With teams looking for bullpen help, how should relievers be valued?
This offseason we have seen closers and set-up men signing some large contracts. Even though a large number of the available relievers have been signed, there is still talent available for teams to shore up their bullpens. The question for teams looking for relievers is, how should these guys be valued?
The idea of a starter going six innings then handing the ball to a set-up man until the closer comes in for the ninth is commonplace in today’s game. Because of this teams see it necessary to lock up quality closers to bolster their bullpen.
Although the closer is responsible for making sure his team leaves with a win, the set-up guy throwing the seventh and eighth inning might have the tougher job.
When a set-up guy enters the game it is generally a close game with an enormous amount of pressure to get the ball to the closer with the lead still in tact. One difference a set-up guy faces that a closer does not is the mentality of a hitter in the seventh and eighth inning compared to one in the ninth.
Batters that come up in the seventh and eighth in a close game are more apt to work the count, make the pitcher throw more pitches, and do anything to get on base. They have the protection of the guys due up in the ninth because they are the last chance to score. This allows the batters earlier in the game to work counts and reach base in a variety of ways.
Closers are facing the last line of defense for the opposition. If the closer is in it generally means it is a close game. This means that batters coming up to the plate in the ninth are more apt to want to be heroes and win the game for their team. They tend to be more aggressive and a may be a little easier to get out.
Evidence of this may be the fact that closers have been interchangeable and replaced with set-up guys successfully. When Jason Grilli went down for part of the season, Pirates’ set-up man Mark Melancon stepped in and filled the closer role masterfully. When the Tigers’ Jose Valverde had his problems, long time set-up man Joaquin Benoit took over and got Detroit to the ALCS.
Examples like this show that set-up men have the same talent that closers have. Set-up men also are asked to throw more than one inning at a time while facing batters that might be more difficult to get out.
This trend has led to bigger contracts for set-up men that eventually might overtake the salaries of closers. After looking into the difference in roles in the bullpen contracts like the one Boone Logan received from the Rockies start to make sense. Set-up guys are proving to be important not just for the seventh and eighth innings, but also as security blankets in case a closer goes down or starts to struggle. This might lead to larger contracts.