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We’ve reached midseason in Major League Baseball, and I place great importance on bullpen strength. This is a great time to familiarize yourself with the performance levels of all 30 bullpens, as you still have half a season to take advantage of the vast disparities among teams.
I probably lean on my bullpen ratings more than ever, as I think the extra-inning change before last season implementing the California rules has enhanced the importance of pitchers who can get hitters out. As a result, I have placed even more emphasis on the strikeouts-per-nine-innings calculations. You’ll see those here with some other key stats for games through Monday.
The power ratings I have used are the same ones that go into creating the daily strength ratings and projections you’ll find all season on VSiN.com. They are devised from statistics and performance as well as perception in the betting markets. I also use ballpark factors in adjusting the statistics to accurately reflect the conditions in which a pitcher operates.
Here’s a reminder of some stats regarding my simulations and the 2020 season as to why bullpen strength, and specifically my power ratings, are so vital. These are results from my ratings for the shortened 2020 season:
— There were 950 MLB games in 2020. By simply taking the team with the higher Steve Makinen Bullpen Power Rating, a bettor would have gone 528-399 (57%) for -1.25 units. In 23 games, the teams had equal ratings. While not a positive unit figure, it is still enough for a bettor to have essentially beaten the juice, typically an average of about 7% throughout a season, by simply relying on a fundamental handicapping concept.
— In games when the SMBPR difference between the teams was 10 or more, the better-rated team was 265-166 (61.4%) for + 23.02 units. This represents a return on investment value of 5.3%, a nice return for a few months of MLB betting.
— In games when the SMBPR difference was 20 or better, or essentially the top five bullpens against the bottom five bullpens, the better-rated team was 77-33 (70%) for + 20.16 units. This is an ROI of 18.3% and a strategy that should earn the endorsement of any baseball bettor doing the daily grind.
Keep in mind that these ratings will move throughout the season as I update them as often as daily. However, if you have a good gauge for the talent levels and you monitor the key stats regularly, you’ll be able to understand the differences among teams.
Here are some other notes regarding recent streaks of teams and how their bullpens have fared during their surges or skids:
— The Cubs’ bullpen, surprisingly dominant early in the season, has imploded during the 10-game losing streak the team carried into Tuesday night’s game. In that time, the bullpen has a combined ERA of 8.65 and a WHIP of 1.51. When you consider that Chicago’s relief corps was still at a 3.24 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP for the season, you should have a feel for how big a role this group played in the early success. They relievers will need to return to that form for the Cubs to get back in the hunt in the NL Central.
— While Chicago has faded out of the NL Central race, Milwaukee had taken command via a 13-3 surge. The Brewers’ bullpen has fulfilled its promise of the last few seasons during that stretch, putting together impressive numbers like a 1.28 WHIP, a 2.28 ERA and 10.74 K’s/9. Manager Craig Counsell has been known to rely heavily on this bunch, and when you combine the bullpen strength with the starting staff, Counsell and the Crew may have the best overall pitching in baseball.
— The Dodgers’ relief pitching has had more than its share of ups and downs, but that group is on a torrid stretch in which it had combined for a 0.91 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP during a 9-1 run. If the bullpen can steady the ship consistently in the second half of the season, Los Angeles should once again be the front-runner in the National League come October.
— Questions galore surrounded Boston’s pitching staff heading into the season, and though some of those questions haven’t been answered, the bullpen has delivered. It has been a huge reason the team sits comfortably atop the AL East. During a current 10-1 surge, the Red Sox had a combined relief ERA of 2.06 and WHIP of 1.27. With former ace Chris Sale expected back in the coming weeks and the rest of the starting staff holding steady, Boston’s bullpen and lineup are good enough that divisional hopefuls should be worried.
Here are my current MLB bullpen rankings. Along with the list sorted by Power Ratings, you’ll find each team’s beginning-of-season rating plus some comments on what has gone right or wrong.
1. SAN DIEGO
Power Rating: 18
BOY bullpen ranking: 2
Analysis: The Padres’ bullpen has been the most consistent in the league and has not dipped below an 18 power rating at any point. It boasts the best ERA and second-best WHIP in MLB. Mark Melancon has been solid but not dominant as the closer, Craig Stammen has been the most reliable mid-inning option and journeyman Austin Adams has come out of nowhere to post a 1.84 ERA in 37 outings.
Power Rating: 14
BOY bullpen ranking: 7
Analysis: Milwaukee traded middle-inning options Drew Rasmussen and J.P. Feyereisen in mid-May for shortstop Willy Adames, but the bullpen has not missed a beat. Josh Hader has been better than ever, with a 0.735 WHIP and 55 strikeouts in 32+ innings. Last year’s Relief Pitcher of the Year, Devin Williams, hasn’t been as good as in 2020 but has shown signs of returning to that form during the Brewers’ current surge.
3. LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Power Rating: 13
BOY bullpen ranking: 23
Analysis: The Dodgers have the best bullpen ERA in MLB over the last 10 games, a sparkling 0.94. It has been a roller-coaster season for the group overall, though, and this hot stretch has enabled the pen to climb back into the top five in ERA for the season. Kenley Jansen has found his dominant form as the closer, while Blake Treinen is one of the best eighth-inning guys around. Former starters David Price and Jimmy Nelson have resurrected their careers as relievers.
Power Rating: 10
BOY bullpen ranking: 16
Analysis: Miami has been getting pretty good pitching all the way around, and its bullpen has been a pleasant surprise. However, Yimi Garcia has been up and down as the closer, losing six games in 34 outings. His ERA of 3.66 isn’t elite level. The earlier-inning options, such Dylan Floro, Anthony Bass and Richard Bleier, boast respectable statistics without the overpowering strikeout numbers. The Marlins’ relief corps have been good lately, with a 2.32 ERA in the last 10 games, but they’ve averaged about 4.3 innings per game in that span, a potential risk of burnout.
5. NEW YORK YANKEES
Power Rating: 8
BOY bullpen ranking: 1
Analysis: The Yankees have fallen from their preseason ranking as the top bullpen to fifth place currently by virtue of their modest 3.56 ERA. They are also just eighth in strikeouts per nine innings at 9.82, far below the pace they’ve set the last few seasons. Closer Aroldis Chapman’s struggles have contributed significantly to the overall drop, as he shows a hefty 4.71 ERA and has allowed five home runs. Jonathan Loaisiga, Chad Green and Lucas Luetge have 32+ appearances and 41+ innings already, perhaps a sign of fatigued arms later in the season. The Yankees’ last four games had been particularly bad in terms of relief pitching, with 19 earned runs in 18 innings. The talent is still evident, though.
Power Rating: 7
BOY bullpen ranking: 4
Analysis: Cleveland’s starting pitching has fallen on hard times recently, thanks largely to injuries but also due to several pitchers not performing up to expectations. However, the relief corps has done good work pretty much all season, even during the current 1-9 swoon. Closer Emmanuel Clase has been solid, but future closer James Karinchak has been dominant, striking out 64 hitters in 37 1/3 innings while compiling a WHIP of 0.991. This group must continue to be good while waiting for Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale to return to the rotation.
Power Rating: 6
BOY bullpen ranking: 12
Analysis: Boston’s late-inning pitching has been way better than anyone could have expected. Five of the top six relievers in terms of appearances have ERAs under 2.75. Closer Matt Barnes had 19 saves with 62 strikeouts in 37 innings, and his 2.68 ERA was the best in his six seasons by almost a run. This group had allowed more than three runs just once since June 14 and is a big reason the Red Sox have distanced themselves from the rest of the AL East.
Power Rating: 6
BOY bullpen ranking: 17
Analysis: I’ve never been a huge believer in Brad Hand as a closer, but he has been the Nationals’ best bullpen option. The last 20 games have featured a good run by this group, with really just two bad outings during that span — once against the Dodgers and once against Philadelphia. The 1.14 WHIP in the last 10 games is fifth best in baseball.
9. TAMPA BAY
Power Rating: 5
BOY bullpen ranking: 27
Analysis: Tampa Bay was one of the better bullpens in the league in the first 2 1/2 months, but overuse might be catching up. The Rays’ relief corps leads the league in innings pitched, and since reaching a season-high power rating of 12 on June 19, it has slipped down to a 5. The Rays’ bullpen ERA is 6.21 since. Andrew Kittredge has been very good as a mid-inning guy as well as a spot starter, and J.P. Feyereisen has been a great trade addition.
Power Rating: 5
BOY bullpen ranking: 13
Analysis: Cincinnati’s bullpen has some huge arms, so it should come as no surprise to see the Reds rounding out the top 10 of my current rankings. The problem is the group got off to a relatively slow start. Over the last 10 games, they had the league’s second-best ERA and WHIP. If you analyze the individual stats of the Reds’ bullpen options, you won’t be awed. But pitchers like Sean Doolittle and Heath Hembree have improved their numbers greatly in the last couple of weeks.
11. SAN FRANCISCO
Power Rating: 4
BOY bullpen ranking: 5
Analysis: For as much as San Francisco’s bullpen has been the best in baseball in terms of WHIP overall and WHIP in the last 10 games, it doesn’t boast the type of dominant arms I prefer to see. In fact, the Giants rank just 28th in strikeouts per nine innings. Not to diminish any success this team has had, but getting guys out late in the season can be tougher without power pitching.
Power Rating: 4
BOY bullpen ranking: 3
Analysis: When I last updated readers on my bullpen rankings after a couple weeks of the 2021 season, Toronto was third. The Blue Jays have since slipped to 12th. The Jays’ 3.89 combined bullpen ERA is respectable, but they’ll need to be better if any run at the postseason is to happen. Jordan Romano has made a big difference at the back of games, stepping in as closer after Rafael Dolis struggled in that role early. Romano leads the Jays with a paltry six saves.
13. CHICAGO CUBS
Power Rating: 4
BOY bullpen ranking: 9
Analysis: The Cubs’ bullpen was one of the best stories in the first couple of months. At one point, I had this group ranked No. 2. However, the wheels have come off, and Chicago had lost 10 straight while its relief corps had compiled an ERA of 8.65. If the early greatness was a shock, so was the recent implosion. Still, the Cubs rank No. 2 in season ERA and No. 1 in K’s/9 from their relievers, so the potential is there to rebound.
Power Rating: 4
BOY bullpen ranking: 25
Analysis: With a 1.09 WHIP in its last 10 games, the Texas bullpen has climbed into positive power rating territory for the first time in 2021. This is a group I had ranked 25th at the outset of the season. Ian Kennedy has returned to his 2019 form, his first year as a closer for the Royals. John King and Brett Martin have been solid in setup roles, both outperforming expectations. This group has been one of few bright spots for the Rangers.
Power Rating: 2
BOY bullpen ranking: 11
Analysis: Atlanta’s bullpen has disappointed in 2021, showing an ERA of 4.72 and a WHIP of 1.43. However, signs have emerged that the group is starting to come around, boasting some more expected numbers in the last few weeks. In fact, before Monday’s forgettable outing at Pittsburgh, the Braves had allowed just 19 runs in their last 18 bullpen outings covering 48 innings. That surge has brought this relief staff back into the upper half of my rankings.
16. NEW YORK METS
Power Rating: 1
BOY bullpen ranking: 15
Analysis: The Mets’ bullpen has been pretty good overall, but its stats have been badly skewed by some awful outings. Most recently the group allowed 14 runs in five innings against Atlanta. With power right-handers Edwin Diaz, Trevor May and Jeurys Familia performing admirably, Aaron Loup has been the biggest surprise as the only regular left-handed option, posting a 1.00 WHIP in 29 outings.
Power Rating: 1
BOY bullpen ranking: 22
Analysis: Since taking over as closer unexpectedly, Kendall Graveman has been exceptional, with a minuscule 0.646 WHIP in 23 outings. But it took a while to recognize that Rafael Montero was not the answer to finish games. Elsewhere in the pen, Paul Sewald was having a huge early season (1.015 WHIP, 16.21 K’s/9) after a ho-hum four years with the Mets. Minus some ugly numbers from Montero and Will Vest, this group would be ranked much higher.
Power Rating: 0
BOY bullpen ranking: 29
Analysis: Lou Trivino has moved into the closer’s role and had 13 saves. In his previous three years combined, he collected just four. He isn’t an overpowering pitcher, as evidenced by his 8.3 K’s/9, so perhaps a better long-term option is needed. Jake Diekman comes to mind; he has six saves with 12 K’s/9 and a 3.21 ERA. The A’s were ranked 29th on this list at the outset of the season, so their climb to 18th is a good start. The numbers for getting hitters out are decent, with veterans Yusmeiro Petit and Sergio Romo steadying influences, but the talent isn’t overwhelming.
Power Rating: -1
BOY bullpen ranking: 14
Analysis: Houston has been as high as top 10 on this list and as low as No. 19 now. The fall stems from some horrible outings, as the Astros’ pen allowed 18 runs in back-to-back outings to the Orioles. Otherwise, the group has been pretty good. Closer Ryan Pressly wasn’t involved in those two outings, as his stats (1.54 ERA, 14 saves, 45 K’s in 35 IP) remain scintillating. The other bullpen options haven’t posted such good numbers, though the strikeout stats show great promise.
Power Rating: -2
BOY bullpen ranking: 24
Analysis: Only recently has Pittsburgh fallen, as I had the Pirates’ bullpen in positive power rating territory as late as June 17. Since then a 17-game span produced an ERA of 4.38, dropping the Pirates from No. 7 to No. 13 and now to No. 20. Still, not much was expected from this group early, so the positive returns it did provide were a big boost for bettors. Richard Rodriguez has performed admirably in his second season as the closer and shows just a 0.804 WHIP in 32 1/3 innings.
21. LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Power Rating: -3
BOY bullpen ranking: 19
Analysis: If the Angels could ever match the strength of their lineup with their pitching production, their fans might see the end of years of frustration. This year’s bullpen has dropped two spots in my rankings since the outset of the season by virtue of a 1.47 WHIP, which ranks 26th. Another troubling sign is that this group had amassed 65 1/3 innings in the last 13 games, a lofty total. Raisel Iglesias and Mike Mayers have combined to strike out 114 batters in 78+ innings, so the talent is there.
22. CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Power Rating: -3
BOY bullpen ranking: 10
Analysis: The White Sox’s bullpen has fallen on hard times since an impressive start to the 2021 season. The South Siders’ pen had allowed runs in all but one of its last 17 outings, and over the last 10 games, the WHIP of 1.67 ranked better than only Philadelphia. Liam Hendriks has been expectedly sharp in the closer role, and Michael Kopech is having a nice season. But otherwise more arms need to step up if this team is to be a threat in the postseason.
Power Rating: -4
BOY bullpen ranking: 28
Analysis: Detroit’s bullpen has been better than expected, climbing from a season-opening rank of 28 to 23. Furthermore, the Tigers’ relievers have been pretty sharp lately, showing a WHIP of 1.20 in the last 10 games, good for ninth best in baseball. But it has been a pattern of hot and not, with no runs allowed in eight of their last 14 outings and 25 runs allowed in the other six. The first step toward continuous improvement will be to settle on a permanent closer, as three hard-throwing options had combined for 16 saves, none boasting more than six.
24. ST. LOUIS
Power Rating: -5
BOY bullpen ranking: 20
Analysis: St. Louis has seen its division lead in May go by the wayside, and its disappointing season is on the verge of completely unraveling. The Cardinals had fallen nine games back in the NL Central, and they weren’t getting much help from their bullpen, which had allowed 14 earned runs in the last six games and 16 1/3 innings. Alex Reyes is an intimidating closer who has been sharp, as have Giovanny Gallegos and Genesis Cabrera, but the rest of the staff has been a mess.
25. KANSAS CITY
Power Rating: -5
BOY bullpen ranking: 21
Analysis: Kansas City was known for an amazing bullpen in its World Series days under Ned Yost. That is certainly no more. The Royals rank 25th on my list and are trending the wrong way, having allowed 54 earned runs since June 16, resulting in an ERA during that span of 6.20. And the group had worked 78 1/3 innings during that time, an average of 4.4 innings per game! Fatigue could be playing a factor. Scott Barlow is emerging as a potential key weapon, however, boasting a sub-2.00 ERA and 13.1 K’s/9 through 39 outings.
Power Rating: -6
BOY bullpen ranking: 8
Analysis: Everything about Minnesota’s 2021 season has been a disappointment, so the fact that the bullpen has slipped from eighth to 25th should be no different. The full-season ERA of 4.98 ranks 26th in MLB, and no signs of life have emerged. Veteran left-hander Taylor Rogers has been the only consistent producer with a 1.065 WHIP and 12.6 K’s/9 to go along with seven saves.
Power Rating: -7
BOY bullpen ranking: 6
Analysis: Easily the biggest faller since April in my bullpen rankings is Philadelphia, which started the season sixth and is now 27th. The Phillies have been awful of late as well, showing an ERA of 7.09 and a WHIP of 1.67 over the last 10 games, ranked at or near the bottom of MLB in both categories. That doesn’t even include the ugly game two weeks ago in which the Phils allowed nine runs late in an improbable loss to the Nationals. None of their six most active bullpen members, including closer Hector Neris, show an ERA under 4.00.
Power Rating: -8
BOY bullpen ranking: 26
Analysis: Baltimore’s bullpen was not expected to be good, and it’s fulfilling expectations. But though its ERA is 25th right now, some promise can be seen. The O’s relief staff ranks ninth in K’s/9 with 9.78, and their recent rankings are mid-pack. Two options could wind up being trade targets, with Tanner Scott and 6-foot-8, 255-pound Tyler Wells putting up solid numbers.
Power Rating: -12
BOY bullpen ranking: 18
Analysis: Nothing has gone right for Arizona in 2021. The Diamondbacks have been awful in all regards, and their bullpen numbers are no different. But over the last 10 games, this group has left the bottom spot in my rankings and leapfrogged Colorado. Their numbers during that stretch are mid-pack, although overuses could become a concern, with 49.33 innings amassed.
Power Rating: -18
BOY bullpen ranking: 30
Analysis: Right now no member of Colorado’s bullpen can boast of having a good season. Collectively, the group has an ERA of 5.44 and a WHIP of 1.53, both representing the league’s worst. If there is a silver lining, the Rockies were on a 6-1 surge, with the bullpen allowing just two earned runs in 15 innings in the wins. However, with the team embarking on a six-game trip before the All-Star break, I wouldn’t count on that continuing.