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Two weeks ago
Jun 13, 2018

MLB betting: Five Bullpens to consider when betting MLB

Five Bullpens to consider when betting MLB

How the changing game means changing market appraisal

MLB betting: Five Bullpens to consider when betting MLB

With the MLB sample size having grown to suitable proportions, data is now available that gives bettors a better idea of what teams are truly dealing with. Below, we use some of that data to give you an idea of which bullpens should be most-influencing bettors’ impressions of their team’s chances in a given game.

How the changing game means changing market appraisal

We’ve written at length this year about the diminished role of the starting pitcher.

More than ever before, teams understand that hitters become more adept at hitting a pitcher the more times they see them on a given day and as such, the length of starting pitching performances has diminished to the lowest durations in MLB history.

That means bullpens are picking up the slack, which in turn means that more than ever the full bullpen is seeing use instead of just a couple of primary players. As a result, bettors need to appraise a bullpen more than ever in determining who to bet upon in a given game.

The era of seeing a Cy Young winner as the starting pitcher, assuming they’ll throw eight innings and then being able betting accordingly is over.

Before betting a game it is important to have a look at which members of each bullpen have been used over the previous three days. Anyone who’s pitched in all three games probably isn’t going to be a factor “tonight”.

Anyone who has pitched twice (assuming the most recent game was one of the two) isn’t likely to throw more than 10-15 pitches and some pitchers in that situation won’t be available at all or at peak efficiency.

This can be a big deal when dominant forces like Kenley Jansen, Craig Kimbrel or Josh Hader suddenly become unavailable and can give you an advantage over markets that are still being built around starting pitching matchups.

Five bullpens that shift the needle

New York Yankees

(ERA/FIP/xFIP-3.02/2.97/3.20, 4.2 WAR)

If you follow MLB, this is no secret. The Yankees somehow rebuilt without tearing down their roster. The bullpen is perhaps the single greatest weapon for a team with the best record in MLB.

New York’s signing of Aroldis Chapman a year ago ensured they have a top-three closer. Additionally, Dellin Betances has returned to form after suffering control issues last year and 2017 trade acquisition David Robertson has settled in as one of the game’s best setup men.

Where the Yankees stand apart is their depth. While Tommy Kahnle has performed as hoped when he came over with Robertson, the Yankees have also developed weapons from within which have more than replaced that lost production.

Chad Green has been virtually unhittable in the last year and Jonathan Holder has proven a reliable option with low walk and home run rates to excuse that his better-than-average strikeout rate doesn’t match up with his teammates’ elite ones. There are no easy at bats even when the Yankees’ starters are out of the game.

Seattle Mariners

(ERA/FIP/xFIP-3.60/3.30/3.68 3.3 WAR)

Jerry Dipoto’s mad trading pace seems to have to come together this season, in large part due to an already strong bullpen getting better.

Cleveland Indians

(ERA/FIP/xFIP-5.72/4.87/4.20, -0./9 WAR)

That’s right, negative WAR for the entire bullpen. A year ago, Cleveland set records for pitching staff WAR, in part because of the dominance of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen and their strong supporting staff.

Now, after two years of playoff baseball, this group looks worn down. Miller is hurt, Allen is a shell of his former self and former #3 Bryan Shaw is gone.

The team has struggled mightily to fill those holes. Cleveland is still a divisional leader thanks to the futility of its AL Central opposition, but are just 12-18 vs the AL East and AL West, with the bullpen being the biggest reason. If the market prices Cleveland as the powerhouse it was in 2016-17 then they may be overvalued.

The Mariners boast 2018’s best closer thus far in Edwin Diaz, and more importantly just traded for Alex Colome to give themselves a vicious 1-2 punch.

At first glance, Colome’s been nothing special this season, sporting a 4.23 ERA, but he started out with a brutal April (6.00 ERA, 3.77 FIP) before righting the ship with a dominant May (1.54 ERA, 1.30 FIP).

The Mariners’ trade for Colome makes their bullpen a stronger weapon than their already-good numbers reflect with Juan Nicasio, James Pazos and Chasen Bradford moving down the hierarchy.

The Ms’ pen isn’t as dominant as New York’s but it’s a key to why they’ve won as often as they have.

Milwaukee Brewers

(ERA/FIP/xFIP-2.70/3.32/3.28, 3.5 WAR)

There’s no doubting the excellence of the Brewer’s bullpen. It all starts with Josh Hader, a historic strikeout machine who gives manager Crain Counsell multiple innings at a time. Up to this point Hader has unquestionably been the best reliever in baseball.

Hader’s support staff is strong too. Reclamation project Jeremy Jeffress has put up a sterling 0.55 ERA. Matt Albers, Dan Jennings and Jacob Barnes are all going strong at the moment, and after a rough start, closer Corey Knebel has only allowed two runs in the last month.

The key though is Hader, and the club’s willingness to use him in just about any situation. However, this means he has thrown a lot of innings so it will be interesting to see if fatigue sets in after the all-star break.

Boston and Houston round out the top five bullpens in MLB, but before linking to our MLB markets, we want to focus a bit on a couple of teams further down the list:

Cincinnati Reds

(ERA/FIP/xFIP - 4.00/4.04/4.19, 1.2 WAR)

Historically bad a year ago, the Cincinnati bullpen has rebounded a bit, and that may give bettors an edge on a market that remembers that futility.

While the numbers are improved, there is more to it than that. The Reds have developed an effective 1-2 punch at the back of their pen in the form of Raisel Iglesias and Jared Hughes. Along with Amir Garrett and David Hernandez that pairing have actually given the Reds a chance in close games.

This is not a good Cincinnati team, but the bullpen isn’t the reason behind that. Bettors may be able to get good underdog prices as a result.

Cleveland Indians (ERA/FIP/xFIP-5.72/4.87/4.20, -0./9 WAR) - That’s right, negative WAR for the entire bullpen. A year ago, Cleveland set records for pitching staff WAR, in part because of the dominance of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen and their strong supporting staff.

Now, after two years of playoff baseball, this group looks worn down. Miller is hurt, Allen is a shell of his former self and former #3 Bryan Shaw is gone.

The team has struggled mightily to fill those holes. Cleveland is still a divisional leader thanks to the futility of its AL Central opposition, but are just 12-18 vs the AL East and AL West, with the bullpen being the biggest reason. If the market prices Cleveland as the powerhouse it was in 2016-17 then they may be overvalued.

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