Types of Pitchers in Baseball

Each type of pitcher has a unique role on the team. Learn about the different types and their strengths.
Written by Mark Bailey
Last updated on

From fastballs to curveballs, the mound is a stage for a diverse cast of throwers. Let’s explore the different types of pitchers that dominate baseball, each bringing a unique arsenal to the game.

pitcher bullpen
KEY
POINTS
  • Major League Baseball teams can carry 13 pitchers from the beginning of the season up until September 1st and 14 after that.
  • These pitchers consist of starters, relievers, and closers, with a starting rotation, typically consisting of 4-6 pitchers, 6-7 relief guys, and 1-2 closers.
  • Starting pitchers are used first in a game to make it through several innings; if they do not reach their pitch limit or have poor performance/injury, they will be replaced by relief pitchers who spend time in the bullpen depending on how many innings are left in the game.
  • There are different types of relief pitchers, such as Long Relievers (LRP), Middle Relievers (MRP), Setup Guys (SG), LOOGYs (Left Handed One Out Guy) for clutch situations as well as swingmen capable of acting both as starters & relievers.
  • The closer is saved until the last inning to get the final three outs with high-speed pitches due to fatigue setting the opposing team up for success; all pitching comes down to two things: throwing strikes & getting the batter out.

Starting Pitcher

A “starting pitcher” is the first pitcher used in a game. Their role is to make it through several innings and possibly the whole game. The MLB does not have a rule on the number of pitchers one team is allowed to use in one game, but each team has its own rules to ensure their guys can keep their arms fresh and uninjured.

If a pitcher reaches his team’s decided pitch limit for the game, the coach will usually choose to remove him from the game to insert a reliever. If the starter does not reach his pitch limit, he might be replaced due to poor performance or injury. 

Relief Pitcher

After the starter is taken out of the game, a coach will insert a relief pitcher. Relief pitchers spend their time in the “bullpen” (holding area for pitchers.) Depending on how many innings are left in the game, the score of the game, and the opposing lineup, the coach has to decide which relief pitcher he elects to go with.

There are many different types of relief pitchers. Some are known as long relief (LRP), meaning they have the stamina and capabilities to make it through many innings. Middle relief, these pitchers typically aren’t used for more than a couple of innings but are very reliable in their work time.

Setup guys are used later in the game after the starter and initial relief guys have been pulled. The setup guy will then hand the ball to the closer. The closer is responsible for ending the game for what is known as a save.

Long Reliever

When you look at traditional long relief guys, they are typically very similar to a starter or were perhaps once a starter in their career. Long relief pitchers will be used if the starter does not have a good start, gives up too many hits or runs, or walks too many batters.

These long relief guys also will follow a predetermined pitch count to ensure their maximum effectiveness, considering they do not have the stamina to be a starter. They will usually go for four or fewer innings. 

Middle Reliever

Middle relief pitchers will be used somewhere in the middle of the game, assuming the starter makes it to or around the halfway mark. These middle relief pitchers are generally used in the 5th, 6th, and or 7th innings and then will hand the ball off to the setup guy. 

LOOGY Pitchers

Middle relief and setup pitchers are often very similar. However, a team will have a specialist of sorts every so often.

Some specialists are referred to as “LOOGY” (Left-handed One Out Guy). In simpler terms, a LOOGY is a specialist who throws left-handed and is a master of a couple of pitches. These loogy pitchers will be used in crucial and clutch situations, typically needed for only one or two outs, maybe one inning. Loogy pitchers have become a lost art in the MLB, especially due to the new three-batter rule. However, they can still be used and are very effective for what they are asked to do. 

Swingman

Swingmen are in a league of their own, as they will be used as both starters and relievers. Swingmen would be the pitchers we referred to earlier as long relievers, capable of going several innings as starters.

Swingmen will be a very valuable asset for any team at any level of baseball. Teams need to have pitchers who can make it through several innings of a game at any given time due to the restriction of only 14 pitchers being on a team.

Closers

The closer on a baseball team is generally saved until the final inning. His role is going to be getting the final three outs. He can be the hero every time he takes the mound as he puts the opposing team away.

Typically, the closer is a guy who throws the ball at very high speeds with subtle movements. The high speed late in a game is very difficult for the other team to keep up with due to fatigue. If the closer is coming in after a specialist, it will be even more difficult for a team to re-adjust to the speed increase the closer offers.

“Closing” Thoughts

Without question, good pitchers are necessary for any team to succeed. There are many different types of pitchers used in any given scenario throughout a game. Pitching can both make or break a team at any level of baseball. From starters, the loogy man, to the closer, all pitching comes down to two things: throwing strikes and getting the batter out. If pitchers can do those two things, they set their team up for success. 

FAQ

How many pitchers are on a baseball team?

Major League Baseball allows their teams to carry 13 through September and 14 after September until their season is over.

How many times can you switch pitchers in baseball?

The MLB does not limit the number of pitchers a team can use in one game. However, if a pitcher comes into a game, he must pitch to 3 separate batters unless he reaches the end of an inning.

How many starting pitchers are on a baseball team?

Given the limit of 13 and 14 pitchers, most teams will carry anywhere from 4-6 starters which are known as their starting rotation.

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