While starting pitchers often receive the most attention, relief pitchers, setup men, and closers play equally important roles in a team’s success.
Here we’ll look at the traits that differentiate these positions from starting pitchers, highlighting their unique responsibilities and skills.
The Relief Pitcher
A relief pitcher, as the name suggests, is called upon to relieve the starting pitcher during a game.
They typically enter the game in the middle or later innings and are expected to maintain or improve the team’s position.
Here are some key traits of a relief pitcher:
- Ability to Warm Up Quickly: Unlike starting pitchers who have ample time to prepare before a game, relief pitchers must be ready to enter the game at a moment’s notice. They need to warm up quickly and be mentally prepared to face any situation.
- Versatility: Relief pitchers must be versatile and able to adapt to different game situations. They may be asked to face left-handed or right-handed batters, pitch in high-pressure situations, or even pitch multiple innings if needed.
- Strong Mental Game: Relief pitchers often face high-pressure situations, such as entering the game with runners on base or in a close game. They need to have a strong mental game to stay focused and execute their pitches effectively.
- Pitch Repertoire: While starting pitchers often rely on a wide range of pitches, relief pitchers typically focus on their best pitches. They need to have a pitch or two that they can consistently throw for strikes and get outs.
- Ability to Get Quick Outs: Relief pitchers are often called upon to get quick outs and minimize damage. They need to have the ability to induce ground balls or strikeouts to prevent the opposing team from scoring.
The Setup Man
The setup man is a relief pitcher who is typically used in the eighth inning to bridge the gap between the starting pitcher and the closer.
Their role is to maintain the team’s lead or keep the game tied until the closer enters in the ninth inning.
Here are some traits that define a setup man:
- Consistency: Setup men need to be consistent in their performance. They are often relied upon to hold leads and keep the game under control until the closer takes over. Consistency in throwing strikes and limiting walks is crucial.
- Ability to Pitch Multiple Innings: While setup men usually pitch only one inning, they should also be capable of pitching multiple innings if necessary. This flexibility allows them to provide additional support to the team when needed.
- Effective Pitch Sequencing: Setup men must have a good understanding of pitch sequencing and how to keep hitters off balance. They need to mix their pitches effectively to deceive batters and induce weak contact or strikeouts.
- High Strikeout Rate: Setup men with a high strikeout rate can be particularly effective in late-game situations. The ability to generate swings and misses can help them escape tough situations and prevent the opposing team from scoring.
- Ability to Hold Runners: Setup men should have a quick delivery to home plate and a strong pickoff move to prevent runners from stealing bases. This skill is crucial in tight games where every base matters.
The closer is the final piece of the puzzle in a baseball game.
They are responsible for finishing the game and securing the win for their team.
Here are some key traits of a closer:
- Mental Toughness: Closers need to have exceptional mental toughness. They often enter the game in high-pressure situations, with the outcome hanging in the balance. They must remain calm and focused to execute their pitches effectively.
- Ability to Throw Strikes: Closers must have excellent command of their pitches and the ability to consistently throw strikes. They cannot afford to give free passes to opposing batters, as it can quickly change the course of the game.
- Powerful Fastball: Many successful closers possess a powerful fastball that can overpower hitters. The ability to throw a high-velocity fastball can make it challenging for batters to make solid contact.
- Devastating Secondary Pitch: While a dominant fastball is crucial, closers also need a secondary pitch that can keep hitters off balance. Whether it’s a sharp slider, a deceptive changeup, or a devastating curveball, a reliable secondary pitch adds another layer of difficulty for opposing batters.
- Ability to Close Out Games: Closers must have a track record of successfully closing out games. They need to have the mental fortitude and skill set to handle the pressure and secure the final outs.
The Skillsets of Starting Pitchers, Short Relievers vs Long Relievers
Relief Pitchers vs. Setup Men vs. Closers vs. Starting Pitchers
Baseball’s pitching structure is composed of a variety of specialized roles, each requiring unique traits and skills.
Here’s a breakdown of these roles and what differentiates them:
Starting Pitchers (SPs)
Traits: Starting pitchers often have a wide variety of pitches in their arsenal to keep hitters guessing over multiple innings. They typically have strong endurance, as they’re expected to pitch multiple innings per game – usually five or more.
Role: The SP is the first pitcher in the game for a team. The objective of the starting pitcher is to provide as many quality innings as possible. A ‘quality start’ is often defined as a start where the pitcher goes at least six innings and gives up no more than three earned runs.
Relief Pitchers (RPs)
Traits: Relief pitchers often have a more specialized skill set compared to starters. They may not have the endurance of starting pitchers but usually have one or two very effective pitches. Some relief pitchers are specialists against certain types of batters (left-handed or right-handed).
Role: Relief pitchers are brought in when the starting pitcher can no longer continue, due to either ineffective performance, strategy, or fatigue. They can pitch anywhere from a few outs to several innings.
Traits: Setup men are generally a subset of relief pitchers with a stronger skill set. They often have similar traits to closers, with one or two excellent pitches, and the mental toughness to handle high-pressure situations.
Role: Setup men are typically used in the 7th or 8th innings to “set up” the save situation for the closer. Their job is to maintain their team’s lead (or keep the game close), pitching effectively enough to get the ball to the closer for the 9th inning.
Traits: Closers are often the most dominant pitchers on a team’s staff, with one or two nearly unhittable pitches. They also have a strong mental fortitude to deal with high-pressure, end-of-game situations.
Role: The closer is typically the last pitcher in a game for a team. Their primary job is to secure the final outs in a game where their team is leading by three runs or fewer, which would earn them a ‘save’. Closers are often used for just one inning, but sometimes they might be asked to get a little more than three outs.
Each role is distinct and crucial in a baseball game.
The strategy of when and how to use each type of pitcher can significantly impact the outcome of a game.
The increasing specialization of these roles has been a significant trend in baseball strategy in recent years.
Short Reliever vs. Long Reliever
The terms “short reliever” and “long reliever” refer to different roles within the relief pitching framework in baseball.
These roles are generally defined by the length of time the pitcher is expected to remain in the game, as well as the situations in which they’re most likely to be called upon.
Traits: Short relievers, including closers and setup men, are typically characterized by having one or two very effective pitches, the ability to throw hard, and the mental toughness to deal with high-stakes, pressure-filled situations.
Role: Short relievers are often brought into the game to get crucial outs in high-leverage situations, which could occur at any point but are typically in the later innings. They may only be expected to face a few batters, sometimes even just one, to end a threat.
Traits: Long relievers often have a more diverse pitch arsenal, similar to a starting pitcher, but may not have the same level of endurance or effectiveness to start games regularly.
Role: Long relievers are typically used when the starting pitcher is knocked out of the game early and the team needs someone to eat innings and stabilize the game. They can pitch multiple innings in relief, hence the term “long” reliever. Sometimes, long relievers are also used in extra-inning games, where they might be asked to keep the game close for an extended period.
The use of both short and long relievers is a critical part of a team’s bullpen strategy, and managing these resources effectively over the course of a game, and a season, can have a significant impact on a team’s success.
FAQs – Traits of a Relief Pitcher, Setup Man, and Closer in Baseball
1. What is the main difference between a relief pitcher and a starting pitcher?
A relief pitcher is called upon to relieve the starting pitcher during a game, typically entering in the middle or later innings.
In contrast, a starting pitcher begins the game and aims to pitch as many innings as possible, ideally completing the majority of the game.
2. Can a relief pitcher become a starting pitcher?
Yes, it is not uncommon for relief pitchers to transition into starting pitchers.
However, this transition requires adjustments in training, pitch repertoire, and stamina, as starting pitchers are expected to pitch longer outings and face a larger number of batters.
3. What makes a setup man different from a closer?
A setup man is typically used in the eighth inning to bridge the gap between the starting pitcher and the closer.
Their role is to maintain the team’s lead or keep the game tied until the closer enters in the ninth inning.
In contrast, a closer is responsible for finishing the game and securing the win for their team.
4. Are closers always the best relief pitchers on a team?
While closers are often considered the best relief pitchers on a team, it is not always the case.
Some teams may have multiple talented relief pitchers, and the decision to use a specific pitcher as a closer can depend on various factors, including their performance, pitch repertoire, and ability to handle high-pressure situations.
5. Do relief pitchers have specific pitch repertoires?
Relief pitchers typically focus on their best pitches rather than relying on a wide range of pitches like starting pitchers.
They need to have a pitch or two that they can consistently throw for strikes and get outs.
6. Can a relief pitcher pitch multiple innings?
Yes, relief pitchers can pitch multiple innings if needed.
While some relief pitchers specialize in shorter outings, others are capable of pitching two or more innings to provide additional support to the team.
7. What is the role of a closer in a baseball game?
The role of a closer is to finish the game and secure the win for their team.
They typically enter the game in the ninth inning with the task of protecting a lead or keeping the game tied.
Closers need to have exceptional mental toughness and the ability to throw strikes consistently.
8. Are closers always used in save situations?
Closers are primarily used in save situations, where their team has a lead of three runs or fewer.
However, in certain situations, managers may choose to bring in their closer earlier to face a critical part of the opposing team’s lineup or to prevent a potential rally.
9. What is the importance of mental toughness for relief pitchers?
Mental toughness is crucial for relief pitchers as they often face high-pressure situations.
They need to stay focused and execute their pitches effectively, even when entering the game with runners on base or in close games.
Mental toughness helps them handle the stress and make sound decisions on the mound.
10. Can a relief pitcher become a setup man or a closer?
Yes, relief pitchers can transition into the roles of setup men or closers based on their performance and the team’s needs.
Their ability to consistently perform well and handle high-pressure situations often determines their suitability for these specialized roles.
11. What is the primary goal of a setup man?
The primary goal of a setup man is to bridge the gap between the starting pitcher and the closer.
They are responsible for maintaining the team’s lead or keeping the game tied until the closer enters in the ninth inning.
12. Do closers always have a powerful fastball?
While many successful closers possess a powerful fastball, it is not a requirement.
Some closers rely more on their secondary pitches, such as a devastating slider or a deceptive changeup, to keep hitters off balance and secure the final outs.
13. Can a relief pitcher pitch in consecutive games?
Relief pitchers can pitch in consecutive games, but it depends on various factors such as their workload, pitch count, and overall health.
Managers often monitor the usage of relief pitchers to prevent overuse and potential injuries.
14. Are there any relief pitchers who have become legendary in baseball history?
Yes, there have been several legendary relief pitchers in baseball history who have left a lasting impact on the game.
Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Dennis Eckersley are some examples of relief pitchers who have achieved great success and are considered among the best in their position.
15. Can a relief pitcher transition back to being a starting pitcher?
While it is less common, relief pitchers can transition back to being starting pitchers if their team or the player believes it is the best fit.
However, this transition requires adjustments in training, pitch repertoire, and stamina, as starting pitchers have different demands compared to relief pitchers.
In summary, relief pitchers, setup men, and closers play vital roles in a baseball team’s success.
While starting pitchers often receive the most attention, these specialized pitchers bring unique traits to the game.
Relief pitchers must be versatile and ready to enter the game at any moment, while setup men bridge the gap between the starting pitcher and the closer.
Closers possess mental toughness and the ability to finish games.
Understanding the traits and responsibilities of each position helps us appreciate the complexity and strategy involved in the game of baseball.