Treatise on Relief Pitching-the Closer- by Ian Demagi

Welcome to the life of high pressure and games won or lost in one or two batters. If you are not of this ilk, the starter thread is a click away. We wish you luck in your starting career so take your 4 or 5 pitch arsenal and the best of luck.

Now for the rest of us who are willing to accept the pressure and the position that come with it, listen up. Relief pitching is about one thing and one thing only, Quality Strikes! Not any strike will do they must, must, must be quality strikes!
These quality strikes must also appease the home plate umpire who might tend to squeeze the plate when he gets nervous.

A closer must not give up stolen bases by having an exaggerated windup or being slow to home, a decent pick off move is vital.

The Arm Slot & Suite of Pitches

Every arm sot has it strengths and challenges. For the complete relief pitcher I would argue that the best arm slot is medium three quarters. The closer must be able to accomplish two things as the situation demands: a strike out and a ground ball double play. One fastball that can do both is the ¾’s two seam fastball, and if a pitcher desires a little extra speed he can mix in a four seamer with good effect.

The two seam fastball underneath the hands with good sinking action is a premier double play pitch. It produces from a right hander a ground ball to the right side starting the 6-4-3 or 5-4-3 double play. It is an excellent set up pitch thrown low and in for a subsequent high 4 seam to climb the ladder up and in, for a strike out from subsequent a slider low and away, or a change up thrown exactly in the same place. The sinking fastball is very difficult to lift and deep fly balls are the bane of the closer since he normally enters the game with base runners sometimes in scoring position.

A four seam fastball is also an effective pitch. It will not “rise” like the over the top fastball, but will have a good deal of run. This pitch must be used judiciously by a reliever. It must be thrown high in the strike zone and set up properly. Closers don’t not often get a chance to use a waste pitch, but this would be effective for a high strike out or to induce a pop up. The problem with this pitch is that a bloop single can be just as devastating as a double off the wall, so use it with caution!

The down breaking slider is a great pitch for a closer. It is a breaking pitch that can be thrown at speed, is not as hard to catch as a down breaking curveball, and is easier to get called for a strike by the umpire. A fact of life for all pitchers is umpires miss calls. One of the hardest pitches to judge is a sharp down breaking curveball. This is a pitch that batters tend to lay off on or hold their swing, knowing that they might have been fooled. The slider breaks so late that this is not possible. It is easy for the catcher to frame effectively. It probably should only move 4 inches away and 4 inches down and that my fellow closers is more than enough. Even if a runner steals on this pitch, it still moves with good velocity and should give the catcher a chance to throw out the stealing base runner. Thrown low and away this is an excellent strike out pitch which can also produce ground ball outs to the right side. I am personally not a big fan of trying to “front door” sliders to same side hitters. This is better left for starters with good curveballs or side-armers. Left over the plate this pitch can be driven deep into the outfield by just about any competent batter.

The circle change thrown from a medium ¾’s arm slot should have excellent sink and run. This will produce swinging strike outs or ground ball double plays. This pitch must be used with care by a closer since he must consider the base runners and the catcher. From my experience I liked throwing my change up low and in as batters tend to take low and away that they have been fooled on. The low and away change can also produce the “nubber” to the right side that has crazy spin on it that can be mis-played. This is not for me, thanks. I am a huge fan of routine ground balls. Low and in “nubbers” tend to go foul in my experience while the low and away ones tend go spinning in the field of play.

That’s it; three pitches are more than enough. You can probably get by with 2, the fastball and slider, but I always liked to have a trick or two up my sleeve so I kept a change up. I love the curveball as a pitch but not for a closer who inherits base runners on a routine basis. All pitches must be kept down except when you must have a strike out.

When must you have a strike out? Here’s a situation: You are brought into the game bases are loaded, no outs, game is tied. At this point the ground ball double play is not an effective ploy unless it comes right back to you. You want to avoid a tag pay as well. You best choice, a strikeout. If you are in the bottom of 9 or (7 in high school ball), you must have a strike out, you must not have a wild pitch or passed ball. You really should not go to 3 and 2 as the runners are started. The infield and outfield are drawn in so any contact is dangerous. This is why I keep the changeup. The batter is all geeked up to swing, so left him drive the ball deep into the foul seats or miss completely. Now on the second pitch you can run your two seamer in and down or your four seamer up and in. You changed his eye level. Now you can throw the slider low and away or come back with the change-up. In any way or combination the closer is going for the strike out. After you strike out the batter, now you can go for a ground ball double play and get out of the mess! Remember the ground ball double play is the pitchers best friend!

Please add your wisdom and experience to my treatise, Ian.

Great stuff, Ian!


Do you coach?

Not anymore-I am not in good health, but if any fellow pitcher that wants help from me, I am happy to assist-if I am able, Ian.

It’s experience talking here ladies and gentlemen … 100%, no if’s-an’s-or-but’s.

This man has been there - done that - got the tee shirt.

And speaking of closers…
There have been a few guys who have, or had, just one pitch—but what a pitch! Let’s go back a number of decades, to the 1940s, and a relief pitcher named Joe Page who might well have been the first great closer. He had one pitch—an absolutely overpowering fast ball that if one were to clock it would have come in there at 100 MPH or better. When Page was on the mound, what everybody saw was pure power. He just fired it in there, as if to say “Here it is, fellows. Hit it if you can.” And most of the time they couldn’t hit it. There was a game where he came in to relieve Vic Raschi who just didn’t have his stuff that day, and Page went 6 2/3 innings and just plain stifled the Red Sox. If he had taken better care of himself he might have gone way beyond the early 1950s.
And now we have Mariano Rivera—and that cut fast ball. You know it’s coming. You know he’s going to throw it. And I’m surprised that the other teams don’t send him a bill for all the bats he has broken with that pitch It’s all the more devastating because of that easy, fluid motion he has—before you know it, the pitch explodes on you, and the usual scenario is fly ball, strikeout, grounder to second. Three up and three down. Yes, he has one pitch—but what a pitch! I wish I had it. :slight_smile: :slight_smile: :slight_smile:

Bruce Sutters splitter, Yes,I know he had a good fastball and slider, but it was the splitter that got him in the HOF, Ian.

This is excellent insight. I couldn’t have written it any better myself. It deserves a re-read by everyone on the board! Hats off to Ian!

Practice is what can essentially make everyone better, so do not go through the motions. Practice at game speed all the time, so game situations can come easy. If you do, it means you lack the discipline you need, and believe me, where you are now is probably nothing compared to the next level, so work hard and get used to it. The coach watches everything, and when he isn’t, the assistant coach is, and he is the eyes and ears of the head coach. So work hard all the time.

Hi, Ian—good to see you’re still with us.
I remember reading, some time ago, a magazine article about the greatest closer of all time—Mariano Rivera—and he talked about something he used to do when warming up prior to coming into the game. It was all about focus. For several minutes he would get himself into what he called “the eye of the tiger”—a quiet and very intense focus, in which nothing would exist for him except getting the batters out, slamming the door in the opposing team’s face. He then took that focus, along with his devastating cut fastball, to the mound with him, and the end result was the same every time—three up and three down, and a broken bat or two. I remember this because I used to do something like that when I knew I would be coming into the game in the late innings to protect a lead. While warming up I would get into something like that—a sort of tunnel vision, if you will, in which all I would be thinking about would be getting the batters out and how I would do it.
I think I mentioned that I was one of those exasperating, infuriating creatures called a sidearmer, and I had that crossfire I would use, and the pitch I would get the batters out with would be a hard slider. Is it any wonder that the opposing batters pinned that nickname on me?—“The Exterminator”, a soubriquet I wore with pride in all the years I pitched, whether as a starter or as a late-inning reliever (or closer): I pitched in both capacities, and I can say honestly that I never lost a game or blew a save. I had the greatest fun making the batters look very, very stupid. :baseballpitcher: