MLB Relievers on the Rise: Top Setup Men in Baseball
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Slowly through the past few seasons, baseball has seen the reliever role become more and more important for teams. The evolution of the MLB reliever is increasing from just late innings to high-pressure situations.
In the 2016 MLB postseason, managers began using relievers longer and in more high-stress situations. In the offseason, big-name closers Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon all received high-value contracts, and deservedly so.
Having a good bullpen is vital for a championship contender. In 2014, the Kansas City Royals, despite a weaker starting rotation, used their three-headed bullpen of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland to fight their way to the World Series. Royals manager Ned Yost put a strong emphasis on the bullpen in 2015, winning the World Series.
The 2016 AL All-Star roster featured nine relievers out of the 14 pitchers selected. In a game that played a role in determining home field advantage in the World Series, the team relied upon relievers at an all-time high.
Closers are very important to a team, but just as valuable as a good closer is a good setup man. Without a setup man, the closer can’t do his job.
Here are the top setup men in baseball right now.
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The Yankees made a big offseason splash by signing free agent closer Aroldis Chapman after trading him to the Cubs midway through the 2016 season. Chapman is not a big fan of pitching anything other than the ninth inning. The team should have no problem only giving him the ball in the ninth, thanks to setup man Dellin Betances.
Last season, Betances stepped in for the Yankees as closer after the team traded both Chapman and Andrew Miller. He’ll look forward to moving back to the setup role now that Chapman is back.
Primarily a setup man in 2014 and 2015, Betances was lights out. In 2014, Betances’ ERA was 1.40, and in 2015 it was 1.50. With a career 14.28 K/9, opposing hitters are lucky to put the ball in play against him.
The combination of Betances in the eighth and Chapman in the ninth is enough to instill fear in opposing teams and give them very little hope of a late-game comeback.
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Since entering the league in 2010, Addison Reed has bounced around from the Chicago White Sox to the Arizona Diamondbacks to the New York Mets. Chicago and Arizona used Reed primarily as a closer, but for New York, Reed became a setup man.
Reed led the league in holds last season with 40 (10 more than the next highest amount). His 1.97 ERA in 2016 was the lowest of his career. His fWAR (Fangraphs wins above replacement) reached a career-high 2.6.
The Mets couldn’t ask for a better time for Reed to step up, as their starting rotation dealt with a season full of injuries. The Mets may use Reed as a closer to begin the season next year, while Jeurys Familia deals with what is likely a suspension for a domestic violence incident. When Familia returns, expect the Mets to hand Reed the ball once again in the eighth inning.
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Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton had one of the greatest seasons by a relief pitcher in MLB history. He finished perfect in his 47 save attempts and had an ERA of 0.54. Britton’s season distracted from the good season Brad Brach had as well.
Brach finished the season with a 2.05 ERA and 24 holds, along with earning his first All-Star nomination. Brach and Britton carried the Orioles’ pitching staff, as the starting rotation was shaky for most of 2016.
The Orioles acquired Brach from the Padres in 2014. The big problem with Brach at the beginning of his career was his walk rate. In 2013, Brach’s BB/9 was above 5.0, but last season it was 2.85.
Can Brach keep his BB/9 down in 2017? If so, it’ll be tough for teams losing in the eighth and ninth innings to face the Orioles.
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The 2016 postseason put Andrew Miller on display, as he earned ALCS MVP honors for the Cleveland Indians. Miller not only dominated opposing teams, but also showed his ability to pitch more than one inning. He struck out 30 batters in 19.1 innings pitched last postseason, and left 98.6 percent of runners on base.
Miller could easily be the closer for the Indians, but instead the team decides to put Cody Allen in that spot, thus leaving Miller as the setup man.
In the 2016 regular season, Miller had a combined 1.45 ERA for both the Yankees and Indians. He left 95.7 percent of runners on base.
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The Indians acquired Miller for a haul of young talent, but it almost won them a World Series in 2016. With the Indians’ rotation recovering from injuries, Miller just adds to the strength this Cleveland team is going to have in 2017.