Handicapping Bullpens Often Over-Looked Factor When Making MLB Picks: Judicious Use Will Increase Profit

Joe Gavazzi

Tuesday, April 28, 2015 6:04 PM GMT

Relief pitching has become a more integral part of MLB handicapping, and this baseball betting specialist is pleased to share his valuable insight on bullpens so far this season.

My unique run-line records provide a major edge in betting the MLB odds run-line that is available to no other handicapper.  For example, did you know that last year’s surprise playoff team, the KC Royals, won 39 of their 47 road victories by 2 or more runs?!?!?  Every year such hidden gems emerge from my daily hand kept logging and records providing great value in run-line betting.

Other handicappers may favor such pitching stats such as ERA (earned run average) or K/BB (strikeouts to walk ratio) or WHIP (walks & hits per innings pitched) or TRGS (team record games started).  But, few have isolated the correlation of those stats to a profitable winning percentage for each or devised a more unique formula to put all those numbers into a singular index.

Over the last 50 years, relief pitching has become a more integral part of MLB handicapping.  ERA provides an overview.  But, my formula goes far deeper isolating variables such as inherited runners and save percentage.

Looking at a team’s batting average shows little correlation to winning.  But, isolating variables such as OBP (on base percentage) and SLG (slugging average) provides a far more comprehensive analysis.

Since every ballpark is unique (unlike football fields and basketball courts identical dimensions) doesn’t it make sense to include home/road dichotomies to the handicap?

Finally, I love numbers!  And, as you can see, handicapping MLB is a game of numbers!   Along with the EXPERIENCE of handicapping MLB for 35 seasons, I believe my selections give you a winning edge.

With that overview as a background, let us delve specifically into the relief pitching index that has become such a meaningful part of the MLB handicap.

It has been over 50 years since the relief pitcher became an integral part of the MLB landscape. One of the first MLB relievers of note was Elroy Face of the Pittsburgh Pirates. This man of small stature had commensurately large hands, with second and third fingers through which he could slide the baseball. He used it to create the first rendition of the “fork ball,” a pitch which dipped as it lost velocity crossing home plate; the pitch that became the forerunner of today’s sinker ball. This pitch helped Face to an 18-1 record in the early 60’s, and the Pirates to Championship seasons. Prior to that time, most teams relied on four starters who would work every fourth or fifth day in a steady rotation through the season. Unless they were severely battered, they worked 8 or 9 innings each game. With the advent of the relief pitcher came specialization, which has since evolved into the closer, the setup man, and the middle reliever. Today, a quality start is defined as any pitcher working 6 or more innings, allowing 3 or less runs. As a result, an average of approximately 33% of the game is now handled by relief pitchers. That makes relief pitching an integral part of MLB handicapping. To determine the effectiveness of a team’s relief corps, an index has been developed to evaluate the strength of a team’s bullpen.

This index is comprised of two separate entities, each weighted equally. The first is the common factor known as save percentage. A formula has been devised that allows a measurement of whether a relief pitcher is credited with a save in a game where he enters with a lead. The MLB average for this has been 70% in 2012, 2013, and 2014. The second, and equally rated component of the index, is the “strand rate.” This is the number of inherited runners on base that DO NOT SCORE when a reliever enters a game. In a somewhat ironic fashion, this number is also 70%. Thus, the average MLB relief index is 140. A number higher than this for a team, composed of the save percentage and the strand rate, indicates the team has an above average bullpen; the higher the number, the better. Conversely, a number lower than 140 indicates a lower than average bullpen; the lower the number, the worse the bullpen.

After three weeks of the 2015 MLB season, you will note that the average index in MLB is 141, the same that it has been for the previous three years. In the chart below, I will outline the teams’ W/L percentage, along with their save percentage, their strand percentage, and their bullpen index. In this way, you will note which teams are using an outstanding bullpen to comprise a winning record, and which teams’ bullpen is leading to a losing mark in the W/L column. After the chart, I will draw some conclusions for you.

AL Team

W/L

Save %

Strand %

Bullpen Index

Detroit

13-6

89

82

171

Kansas City

12-6

80

73

153

Houston

11-7

78

63

141

NYY

11-8

88

74

162

Tampa Bay

11-8

90

64

154

Boston

10-9

43

70

113

LAA

9-10

78

80

158

Baltimore

9-10

67

59

126

Toronto

9-10

57

61

118

CWS

8-9

100

54

154

Minnesota

8-10

86

59

145

Oakland

8-12

40

67

107

Seattle

7-11

56

72

128

Texas

7-11

33

74

107

Cleveland

6-11

60

75

135

 

NL Team

W/L

Save %

Strand %

Bullpen Index

NY Mets

14-5

91

82

173

St Louis

12-5

91

77

168

LAD

11-7

71

79

150

Chicago Cubs

10-7

50

72

122

Pittsburgh

11-8

67

80

147

Colorado

10-8

70

71

141

San Diego

11-9

70

87

157

Atlanta

9-9

80

92

172

Cincinnati

8-10

50

70

120

Arizona

8-10

33

54

87

San Francisco

8-11

83

86

169

Miami

8-11

33

46

79

Washington

7-12

44

68

112

Philadelphia

7-12

80

56

136

Milwaukee

4-15

100

54

154

 

Without delving into individual team specifics, allow me to draw a general conclusion which should convince you that there is some worth in incorporating this bullpen index into your handicapping. Admittedly, this is a relatively small sample for only the first three weeks of MLB action in 2015. But please note the following conclusions.

 •The bullpen index for the 14 teams whose record is .500 or better is 152

 •The bullpen index for the 16 teams whose record is below .500 is 127

There is danger in using these numbers as a sole means of a handicap. Remember that these numbers represent only an overview of the pitching for an individual team, and the average of the last 3 innings of the game. Though these numbers may represent the current form of a team through the first three week of the season, they could easily change direction as bullpens cycle in and out of good and bad current form (just like starting pitchers and hitters). It is also necessary that I point out that these numbers are an overview of the relief staff. They do not take into account which pitchers will be available for a certain game, how injuries may be affecting the bullpen rotation, or any home/road dichotomies. For that reason, I advise caution when isolating these as a pure handicapping method.

As you can see from the chart above, however, they have proven to be a meaningful indicator of the overall success of a team. Using this bullpen index judiciously can prove to be a positive factor to apply when making MLB picks.