Spring Training Teasers: Couch Side’s top five setup men for 2012

BY CHUCK CONSTANTINO, Couchsideshow.com writer

During the live ball era, the job of pitchers have slowly, but surely changed. No longer is a starter relied on for eight or nine innings a night, and closers do not have to throw three innings. You think they would, given the amount of money closers receive in their contracts.

Now, set-up men and relievers are the bridge from the seventh to the ninth inning, where they hand the ball over to the manager. It’s the dirty work, and too often are these names forgotten, unless you glance over the box score and see the letter ‘H’ next to their names. Here’s a list of the top-5 set-up men in baseball.

5. Eric O’Flaherty, LHP, Atlanta Braves

Atlanta Braves lefty Eric O'Flaherty makes it tough for opposing teams to beat the Braves at the end of games. Photo by: Paul Kehrer / Flickr

The Atlanta Braves’ bullpen is pretty stacked, and most of the attention is given to Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel. In the 2010-11 season, O’Flaherty appeared in 78 games, and surrendered eight earned runs over 73.2 innings pitched. The right-hander sported a 1.09 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP while recording 32 holds on the year. Considering all the other arms on the team, not too shabby. O’Flaherty is one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball, he’s generated grounders 55.1 percent of the time over past three years combined. He’ll be called upon all season long, if he stays healthy.

4. Mike Adams, RHP, Texas Rangers

Measuring in at 6-foot-5, Adams is a guy who leans on his sinker and keeping the ball down low. He split time between the San Diego Padres and the Texas Rangers this past season. Thanks to pitching in Petco Park, his era was 1.13, once he switched parks, it climbed to 2.10. Not sure if it’s due to the park, or switching leagues, not a big enough sample if you ask me. He finished the season with a 0.79 WHIP, a 1.47 ERA, 32 holds and 74 strikeouts in 73.2 innings pitched. He’s entered spring training with a sports hernia and the set-up man to former Minnesota Twin Joe Nathan. If Nathan falters, look for Adams to pick up the saves for the Rangers.

3. David Robertson, RHP, New York Yankees

Robertson is another guy headed into spring ball feeling hobbled after he sprained his foot. He’s not out of a walking boot, and off his crutches. Robertson is kind of an unknown, rare for a player in New York. While some assumed Rafael Soriano would fall into the set-up role, Robertoson’s play pushed the newly acquired Soriano to seventh inning duties. In 66.2 innings, the 17th round draft pick, fanned 100 batters, recorded four wins and 34 holds. He’s a guy who throws heat, in the upper-90’s complemented by a tight 12-6 curveball. After last season’s 1.08 ERA and 1.13 WHIP, where he gave up eight earned runs all season, look for Robertson to hand the ball over to Mariano Rivera this season.

2. Jonny Venters, LHP, Atlanta Braves

Venters is a guy who oozes with potential. A hard throwing lefty, with a devastating slider that has lead to No.1 rankings in batting average allowed at .054, OPS allowed .152, a 74.7 percent strikeout rate and a 69.3 swing-and-miss rate over his two seasons in the big league. One thing Braves fans may worry about is his major-league leading 164 appearances over that span. During September his ERA was 5.11, probably due to overuse. His 35 holds 96 strikeouts last season are encouraging, but he needs to cut down on his walks, he had 43 this past season.

1. Tyler Clippard, RHP, Washington Nationals

What a surprise Clippard has been for the Nationals during the past couple of seasons. Although, he probably won’t save many games, he’s the most dominant setup man in baseball. Last season, in 88.1 innings pitched he recorded 104 strikeouts, 38 holds, a 0.84 WHIP and only 26 walks. Clippard is another guy who is considered to be overused, with 179.1 innings pitched during the past two seasons, the Nationals will try to ride him into the playoffs. His fastball changeup combination is one of the best in the game, and he’s effective against righties and lefties.

Washington Nationals setup man Tyler Clippard is one of the most used relief pitchers in all of baseball. Photo by: John W. Iwanshi / Flickr

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