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Bullpen in Baseball – Key Facts and Game Strategies

  • Learn about the world of baseball bullpens, uncovering their historical evolution, their strategic importance in the game, and the unique aspects of bullpens in different MLB stadiums
  • Provides a comprehensive look at the role of bullpen pitchers, the game strategies involving them, and fun facts
bullpen in baseball Key Facts and Game Strategies

Ever wonder about that little area off to the side of a baseball field where pitchers hang out when they’re not in the game? It’s called a bullpen, and let me tell you, it’s not just a spot for pitchers to kick back and chill.

In my days of watching a ton of games from the majors all the way down to high school, and I can tell you one thing for sure – the bullpen matters, a lot.

The subject of bullpen reminds me of this one time at a Yankee game in 2012. They were one run down to the Red Sox in the eighth inning, and their closer was warming up in the bullpen. The air was buzzing, and you could cut the tension with a knife. It hit me then, how crucial these guys in the bullpen really mattered in a game.

In this post, we’re going to dig into everything bullpen – the history, the strategies, the weird stadium setups, even the tunes that play when a closer steps onto the field.

What is inside this post

The Origin and History of the Bullpen in Baseball

Now, let’s take a step back in time and look at how this whole bullpen thing came to be. The term ‘bullpen’ – funny story – no one’s quite sure where it came from, but there’s a bunch of theories.

Some folks say it’s because relief pitchers used to warm up in an area with bull Durham tobacco ads, while others reckon it’s because these pitchers were like ‘bulls’ waiting in pens to be released into the ‘arena’.

The bullpen, as we know it today, wasn’t even a thing until the early 20th century.

Cy Young pitching on the mound

Back then, starting pitchers were not only expected to start the game, they were expected to throw the whole game, too. Can you imagine? These guys were routinely throwing complete games, and we’re talking upwards of 100-150 pitches, game after game. Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?

Over time, managers realized some pitchers were good at throwing hard for a short burst, while others could last longer. So, they started using relievers to give their starters a break and it caused a major shift in game’s strategy.

Thanks to the invention of the bullpen, managers realized that they could keep their starters fresh by bringing in relief pitchers. Plus, they discovered that some pitchers were really good at coming in and throwing heat for an inning or two.

Old Worn out Field

Today, a starter might throw anywhere from 80-100 pitches before getting a tip of the cap and a well-deserved break in the dugout. Then the bullpen takes over, with each reliever throwing a handful of pitches at a time.

It’s not just about saving arms, but how the manager matches his relievers and closers against the opponents batters and pitchers.

Location of Size of Bullpens in MLB Stadiums

Let’s talk about where these bullpens are located and what they’re like.

Typically, a bullpen is an area along the foul lines or out beyond the outfield fence. Sometimes they’re in plain sight, other times they’re tucked away under the stands.

They’ve got mounds just like the pitcher’s mound on the field, so relief pitchers can get used to the same conditions they’ll face in the game (except these pitchers throw to bullpen catchers).

Regardless of the overall bullpen dimension on a particular MLB field, the distance between a pitching rubber and home plate is the same at 60 feet 6 inches.

Here are some interesting bullpens in the MLB stadiums around the country:

  • Wrigley Field in Chicago has bullpens that are actually under the bleachers, so you can’t see the pitchers warming up
  • Oracle Park in San Francisco has bullpens that are out in the open, right in the outfield
  • Philadelphia at Citizens Bank Park has bullpens that are stacked on top of each other in center field. That’s right, the visiting team’s bullpen is actually on a raised platform above the home team’s bullpen, giving fans an interesting birds-eye view
Citizens Bank Park
  • Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City has bullpens that are beyond the outfield wall but they’re incorporated into the iconic fountains, making for a pretty cool backdrop
  • Minute Maid Park, where the Houston Astros play has bullpens that are located in left-center field and are also at different levels, with the visitors’ bullpen being a few feet higher than the Astros’ bullpen
  • The iconic Fenway Park in Boston has bullpens are out in right field and are famously known as the “triangle” because of the unique shape of the outfield in that area

It’s also worth mentioning that not every stadium has a traditional “bullpen”.

Tropicana Field

For example, in Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, relief pitchers warm up in an indoor cage. The pitchers can’t see the game, but there are TVs so they can keep track of what’s happening (starting pitchers warm on just outside the left and right foul lines).

Another example is the Oakland Coliseum which has bullpens that are located in foul territory.

Oakland Coliseum Bullpen – Left Field

As for size, bullpens vary, but there’s usually enough room for a few pitchers to warm up at once. After all, you never know when you might need to make a quick switch.

But keep in mind that regardless of the overall bullpen dimension on a particular MLB field, the distance between a pitching rubber and home plate is the same at 60 feet 6 inches.

The Role of Bullpen Pitchers in Baseball

Now, let’s go over who these bullpen pitchers are and what they do.

Simply put, a bullpen pitcher, or relief pitcher, is a guy who comes into the game after the starting pitcher has done his part. But it’s not just about giving the starter a break, it’s a strategic move.

Bullpen in Baseball - 2022 Best Mid Relief, Setup and Closing Pitchers

For example, you might have a pitcher who’s particularly good at throwing sliders against left-handed batters. So, if you’re in a tight spot with a dangerous lefty coming up to bat, the manager might call this pitcher from the bullpen.

In my years of watching baseball, I’ve seen a huge variety in relief pitchers. You’ve got middle relievers like Emmanuel Clase who come in to bridge the gap between the starter and the later innings.

Then there are setup relief pitcher like Blake Treinen, who are typically your second-best pitchers, tasked with holding the fort before the closer like Josh Hader comes in.

The Ritual of Music for Closers

Let’s switch gears for a moment and talk about the soundtrack of the bullpen, specifically when it comes to closers.

If you’ve ever been to a ballgame, you might’ve noticed that when the closer steps out of the bullpen and onto the field, a specific song blares over the stadium speakers. That’s no accident.

Closers, being the last line of defense, often bring a level of showmanship to the game. These dudes usually have ice running through their veins and their entrance music is part of their persona, a way to intimidate the opposing team and get the home crowd pumped up. It’s also a way for the pitcher to get in the zone.

New York Yankees – Mariano Rivera

Over the years, I’ve heard all kinds of closer entrance songs. Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” will forever be linked to Mariano Rivera, the legendary Yankees closer. Then there’s “Hells Bells” by AC/DC, which was the soundtrack to Trevor Hoffman’s entrance in San Diego for many years.

These are just a few examples, but every closer has their song. It’s a fun ritual that adds a bit of flair to the game and makes the moment the bullpen doors swing open that much more exciting.


So there you have it, the ins and outs of the bullpen in baseball.

From its origins and the physical specs of different bullpens across the MLB, to the roles and strategies of bullpen pitchers and the music that gets the crowd on their feet.

In my 30 years watching this sport, I’ve seen the importance of the bullpen time and time again. I’ve watched games won and lost because of decisions made in the bullpen. I’ve seen the faces of relief pitchers as they stride onto the field, ready to do their part for the team.

The bullpen, often overlooked by casual fans, is a critical element of baseball strategy. It’s a chess match, a poker game, a dance between manager and players. Understanding the bullpen is understanding a vital part of the game we all love.

I hope this deep dive into bullpens has given you a new appreciation for the role they play in baseball.


How much time is given to bullpen pitcher to warm up

Typically, relief pitchers are given as much time as they need to warm up in the bullpen. However, once they’re called into the game, they are given up to eight warm-up pitches on the game mound within a time frame of 2.5 minutes, as per Major League Baseball’s pace of play rules as of my knowledge cutoff in 2021. The exact amount of time can vary depending on circumstances and the specific rules of the league.

What is a “closer” in baseball?

A closer is generally the best relief pitcher on a team who is responsible for “closing” games, usually by pitching in the last inning when the team is holding a narrow lead.

What’s a “setup man” in a bullpen?

The setup man is a relief pitcher who is used just before the closer, typically in the 8th inning, to “set up” the save situation for the closer.

What is a “long reliever” in a bullpen?

A long reliever is a type of relief pitcher who is typically used for multiple innings when the starting pitcher is removed early from the game.

What is a “middle reliever” in a bullpen?

A middle reliever is a relief pitcher who enters the game after the starter is removed, typically in the middle innings (4-7), before the setup man and closer.

What is a “save situation” in baseball?

A save situation occurs when a relief pitcher enters a game led by the pitcher’s team, finishes the game without losing the lead, is not the winning pitcher, and either (a) enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning, or (b) enters the game with the potential tying run either on base, at bat, or on deck.

What is a “blown save”?

A blown save occurs when a relief pitcher enters a game in a save situation, but allows the opposing team to tie the game or take the lead.

What’s a “hold” in baseball?

A hold is awarded to a relief pitcher who enters the game in a save situation, records at least one out, does not allow the tying run, and leaves the game while his team still leads.

What does “WAR” mean for a relief pitcher?

WAR stands for “Wins Above Replacement.” It is a statistic used to show how many more wins a player would give a team compared to a replacement level player at the same position. For relief pitchers, it tends to be lower than starting pitchers due to their fewer innings pitched.

What’s the difference between a relief pitcher and a starting pitcher?

The main difference between a relief pitcher and a starting pitcher is when they pitch in a game. Starting pitchers begin the game and typically aim to pitch for as many innings as possible. Relief pitchers, including closers and middle relievers, generally pitch shorter durations towards the middle and end of the game.

What is a “bullpen session”?

  • A bullpen session is a period where a pitcher practices off the field, usually in the bullpen area. These sessions are used for a pitcher to warm up before a game, work on specific pitches, or maintain their mechanics between starts.

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