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The Unusual Life of a Relief Pitcher

When a young talented pitcher dreams of playing in the Majors he probably dreams of a 20 win season, throwing a complete game shutout or a no-hitter, or competing for a Cy Young Award.  He may have not considered being the guy who comes in to bail the team out of a jam with two runners on an one out in the 6th Inning or holding a lead in the 7th.  Yet, the unglamorous job of a Relief Pitcher has become perhaps the most sought after commodity in today’s game.

This year’s trade deadline is another reminder of how important the role has become.   Teams in competition for the postseason have been putting together deals to add to their bullpen.  In the era of sabermetrics, pitch counts dominate the thinking of Managers. In 2017, Starting Pitchers averaged only 5.5 innings per outing. There have only been 30 total Complete Games this season, which is on pace to be few than the all-time low (59) from 2017.   

One might recall the trades made in 2016 by the Yankees, sending Andrew Miller to Cleveland and Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs.  Both would play critical roles in getting their teams to Game 7 of the World Series. This year’s trade deadline moves offers a number of similar possibilities for teams zeroing in on a playoff berth.  A number of key trades this year include:

– Brad Hand  (Padres to Indians)

– Joakim Soria (White Sox to Brewers)

– Zach Britton (Orioles to Yankees)

– Jeurys Familia  (Mets to Athletics)

– Brandon Kintzler (Nationals to Cubs)

– Jake Diekman (Rangers to DBacks)

– John Axford (Blue Jays to Dodgers)

– Roberto Osuna (Blue Jays to Astros)

– Darren O’Day (Orioles to Braves)

– Aaron Loup (Blue Jays to Phillies)

– Keone Kela (Rangers to Pirates)

– Adam Warren (Yankees to Mariners)

– Zach Duke (Twins to Mariners)

– Brad Brach (Orioles to Braves)

– Ryan Pressly (Twins to Astros)

– Sam Tuivailala (Cardinals to Mariners)

– Jonny Venters (Rays to Braves)

It is hard to compare the Reliever to anything else in sports.  Perhaps they are a little like the Sixth Man in basketball. The life of a RP can be a lonely existence.  Don’t get too comfortable with your current club. Become an effective in your role and become subject to continual trade negotiations, should your team fall behind in the playoff race.  Lose a lead, get blamed for the loss. Hold the lead, you are simply doing what was expected. Don’t anticipate your name to be remembered by most of the fans.

Of course, become very effective and you will probably land a nice contract.  There are currently 11 Relievers making over $10 million a year and another 39 making $5 million or more.  The number of well paid RPs will likely continue to increase as these trends continue. In 2014, the award for best Relievers were named in honor of Mariano Rivera (AL) and Trevor Hoffman (NL), honoring the careers of the Hall of Famers and shining a bigger spotlight on bullpen achievements.  

It’s fair to say, Relief Pitchers are the unsung heroes (and sometimes villains) of the modern baseball era.  It will be interesting to see which ones make their mark this October.

Brian is the Co-Owner/Managing Editor at Legends on Deck and Co-Host on Legends On Deck Podcast. He's been writing about baseball at LOD since 2017. He grew up in the Detroit area and is a lifelong Tigers fan. However, he shares some affinity for his son George's favorite team, the Atlanta Braves. Brian also has a particular interest in the amateur side of the game, including high school, college and collegiate summer league baseball. Brian and George also love collecting and selling baseball cards. You can find them selling on eBay (@Kossball) or posting on George's Instagram (@Kossball). Brian lives in Horizon West (Winter Garden), Florida with his wife (Grace), three daughters and son George. You can also reach him at

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