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What is a Set-Up Man in Baseball?

By Leo J
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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The set-up man in baseball is a relief pitcher whose responsibility is to bridge the gap between a team's starting pitcher and its closer. The set-up man is typically the second best reliever on a pitching staff.

To understand the role of a set-up man, one must first understand the closer. When a team has a small lead late in a game, it is customary to call on the closer. The closer is typically the team's best relief pitcher, and he is usually required to get the last three outs or less of a close game. It is rare for closers to work more than one inning, and they almost never work more than two.

The starting pitcher, whose job it is to pitch effectively as deep into the game as possible, often does not have the stamina to last until the eighth or ninth inning. When the starting pitcher must leave the game, and it's not a situation in which the closer would normally be brought in, a team generally calls upon its middle relievers.

The set-up pitcher is simply the best middle reliever a team has. The critical situations in which closers are used in the eighth or ninth inning are the same situations in which a set-up pitcher would be used in the seventh or eighth.

The set-up man was once considered an undervalued position, possibly because there were no statistics to measure his effectiveness aside from the earned run average, which is used for every type of pitcher and did not reflect the specific requirements of the set-up man. Starting pitchers are usually measured by their wins, while closers are credited with saves when they protect a lead at the end of a game, but the set-up pitcher had no such statistic.

A new statistic, the hold, was created with the idea of measuring the effectiveness of a set-up man. The hold is subject to similar requirements as the save. In order to receive a hold, the pitcher must enter the game in a "save situation" - i.e., the conditions under which a save may be recorded, which is basically a lead of three runs or less - and leave the game with the lead still intact. The hold is not considered an official statistic by Major League Baseball, but it is often used in player evaluation and fantasy baseball.

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Discussion Comments

By cardsfan27 — On Jun 04, 2012

@titans62 - I absolutely agree. I feel like overall pitching strategy has increased in the game simply because there are more specialist and this has kept the offensive numbers of the hitters from imploding.

I still think that managers rely too much on one out guys and go to the bullpen way too much and feel like there really is not a reason to use more than 3 pitchers in a ball game unless it is a blow out.

When one thinks about it it is not unusual to have multiple set up men set up the save for the closer, and one has to ask could not just one person be able to do this since it was done for nearly a hundred years before? Also, why did this movement towards specialists begin in the first place?

By titans62 — On Jun 03, 2012

@stl156 - I will say it is fairly interesting to think about the use of pitchers nowadays, but I think that these set up men and relief pitchers have merely come along because they specialize in certain aspects of the game and increase the chances of the team to win, at least in a managers eyes.

Think if there is a right handed starting pitcher on his one hundredth pitch about to face a left handed power hitter. That is the perfect situation to bring in a left handed relief pitcher, to get that one guy out, then bring in another right handed pitcher to set up the game for the closer to come in.

These specialist simplify the game so the game does not fall on the shoulders of just the starting pitcher. Some feel that it has diminished the strategy of the game, but I believe it has only increased it.

By stl156 — On Jun 03, 2012

@matthewc23 - You do have a point there, but one thing to consider is that pitchers are a lot more injury prone nowadays than back when the pitchers regularly started and finished games.

Unfortunately this logic fails to account for the fact that back then pitchers pitched far more innings and more games back then as starting pitchers and were not as susceptible to injuries.

To be honest I feel like the continued use of various relief pitchers during the course of a game is not in concern to their arm health, but more or less revolves around their use in situational pitching.

I know that there are set up men that come in to only face left handed batters and these are usually left handed pitchers called "Loogy's" and they are only expected to face one batter every game they pitch.

One would expect this to lengthen their careers, but they still get hurt as often as any other pitched.

By matthewc23 — On Jun 03, 2012

I have to say that the game of baseball has changed so much over the decades and this is very apparent in the area of pitching.

For decades, I would say up until the late 1970's, the starting pitchers were expected to finish start and finish the game and the relievers were only expected to come in if the starting pitcher got into trouble during the course of the game.

Starting in the 1970's teams began to have their pitchers usually only pitch 7 innings or pitch to a point they would be taken out and then one reliever would come in to finish the game.

Nowadays it is fairly normal to have three, four, or even five pitchers pitch in a ballgame and in a lot of cases only pitch to one batter.

Although some people see this as unnecessary, what it does do is save the arms of the pitchers by having them throw less innings, thus lengthening their careers in the process.

Since all pitchers are throwing less this benefits them into pitching longer seasons and allows the relievers to pitch in more games and be able to "put out the fire" more often as baseball fans say.

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