Though they are all charged with throwing the ball over the plate and getting outs for their teams, the truth is that there are several different types of pitchers in baseball.
Below is a complete listing, broken down by the three major types of pitchers, and then further divided into subtypes. Along the way, we’ll also look at how they’re all the same … and different!
The majority of mound work in Major League Baseball, and in the minors and most amateur leagues, is done by starting pitchers, or starters.
Generally speaking, a starter takes the mound at the beginning of games and pitches as long as he can, with a complete game being the gold standard of durability. Pitching a full nine innings definitely has become a rarity in the modern game, but even today, starters regularly turn in five or six innings per start.
Each team usually fields a four-, five-, or six-man rotation, with each starter pitching in one game before resting while the others take their turn in subsequent games.
Over the course of a major league season, regular members of the rotation might make between 20 and 35 starts, depending on health, performance, and team needs.
Starters may be either right-handed or left-handed, and there have even been a couple of ambidextrous hurlers, or “switch pitchers,” who threw from both sides of the mound.
When a starting pitcher is unable to complete a game (which is most of the time), whether due to fatigue, poor performance, injury, or an unfavorable matchup with a batter, the manager brings in a relief pitcher from the bullpen to take over on the mound.
Relievers are usually not starters, though, like members of the rotation, they may be left-handed or right-handed. Because relief pitchers usually pitch in a limited number of innings, they often throw harder and rack up more strikeouts — on a per-inning basis — than starters.
There are several different types of relievers:
When a starter leaves a game before the eighth or ninth inning, the team needs to cover multiple innings before the end of the game. In that case, the manager is likely to bring in a long reliever, whose specialty is just that — pitching multiple innings in the middle of a game.
Often more durable than closers but maybe not quite as hearty as starters, long relievers can pitch on shorter rest than if they were in the rotation, though usually not ever day.
It’s not unusual for a long reliever to make 50 or more appearances in a season, often pitching close to 100 innings or more.
Long relievers may stay in to close out a game, and they may also come in to relieve a starter very late in a blowout contest.
As the name implies, a middle reliever is a pitcher who appears in the middle innings of a game — he’s not a starter and he’s not a closer.
A middle reliever may or may not be a long reliever, depending on how many innings he pitches.
The setup man is a subspecialty of the middle reliever. Generally speaking, he pitches in the seventh and/or eighth innings of close games, bridging the gap from starters or middle relievers to the closer.
Once a game reaches the eighth or (especially) ninth inning, it’s time for the manager to starting thinking about using his closer … particularly if the score is close.
The closer’s job is to shut down the opponent to a) preserve a victory in a close game or 2) keep the score close when his team is behind to give his teammates a chance to effect a comeback.
The closer is usually the hardest thrower on the team and also usually pitches fewer innings than most of his staff-mates.
The Left-Handed One-Out Guy, or LOOGY, is the most extreme and obvious example of a situational reliever. The LOOGY, in particular, will come in to face a particularly tough left-handed battery in a tight situation.
Other situations may dictate a right-hander or a particular pitcher come in to face a single batter, or just a couple of batters, to get his team out of a jam.
A swingman is one of the most versatile members of any pitching staff and, indeed, of any team.
Though he’s not a regular member of the rotation, a swingman may draw starting assignments when normal starters pull up with late injuries or illness, or when the schedule disrupts the normal rhythm of the rotation (a doubleheader, for example).
The rest of the time, the swingman serves as part of a team’s bullpen.
Because he is accustomed to being “stretched out” for occasional starts, a swingman may be the pitcher of choice when the need for long relief arises.