Due to the evolution that produced the modern Major League bullpen, there has never been more scrutiny placed on a manager's approach to the final innings of a close game.
And while the closer role is often the focal point of the 'pen -- and easily the most coveted job among relievers -- a closer never gets his chance without the often unrecognized eighth-inning setup man.
Closers also tend to get the majority of the bullpen glory after nailing down a key victory. However, now is your chance to recognize some of the best -- albeit, usually underappreciated -- relievers in the Majors.
Through the end of this month, fans can cast their votes to help determine the winner of this year's GIBBY Award for the Setup Man of the Year. The 11 nominees in the category are: Luis Avilan (Braves), Craig Breslow (Red Sox), Rex Brothers (Rockies), Tyler Clippard (Nationals), Mark Melancon (Pirates), Darren O'Day (Orioles), David Robertson (Yankees), Paco Rodriguez (Dodgers), Trevor Rosenthal (Cardinals), Tanner Scheppers (Rangers) and Drew Smyly (Tigers).
While the nominees range greatly in age and pitching backgrounds, they all share one common thread -- each spent the majority of this season silencing opposing offenses for one inning before handing off the ball to his team's closer for the final three outs.
With their impressive performances as setup men, some of this year's nominees may also soon be called upon for the coveted ninth-inning job. One nominee, in fact, already earned the role down the stretch.
Rosenthal burst onto the scene in the postseason, consistently blowing away hitters with a steady diet of 100-mph fastballs. Though the 23-year-old spent much of the season deferring to a variety of Cardinals closers, St. Louis turned those reins over to the youngster with just one week remaining in the regular season.
Rosenthal answered the call to the tune of an unblemished postseason ERA, tossing 11 2/3 scoreless innings over his 10 October appearances. Rosenthal also led all relievers with 18 postseason strikeouts -- not all that surprising considering he shattered the Cards' franchise record for regular-season strikeouts by a reliever with 108 in just 75 1/3 innings.
"Unbelievable," Cards catcher Yadier Molina said in late October of Rosenthal's dominance. "He's been good for us all year long, but the last month, he's been amazing."
Major League Baseball's A-listers will take home 2013 GIBBY trophies -- the ultimate honors of the industry's awards season -- based on votes by media, front-office personnel, MLB alumni, fans at MLB.com and the Society for American Baseball Research.
This year's GIBBY Awards feature nominees in 22 categories. Individual honors will go to the MLB MVP, in addition to the year's best starting pitcher, hitter, closer, setup man, rookie, breakout hitter, breakout pitcher, comeback player, defensive player, manager, executive and postseason performer.
GIBBY trophies also will be awarded for the year's top play, storyline, hitting performance, pitching performance, oddity, walk-off, Cut4 topic, regular-season moment and postseason moment, from MLB.com's Must C highlight reels.
In the past five years, fans have cast more than 50 million votes across the various GIBBY categories, none of which was restricted to individual league affiliation. Fan voting runs through Dec. 1.
Winners will be presented their GIBBY trophies at the MLB.com Greatness in Baseball Yearly Awards extravaganza during the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
While Rosenthal has already taken off running with the Cards' closer job, he likely will not be the only one from this year's crop of nominees for Setup Man of the Year in a ninth-inning role come 2014. A lot can develop between now and Spring Training, but Robertson is one who seems locked in for a closer's role next season.
With Mariano Rivera retiring, Robertson will likely get the first chance to succeed the legendary closer after racking up 33 holds, three saves and a 2.04 ERA over 70 appearances for the Yankees this season. It won't hurt that he comes highly recommended.
"That would be my thinking," Rivera said of the notion that Robertson would assume the closing duties in the Bronx. "I'm not the Yankees, I don't know what they're going to do. But I think he deserves a shot."
Whether or not he gets that first shot at closer's glory, Robertson -- along with the other 10 nominees -- has the opportunity via this year's GIBBY Awards voting to earn immediate praise for the remarkable job he did this year in a mostly unheralded role.
Rosenthal opened eyes in the postseason and Robertson proved he's worthy of a chance to follow Rivera, but all of this year's nominees deserve voting consideration for one reason or another.
Melancon finished the year with a 1.39 ERA over 72 appearances for the Pirates and even chipped in 16 saves when called upon. Avilan went a perfect 5-0 for the Braves while posting a 1.52 ERA over 75 appearances. The list of impressive ERAs and strikeout totals goes on and on within this list of nominees, which includes, in Breslow, a member of this year's World Series champion Red Sox.
"I think his intelligence clearly plays out on the mound," Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Breslow, a Yale graduate who provided a consistent eighth-inning option for Boston ahead of shutdown closer Koji Uehera. "This is someone who's been a very good performer for us, whether it's against right-handers or left-handers. His ability to keep things emotionally under control on the mound is another reason why he's so trusted by all of us late in the game and in some high-leverage situations."
Closing out games or not, each of the Setup Man of the Year nominee did his fair share of excelling in high-leverage situations, and the GIBBYs now give you the chance to recognize them for such.