When you watch a baseball game these days, you’ll see this almost every time:
As the night ends, a pitcher is clearly at the end of his rope as he struggles on the mound. The manager walks out onto the field and points to the outfield, which is a long way away. From the chaos of the bullpen has come a new pitcher.
So, what is a baseball bullpen?
In baseball, the bullpen is the group of relief pitchers who come in to finish games after the starters have been taken out. The term can also mean the spot beyond the outfield wall where relief pitchers wait to come in and warm up.
Over the last few decades, the role of pitchers, especially relief pitchers, has changed, making the bullpen a more important part of the game. We’ll look at how the bullpen works, how it has changed over time, and what the different bullpen pitchers do.
Why Is it Called a Bullpen in Baseball?
The word “bullpen” is one of many that are mostly used in baseball. It’s also used more literally in rodeo, which seems to support the idea that the two are related.
The word “bullpen” comes from rodeos, where backup bulls are kept in pens in case the main bulls get hurt.
It is not clear where this word came from, but some people think it comes from this practice. Signs for Bull Durham tobacco, which were common in parks in the early 1900s, are another possible reason.
The first idea is supported by the similarities between a baseball bullpen and a rodeo bullpen. Both are separate from the action and have back-ups in case the main performer gets hurt or sick.
Early in the 20th century, the word “Bull Durham” was used a lot. The Bull Durham idea seems to be the main reason for this.
During the first ten years of the 20th century, you could see billboards advertising Bull Durham tobacco at many baseball parks. These signs were often hung near where pitchers warmed up, on the outfield fence.
By 1915, the word “bullpen” was commonly used to describe the area where pitchers warmed up. But that was probably based on a baseball phrase from more than forty years ago, even though it was used in a totally different way.
In 1877, the Cincinnati Enquirer was the first newspaper to write about the bullpen. It talked about a roped-off area in foul territory.
Even though the term “holding cell” was often used to describe a prison at the time, this part of the field was actually used as a place for latecomers to stand.
Before relief pitchers were really used as a type of pitcher, it took a long time.
But in early ballparks, relief pitchers often warmed up in the foul area, usually around the foul poles in the foul zone. As time went on, the term came to mean something different.
There is no longer any doubt about where the bullpen is because fans are no longer allowed to stand in cordoned-off areas and relievers are only allowed to work in their own area.
What Is a Relief Pitcher in Baseball?
In baseball, there are two main types of pitchers: starters and relievers. Even though they are different, these two points of view are connected.
In baseball, a relief pitcher takes over for a starting pitcher who is out of gas or can’t do his job. Most of the time, these pitchers come in to help out in the ninth inning or later in the game.
Starters are designed to throw for a long time, usually between five and seven innings. Relief pitchers, on the other hand, have much less to do and usually only throw for one inning at a time.
Because of this, relievers are sometimes called “max-effort” pitchers because they use up a lot of energy quickly instead of saving it for later in the game like a starting pitcher would.
Most MLB teams have seven or eight relief pitchers in addition to the five starters. Each of these pitchers is often used at a certain time and in a certain way.
What Roles Do Relief Pitchers Hold?
As we’ve already said, relievers are in charge of playing the last innings of games. Because a reliever’s effectiveness goes down after a certain number of pitches, the number of pitches they can throw is strictly limited.
Depending on how the rest of the game goes, that could look very different in each case. Anyhow, as we’ve already said, relief pitchers often have set jobs.
Pitchers in the bullpen have many different jobs, from long and middle relievers who work in low-stakes situations to set-up men who pitch in high-stakes situations to closers whose main job is to end games.
Because starting pitchers only pitch for a short time, most bullpens have a lot of middle relievers who pitch in the fifth and sixth innings. Most of the time, these pitchers don’t do as well, so they work in a lower-stakes setting.
After the middle relievers, one or two “set-up” relievers pitch the seventh and eighth innings to keep a lead for the closer, who is usually the best reliever on the team.
Usually, the closer only pitches in the ninth inning, and only if the score is close or tied at that point. On very rare occasions, he might even be able to join the game early.
A bullpen’s roster also often has one or two long relievers. Most of these pitchers used to be starters but now work as relief pitchers. They are ready to throw many innings if the game goes into extra innings or if the starter gets hurt.
They are often the worst pitchers in the bullpen and are only used when things are easy.
In modern baseball, the bullpen as a whole is a very important part of the game. In the 19th century, when the word “bullpen” was first used, more than 90% of pitcher starts were full games, so relief work was rare.
Even during World War I, when the term “relief pitcher” was first used, 55% of games were still finished by “starters.”
But in modern baseball, the year 2019, less than 1% of starters played the whole game. Because of this, the bullpen was used in almost every major league game.
Because of this, it became more important than ever to have a good bullpen. In 2019, eight of the ten teams that made it to the postseason were in the top 11 for ERA in the bullpens.