A good setup man is hard to find
On Monday night Chicago White Sox manager
Six pitches in, Linebrink had put down two Kansas City Royals, and with a three-run lead at home, the Sox had a 96 percent chance of winning the game. But 10 fastballs, two change-ups, two walks and one 391-foot
After the game, which Chicago won when Kansas City proved equally unable to keep the score clean in the bottom of the eighth, Guillen seemed nonplussed about his Linebrink's recent misadventures. (At night's end, his August earned run average stood at a round 9.00.)
"The only way Linebrink is gonna be out of there is just keep putting him in," he said. "I hope he don't lose any confidence."
The next day, Guillen announced that Linebrink wouldn't be pitching in the eighth for a while.
Such is the life of a setup man, a bit of ornamental furniture when he's going well and the cause of all a struggling team's ills when he isn't. What makes Linebrink's case slightly unusual is that along with the likes of teammate
Much of this is because a pitcher who excels in the eighth is likely to be promoted to the ninth, which makes sense.
Another reason why there are so few true setup men in the game, though, is that they aren't an absolute necessity. While it's hard to find pitchers who have been good in the role over a period of years, it isn't terribly difficult to find some who can pitch well over a summer. In a given year inconsistent prospects such as the Yankees'
Guillen touched on how important finding a hot hand can be when he noted how many relievers he had who could pitch well in the eighth, even obscure longman
"Carrasco can do a lot of things," Guillen said. "I think Carrasco has a stamp on his forehead, 'pick-up garbage guy.' Everything he has been doing has been great."
Guillen, who won a World Series in 2005 behind a rookie closer who spent much of the season pitching the eighth, is more likely than most managers to send a good pitcher to the mound in any situation, figuring his job is to get outs. Still, there's a lesson here that his rivals would do well to learn.
As Woolner's research showed, the eighth inning isn't the most important in baseball, at least if you judge that by how critical the situations that come up in it might be. It's closer than you may think, though. Fourteen different situations that can arise in the eighth are, at least mathematically, more important, more likely to affect the outcome of a game and more critical to a team's chances than any that take place before the seventh inning is down to a last out.
This being the case, one wonders why the eighth is deemed a suitable spot for more or less any breathing pitcher with a decent fastball who's done well in the last 96 hours while the ninth is so often reserved for those who have done it before and are presumed capable of snorting nails and eating fire in the face of death. If Linebrink, a top setup man of some years' standing, can be moved in and out of a key role based on nothing more than his recent performances without regard for his psyche, why can't closers be moved around the same way? And if they can be, why aren't they?