Having reliable pitchers to insert into the eighth and ninth innings of a close game is essential for Major League Baseball teams that have World Series hopes.
In modern times, we calls these pitchers setup men and closers.
The closer role has evolved greatly over the last 100 or so years. Just ask B/R Lead Writer Zachary Rymer, who recently took a look at the history of the closer and noted that these days, closers are “mass produced and might as well come shrink-wrapped.” I wouldn’t disagree.
Clubs have also continued to mold solid relief pitchers into guys that can come into the game and preserve a lead before the closer comes into the game. Teams have emphasized shortening the game by having dominant relievers available in the pen.
Closers and setup men are treated much differently than other pitchers in the bullpen, and for good reason. There’s a lot more pressure on them to pitch well in high leverage situations.
Let’s take a look at the best combos in baseball today, examining which teams are in the best position to win a game with a lead heading into the eighth inning.
*All statistics in this article were obtained via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. Statistics at the bottom of each slide are from 2013. All contract information was obtained via Cot’s Contracts. All injury information was obtained via Baseball Prospectus.