MLB Betting: Devising a Bullpen Index Using Save & Strand Rates

Joe Gavazzi

Saturday, July 4, 2015 7:49 PM UTC

Saturday, Jul. 4, 2015 7:49 PM UTC

We devise a relief pitching index and incorporate it into our handicap. We rate the bullpens with a simple formula that combines a team’s save percentage with a team’s strand rate and we break the teams down into two categories, the good and the bad!

The use of the bullpen has changed dramatically in MLB over the last 50 years. Today, the average starter may only last 6 IP in a game. That leaves a full 3 innings or 1/3 of the game to be handled by the bullpen. This work is usually divided among 4 groups of pitchers. (1) The long relief man, should the starter stub his toe early in the game. (2) The setup man who bridges the gap between the starter and the late innings. (3) An 8th inning specialist and (4) the 9thinning closer who is used to solidify the victory.

Clearly, it is important to handicap these three innings of pitching. The problem comes with the fact that not all relief pitchers are available every day. The best we can do is to devise a relief pitching index and incorporate it into our handicap. 

The best way to rate the relief corps is with a simple formula that combines a team’s save percentage with a team’s strand rate (this is the inverse of the runners inherited by a relief pitcher who score). This index which has averaged 141 through the previous 3 seasons is at 143 through June 30th. This is a contributor to the fact that scoring has been reduced to little more than 8 RPG in MLB this season.  

Rather than bore you with a 30-team table which shows every team’s save and strand rates, I will simply break it down into two categories for you… the good and the bad!

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The Good… Teams Whose Relief Index Is 157 or Higher
St. Louis Cardinals … 164 … It makes sense that the best team in MLB should also have one of the top 3 indexes in the game. With Trevor Rosenthal anchoring the closer role, the Cards’ bullpen is in good hands. 


Pittsburgh Pirates … 163 … It makes sense that the best pitching OPS team in MLB would have a good bullpen. The combination of Melancon and Grilli, led the Pirates to their first playoff season in 20 years in 2013. This year, Watson is the 8th inning specialist and Melancon moves to the closer role. They combine with a strong trio of starters to guide the Pirates back to the playoffs again this season.


San Francisco Giants … 169 … This is a bit of an upgrade for the Giants, who won the World Series with a 142 relief index last year. If injured starters, Cain and Peavy, can return to anywhere near their lifetime numbers. This relief corps can preserve their work in the early game. Giants are for real again!

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The Bad… Teams With an Index of Less Than 130
Toronto Blue Jays … 118 … And you thought that Toronto games were the highest scoring in baseball because they had a MLB leading OPS in batting. That is true, but a relief index of 118, the worst in baseball, guarantees an adventure for Blue Jay backers in the late innings.


Arizona Diamondbacks … 121 … In one of the most amazing statistics of the 2015 MLB season, the Arizona D’Backs are 0 for 12 when exactly one game below .500. Has it gotten to the point where it is “mental” or is a bullpen with the 2nd worst index in MLB a contributing factor? 


Miami Marlins … 122 … The Marlins have the 3rd worst record in MLB. Though injuries continue to play a part with the league’s best hitter, Stanton, out for July, Alvarez out for the season and Fernandez just returning from Tommy John, a key contributor to their lack of success must be a bullpen with the 3rd worst relief numbers in all of MLB.  


Oakland  Athletics… 124 … After winning 278 games the previous 3 years, the best in baseball, Oakland began the year 14-30 thanks to a 2-14 dip. A defense that contributed the most errors in baseball was held accountable. Though the A’s have since obeyed my OPS “BUY SIGN” nay sayers can “SHARE THE HATE” by looking at this relief index.

There you have it, the best and worst of the bullpens for the 1st half of the 2015 season (these are much more accurate than the ERA numbers).  Stay tuned for further updates as the season progresses.

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