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Thread: Baseball question: Why the hyperspecialization of short relief pitchers?

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    Baseball question: Why the hyperspecialization of short relief pitchers?

    Why the distinction between so-called "setup" pitchers and closers? I would think it is the same basic function, which is bringing in fresh pitchers in late innings with good stuff and cool nerves, to stop hitters who otherwise would be feasting on tired pitchers. Are the managers overthinking the situation?

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    Baseball managers ... thinking. Not words you often see used in the same sentence in a positive light.

    Yes, probably.

    The idea is that a closer can shut down the opposing batters, but probably has only one good inning in him. So, if you need relief help in the 7th or 8th, you use a set-up pitcher. There's not a lot of difference, and I've seen pitchers exchange roles several times during a season.
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    As one genius put it "Any big-league pitcher ought to be able to get just three outs without blowing a lead."

    I suspect that some pitchers have a contract -- even if unwritten -- that they'll be used exclusively in "save" situations. Never mind that it might actually help the team win a few more games by using the "closer" at another critical point earlier in a game, the manager can't do that. Lots of saves for the closer somehow make the manager look good.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim View Post
    Baseball managers ... thinking. Not words you often see used in the same sentence in a positive light.

    Yes, probably.

    The idea is that a closer can shut down the opposing batters, but probably has only one good inning in him. So, if you need relief help in the 7th or 8th, you use a set-up pitcher. There's not a lot of difference, and I've seen pitchers exchange roles several times during a season.
    On the flip side, I've seen good set-up men become terrible closers, even though it is for all practical purposes the same three outs.

    I think to some extent it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Baseball has come to think there is something different about a closer, and psychology is such a big part of baseball, that the players think of it as a different role. Getting promoted to Closer is a big deal. Getting demoted from the role is a big deal.

    One last thought... since it is the last chance for the team that is batting, it is more likely that you'll see pinch-hitters, pinch-runners, etc. The team will try everything they can to get that run, so you want your best pitcher facing that. Similarly, if that pitcher blows it (like Chris Perez did for the Indians last night), there may be either no chance, or only one chance (depending on if you are the home team) to try to correct it. So more is on the line in the ninth innning.
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    So the reason for putting someone in that position may well be that they may not be the best pitcher but they're better at managing the pressure of the situation. That is a specialization I guess.
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    Quote Originally Posted by HenrikOlsen View Post
    So the reason for putting someone in that position may well be that they may not be the best pitcher but they're better at managing the pressure of the situation. That is a specialization I guess.
    Right. Unless you're Cleveland. Then you just put out the guy most likely to hit two batters and lose the game.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HenrikOlsen View Post
    So the reason for putting someone in that position may well be that they may not be the best pitcher but they're better at managing the pressure of the situation. That is a specialization I guess.
    I would agree with this. The big difference between a closer and a short-relief pitcher is the pressure, not so much the physical activity. A non-closer can be a little "looser" because he knows his team is going to have another chance to bat.

    Starters and long-relief pitchers, of course, need more endurance.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fazor View Post
    Right. Unless you're Cleveland. Then you just put out the guy most likely to hit two batters and lose the game.
    Our local minor league team was playing on the road Sunday night. They went into the ninth inning losing 5-0, and scored 6 runs to take a one-run lead. Our closer then came in and blew the save in the bottom of the ninth, and gave up the winning run in the bottom of the tenth.

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    An important factor is that the closer can't be someone who needs a few pitches to "settle in." He has to have his best from the first pitch.

    Also batters don't see his pitches as often as others. They don't have the reps to learn to read his pitches as well as someone they see more often. That's a bit of an advantage.
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    I think the answer to the question in the OP is, "Because it works."

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    Quote Originally Posted by HenrikOlsen View Post
    So the reason for putting someone in that position may well be that they may not be the best pitcher but they're better at managing the pressure of the situation. That is a specialization I guess.
    I think pitchers in general have more trouble with their heads than with their arms. That goes double for closers, explaining why they are unbeatable one season and give up game-winning homer after game-winning homer the next.
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    Quote Originally Posted by HenrikOlsen View Post
    So the reason for putting someone in that position may well be that they may not be the best pitcher but they're better at managing the pressure of the situation. That is a specialization I guess.
    My impression of the Washington Nationals' closer of a couple of years ago was that he could only work under pressure. If there wasn't enough pressure when he first came in to pitch, he'd let batters on base until he was comfortable, and then start getting them out.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trebuchet View Post
    I think pitchers in general have more trouble with their heads than with their arms. That goes double for closers, explaining why they are unbeatable one season and give up game-winning homer after game-winning homer the next.
    Tug McGraw (Yeah, Tim's dad), had an astronomical take on being a relief pitcher. He called it the frozen ice ball theory of pitching. He said, if he came in with the bases loaded and Willie Stargell coming to bat (for those younger posters, think Prince Fielder), there is no intelligent reason he would want to pitch to him. Then, he thought, in a few trillion years, the sun will burn out, the Earth will become a frozen ice ball, and no one is going to care what Willie Stargell did when the bases were loaded.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ToSeek View Post
    My impression of the Washington Nationals' closer of a couple of years ago was that he could only work under pressure. If there wasn't enough pressure when he first came in to pitch, he'd let batters on base until he was comfortable, and then start getting them out.
    For awhile there, every time I saw Mariano Rivera trying to nail down a game for the Yankees, he seemed incapable of throwing a 1-2-3 inning. He'd always put one or two (or three) men on, then wriggle out of it, as if just to make things interesting. He's as good a dramatist as he is a hurler.


    Edit: Danged if he didn't do exactly that in a game I watched yesterday (Sept. 1). With a two run lead, he got two out, then let Boston load the bases before retiring the last man.
    Last edited by DonM435; 2011-Sep-03 at 02:33 AM.

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    An example of this was tonight's (Aug 23) Braves-Cubs game...It went exactly as usual for the Braves, leading 5-1 and they started to blow it..so in comes the set up guy, and then the "lights out" closer...The set up pitcher did hit a batter and load the bases, but he squirmed out of it...The Cubbies have no luck at all these days, they walked in a run, and most of their hits went right to the fielding defenders, like they were laser guided.....They might have won if they had some luck...

    Dale

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tensor View Post
    Tug McGraw (Yeah, Tim's dad), had an astronomical take on being a relief pitcher. ... he thought, in a few (b)illion years, the sun will burn out, the Earth will become a frozen ice ball, and no one is going to care what Willie Stargell did when the bases were loaded.
    And once again, cosmology saves the day! Yet more proof that Carl Sagan would have made a heckuva pitcher... or manager.

    Quote Originally Posted by vonmazur View Post
    ...They (Cubs) might have won if they had some luck...
    But they do... mostly bad.
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    And if it wasn't for bad luck, they... well, you know the rest.

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    Someone created the term LOOGYs for "left-handed-one-out-guys," the ultimate in pitching specialists.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SeanF View Post
    I would agree with this. The big difference between a closer and a short-relief pitcher is the pressure, not so much the physical activity. A non-closer can be a little "looser" because he knows his team is going to have another chance to bat.

    Starters and long-relief pitchers, of course, need more endurance.


    Our local minor league team was playing on the road Sunday night. They went into the ninth inning losing 5-0, and scored 6 runs to take a one-run lead. Our closer then came in and blew the save in the bottom of the ninth, and gave up the winning run in the bottom of the tenth.
    Another example: the Tigers' Valverde has 39 saves and no blown saves. He's always converted. But he has 4 losses. He does not do well when he comes in when the game is tied, or if there is a comfortable lead. Tba to me seems much more about psychology than talent.

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