation is. Taking into account that Romero’s ERA after May 23rd overall was 6.85, the fact that his ERA in a much-smaller sample size of ‘shutdown innings’ was 9.77 is not at all significant, let alone conclusive proof of a “mental block” caused by Joe Maddon. But at least those numbers come to a non-redundant point, unlike his “throwing more balls than strikes with two strikes leads to a higher ERA” followup…


Written by halejon

October 1, 2012 at 7:48 pm

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