Teams Should Pay Middle Relievers, Not Closers, The Big Bucks

Baseball MLB Pitching Toronto Blue Jays Scott DownsScott Downs is one pitcher who would cash in if teams placed more value on set-up men.

Photo: AP Images

While closers are treated to personalised entrance music, hefty contracts, and Cooperstown recognition, their underlings – baseball’s set-up men – accounted for the biggest difference in the 2010 season.In a (typically) lengthy blog post, Joe Posnanski of SI writes that despite all the bullpen innovation, in particular the specialisation of the ninth-inning role, teams’ winning percentage when entering the final frame with a lead hasn’t budged for 60 years. It remains 95.5 per cent.

On the other hand, teams entering the eighth inning with a lead enjoyed a greater winning percentage in 2010 – 91.7 per cent – than ever before. The set-up man is becoming increasingly important.

That’s because, unlike closers, who are ritualistically deployed in the ninth inning of a close game, set-up men are used when they are needed most. They’re often on the mound for the game’s most critical moment, when an opponent’s best hitter is at bat with runners on base.

So while baseball executives laugh at the big contract the Tigers handed to Joaquin Benoit, for $5.5M per year the Detroit can send him to the mound whenever they please. On the other hand, their $7M closer, Jose Valverde, is reserved solely for the ninth inning.

It’s only a matter of time before the best – and highest-paid – pitchers are set-up men.

See Also: MLB Free Agent Market Explodes Thanks To Detroit’s Crazy Spending

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