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How many set-up men are needed for a bullpen of maximum efficiency?

Even without a closer, your third set-up man will frequently not pitch his weekly total of allowable innings. This notion hit me squarely on the head this past week. Manny DelCarmen was brilliant the first half of the season, but has been an eggshell thin piņata of late, so at the trading deadline I made one final stretch tune-up: I sold my fourth best prospect (I don't like protecting more than 3) Jake Arrieta for one of those outstanding relievers I recommended two weeks ago: Takashi Saito. Saito slotted nicely into the 2nd right-handed set-up spot. I don't use a closer during the regular season, so Mariano Rivera is my number one right-handed set-up man with an earliest inning of 7. I use 7, because a reliever is allowed to go three innings, so if he is pitching well, I don't have to take the risk of bringing in someone who isn't. Saito's Earliest Inning is 6 because as you will see, my games probably won't find enough innings for him as it is, and Inning 6 is the earliest you can designate for a set-up reliever. (In Scoresheet a set-up reliever or all relievers with an earliest Inning of 6 or higher will not be wasted in games when your team is ahead by more than seven runs or behind by more than three.) Currently Jose Mijares is my lone set-up lefty with an EI of 6, though most of the year I used Matt Thornton with an EI of 7. There are more than twice as many right-handed batters as lefties, so I figure I need at least twice as many right-handed relievers. Well, in the sample of one - my first week with Saito, I see that he didn't get into one game. My team was 5-1 for the week. Rivera and Mijares each pitched twice covering three of my wins and totalling 3 innings each. One of my wins was a blow-out, my loss was a blow-out, and Javier Vasquez pitched a complete game shut-out.

 

Well, that's not much of a sample size, so let's look at the rest of the season:

 

Total weeks (including last week): 22

(Doing this exercise, I see that a few times I made the mistake of forgetting to change the Earliest Inning Used of my a set-up man to 6+.) My top four starters all year have been Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, Javier Vasquez, and Matt Garza - so my pitching has been outstanding - requiring fewer relievers than most. Even my fifth starter - Kevin Millwood or Dallas Braden was excellent in the first half.

 

Weeks where no 2nd right-handed set-up required: 4

                    or no 2nd left-handed set-up required: 13

Set-up or closing situations needing . . .

                  G/Ing.

2nd righty: 28/40 - 1 G/Ing where top righty unavailable opening week

2nd lefty:   10/21 - 1 G/Ing where top lefty unavailable opening week

3rd righty: 4/8 - my 6th starter pitched 5 relief innings in a 16 inning game

3rd lefty:   1/3 - also part of that 16 inning game

Any pitcher coming into the middle of an inning gets a full inning credit. Otherwise innings are rounded per outing.

 

Getting only 40 innings out of your 3rd best reliever in 22 games is a tad short. That prorates to about 47 innings. Well, it's not cut and dry. Obviously, if your team lacks enough reliever innings and there isn't much difference between your third reliever (i.e. 2nd righty) and most of the rest of your bullpen, then you needn't waste him in a set-up role. Conversely, if he seems significantly superior to the others and you have the depth, he is well worth saving him for those important 47 innings. In-between is your call, but I think generally, it is worth having that second set-up man - especially considering my starters were far better than most and you'll likely need your third set-up man for, say, 60 innings. Consider that even if you bullpen is extremely thin, you still might prefer to avoid having Pitcher AAA come in those close games by saving your third best reliever for them. Let those gasoline wielding fire fighters pitch during those blow-outs or 4+ run deficits and win the games you can.

 

Do not be deceived about the lack of importance of those non set-up relievers, however. Sure, after the sixth inning, your chances of winning a game with a 7 run lead or a 3 run deficient is not going to change much if you throw in your worse mop up guys. It is when you need a reliever earlier in the game that they do matter quite a bit. Earlier in the game, your team has a greater chance of mounting a comeback. Furthermore, having the depth for early hooks allows you to take advantage of Scoresheet ERA matching. It is easier to find 200 innings of relievers with 4.00 ERAs (just three of them) than one 4.00 starter. So, it best to minimize with a low hook number your likely 5.00-something fifth starter to allow more innings from those relievers.

 

Ideally, you have a really good ROOGy - a reliever who pitches less than 60 innings per season - who you could use as your second right-handed set-up man.

 

Perhaps, all one needs to solve this wasted innings problem is to have a closer. Using your top righty as a closer will give your 2nd righty more innings. In that case, you must have two set-up men, but a third (i.e. a second righty) is overkill. Remember, that starters will come out for the closer in a closing situation once their presumably lower hook number is reached. Further consider each appearance charges your reliever with an inning, so bringing starters or relievers out for closers is an increased tax on available pitching. Not using a closer - even as a long time Rivera owner - seems to work out best as far as I can tell, but, in light of this 2nd set-up man inefficiency, I may have miscalculated.

 

As for using a second lefty, no, getting only 26 or 30 innings out of your no. 2 lefty seems too wasteful unless you bullpen is flabbergasting deep - not only deep, but with ample alternate lefties. It is always nice to have relievers available pitching from the opposite side of the mound than the starter to come in those early innings to face a line-up designed to face the type of pitcher the starter was. Also those 25-30 innings of needing a second lefty set-up man could be reduced by giving your sole left-handed reliever an EI (or Inning) of 6. I could afford to give Thornton a 7, because Mijares and Seay have been nearly as good.

 

Two closers? I can't see that as worthwhile either, even in the play-offs, but then, again, it may depend on how deep your pen is. That is another article for another day.

John Carter