CINCINNATI (AP) — Darren O’Day can count his career saves on the fingers of both hands — only 10 digits needed to sum up his eight years of relief work in the majors. Kelvin Herrera needs only one hand to tally his saves total.
No matter. Managers know the value of having a bullpen full of dependable setup men and specialists who can hold a lead long enough to bring in the big-name closer, and that’s reflected in these All-Star Game rosters.
“People are noticing that it’s similar to being a closer,” said O’Day, the sidearming righty who usually pitches the seventh or eighth inning for the Baltimore Orioles. “You go out there and get three outs, four outs. Sometimes you might even have a harder job than a closer.
“I wouldn’t say we do the same thing, but it’s similar.”
And in many ways, just as valuable. An All-Star closer is of little use if he rarely gets to pitch with a lead because the rest of the bullpen is leaky.
“You have to have those guys,” Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal said. “They’re invaluable.”
Some of those guys might get to show off at Great American Ball Park on Tuesday night, well before any save situations develop.
In the last six years, there have been 17 relievers picked as All-Stars who had fewer than five saves at midseason, according to STATS. By comparison, there were only 10 such players chosen from 2001-09, and only six such players from 1971-2000.
“Especially on an All-Star team, you want to highlight closers,” American League manager Ned Yost of Kansas City said. “But I think setup men have become more prominent in the game, this year and last year, too. We did take a couple of premier setup men.”
There were four relievers with fewer than five saves in the All-Star game last year: Pat Neshek, Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances and Tony Watson.
O’Day and Herrera fit the profile this year.
Betances has seven saves this year after filling in as the Yankees’ closer when Andrew Miller was injured, but he still qualifies in the way he’s used.
Nobody questions the value of those setup guys in Cincinnati. The Reds had a blueprint for bullpen success in 1990, when they won the World Series behind the Nasty Boys trio of Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers.
This year, they’ve got one of the most electric closers in the game with All-Star Aroldis Chapman, who throws 103 mph and has blown only one save chance. But the lack of a dependable setup man has left him with only 19 such chances.
The Cardinals have invested in their bullpen over the years, helping to define how it’s used nowadays. Manager Mike Matheny emphasized the setup role on his All-Star team last year.
“I think everyone understands the importance of bullpen roles beyond the closer in today’s game, and I was happy to reward some of those pitchers last season,” Matheny said. “If you’re one of the best at what you do at your position, you deserve to be an All-Star.”
Yost’s Royals are a good example of how having a deep, dependable bullpen can take a team far.
“It’s effective if you’ve got three guys who are lockdown guys,” O’Day said. “You can dominate. I keep complimenting the Royals, but what they did during the playoffs last year was shorten the game to six innings.”
Even though they’re getting more attention in All-Star selections, those setup guys are still hoping that they can someday move into a ninth-inning role.
“Yeah, I’d love to do it,” O’Day said. “It’s a rush. I did it in college and all throughout the minors. I’ve done it filling in for guys when they need a day off. It’s a lot of fun, except when it’s extra innings on the road and you’re going to warm up seven times.”