Two types of pitchers get all the love and coverage: starters and closers. It makes sense because they are on the mound during the most critical parts of the game; at least in the eyes of the fans. Starters can pitch anywhere from one to 9+ innings. Closers usually don’t throw more than 1 inning, but they are the guys who get the last out of a close ball game in a win. SportsCenter and highlight clips rarely show the set-up man.
A set-up man is generally a pitcher who comes in to pitch for the 8th inning of a close game and preferably with the lead. He could be the closer if the closer were to get injured, and he is likely to get a few saves here and there in certain situations. The stat that he will probably lead the team in is holds. Holds are essentially holding the lead for the team when a new pitcher comes in the game.
The qualities of a closer are very similar to those of a set-up man. He needs to have a lock down mentality and not give up many, if any, runs. By holding a lead where it stands when he enters the game, a set-up man can make the closer’s job that much easier or prevent the closer from having to come into the game if his team’s offense is able to score more runs the next inning. Saving the closer from a save opportunity is always a good thing if you are winning since it means you have a larger lead. Duh!
Two of my favorite set-up men are division rival in the A.L. East: Joel Peralta of the Tampa Bay Rays and David Robertson of the New York Yankees. Peralta is an ideal man for the Rays’ set-up role, as he is on a team that wins more than it loses and wins close games more times than not. He throws a lot of innings and has an expanded role outside of just the 8th inning because he is able to throw, and needs to throw, so much more than most pitchers. He also doesn’t throw as hard as the Rays’ closer, Fernando Rodney, but has just as much and possibly more movement on his pitches. This sets up nicely for Rodney to come in and throw 98 mph after Peralta has shown them low 90s pitches with movement.
Robertson has the look and the mantra of a Major League pitcher, and he has the stuff to back it up. He also has baseball’s greatest closer of all-time to lean on in case he gives up a run or two, but Robertson will more than likely inherit that closer role after Mariano Rivera retires following the season. Robertson got some experience when Rivera was hurt last year but ultimately remained the team’s set-up man. A 2011 All-Star, Robertson has a cockiness that shows on the mound, in his eyes, and even in his delivery. He is very fluent, can throw any pitch in any situation, and has the ability to get through the 8th inning more times than not to set up a save situation.
Set-up man rarely gets the glory
A pitcher should be ready to go no matter when he comes into a ballgame, but it can be a twilight situation for set-up men. The constant is that they usually are pitching in close games, but they are also typically limited to one inning of work. It is rare for a set-up man to remain in the game for the 9th inning, even if he were to get 3-up and 3-down and look as sharp as ever on the mound. It is simply their role to get those 3 outs in the 8th inning and then let the closer get the 3 outs for the 9th inning. Set-up pitchers are more than capable of going 2 innings with quality pitching. However, it is usually only their job to get the 22nd, 23rd, and 24th outs of the game.
Starters may get the wins, the high strikeout totals, the Cy Young awards, and the jersey sales. Closers may get the saves, the high-fives from the catcher after the game, the celebrations caught on TV, and a picture on the front of the sports page. Set-up pitchers get holds, an ample amount of innings, and numerous fans that take them for granted as the guy who pitches in-between the starter and closer. Without a quality set-up man being efficient and able to get outs like every other pitcher, starters would lose their leads and closers wouldn’t get the chance to save a game. They are essentially the middle child that gets overlooked but who is just as important as the other two.