May 29, 2024

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In baseball, a setup man (or set-up man, also sometimes referred to as a setup pitcher or setup reliever) is a relief pitcher who regularly pitches before the closer. They commonly pitch the eighth inning, with the closer pitching the ninth. As closers were reduced to one-inning specialists, setup men became more prominent. Setup pitchers often come into the game with the team losing or the game tied. They are usually the second best relief pitcher on a team, behind the closer. After closers became one-inning pitchers, primarily in the ninth inning, setup pitchers became more highly valued. A pitcher who succeeds in this role is often promoted to a closer. Setup men are paid less than closers and mostly make less than the average Major League salary. The most common statistic used to evaluate relievers, the save, is unkind to setup men. Due to the definition of the statistic, setup men are rarely in position to record a save even if they pitch well; but they can be charged with a blown save if they pitch poorly. The hold statistic was developed to help acknowledge a setup man’s effectiveness, but it is not an official Major League Baseball statistic. Setup men are rarely selected to Major League Baseball All-Star Games, with the nod usually going to closers with large save totals. Some setup men who have been selected include Brendan Donnelly, Hideki Okajima, Carlos Mármol, Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson, Arthur Rhodes, David Robertson, Tyler Clippard, Hong-Chih Kuo, Brett Cecil, and Steve Delabar. A setup man has never won the Cy Young Award or the Major League Baseball Most Valuable Player Award. Francisco Rodriguez, who was a setup pitcher for the Anaheim Angels in 2002, tied starting pitcher Randy Johnson’s Major League Baseball record for wins in a single postseason after recording his fifth victory in the 2002 World Series. Tim McCarver wrote that the New York Yankees in 1996 “revolutionized baseball” with Mariano Rivera, “a middle reliever who should have been on the All-Star team and who was a legitimate MVP candidate.” He finished third in the voting for the American League (AL) Cy Young Award, the highest a setup man has finished. That season, Rivera primarily served as a setup pitcher for closer John Wetteland, typically pitching in the seventh and eighth inning of games before Wetteland pitched in the ninth. Their effectiveness gave the Yankees a 70–3 win–loss record that season when leading after six innings. McCarver said the Yankees that year played “six-inning games”, with Rivera dominating for two innings and Wetteland closing out the victory. Illustrating the general trend, both Rivera and Rodriguez were moved to closer soon after excelling as setup men.

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