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Bettors can profit from studying KBO bullpens

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

May 28, 2020 01:16 PM

If there’s one universal criticism of the Korea Baseball Organization in the sports betting world, it’s that bad bullpens make the league “un-bettable.”

It quickly became the go-to theme from pundits who didn’t want to bother with research. Even within the past few days, you’re still hearing a chorus from “experts” who are asked about the league as the U.S. waits for MLB, NBA, and NHL action to return to betting boards. They don’t want to touch the KBO because of bad bullpens. 

Well, what do the numbers say? Is it too difficult to find edges in the KBO because of bad bullpens? Here are team bullpen ERA’s in the KBO heading into this weekend’s matchups.

Reliever ERA’s through May 28

LG Twins: 3.12

NC Dinos: 4.01

Kia Tigers: 4.23

Samsung Lions: 4.88

Kiwoom Heroes: 5.31

SK Wyverns: 5.60

Hanwha Eagles: 6.04

Lotte Giants: 6.42

KT Wyverns: 7.42

Doosan Bears 8.32

On the contrary, studying bullpens makes it EASIER to find value! You’re telling me you can’t find any helpful handicapping information there? There’s a huge difference from top to bottom that the market has struggled to capture.

*Superior bullpens are helping the LG Twins (13-3 their last 16 games) and the NC Dinos (17-3 for the season) dominate the league. Not all bullpens are bad. Teams with good bullpens (by KBO standards) are cashing tickets regularly.

*Struggling bullpens are creating fade opportunities. The SK Wyverns are 4-16 this season. The Hanwha Eagles are 2-7 their last nine games. The early-season Cinderella Lotte Giants are 4-9 their last 13 games partly because the bullpen turned into a pumpkin. 

*Bullpen extremes can also drive Over/Under results. Doosan’s games are 15-5 to the Over because the offensively potent Bears play so many shootouts. 

So, yes…try not to risk money on teams with bad bullpens. That should be part of standard baseball betting strategy in any league. It’s okay to look for value prices with good bullpens. And, it’s smart to look for bullpen extremes when considering Over/Under bets. 

Though, there is a big caveat that needs to be mentioned as you look toward the future. Staffs that start the season with awful bullpen ERA’s often improve in a way too many handicappers miss. Teams drop the worst pitchers from the roster and get better performances from new options. Some guys who struggled figured out what they were doing wrong and fix it. Bad closers get demoted, surprisingly good closers emerge. These developments are long hidden by “season-to-date” ERA’s because it takes a lot of goose-eggs on the board to cancel out a bad start. 

Doosan’s bullpen has allowed 61 earned runs in 66 innings. If the Bears now throw 10 straight scoreless relief innings, the ERA would only lower to 7.22. If the Bears throw 20 straight scoreless relief innings, still 6.38. Thirty straight zeroes? That’s 5.72, only the middle of the pack. In that hypothetical, what had suddenly become an impossibly great bullpen would still grade out as mediocre in a season-to-date compilation.

Something similar (though less extreme) seems to happen every season in MLB. A team’s bullpen has a horrible April, then gets things figured out. In June, lazy pundits are still picking against the team because of its bad bullpen ERA. Don’t bet on old, irrelevant news.

As we get deeper in the KBO season, be sure you’re looking at current skill sets. VSiN will continue to monitor short-term and long-term bullpen performances to help you spot new developments. 


Strong bullpen performances helped the NC Lions and LG Twins score early-week sweeps. The Lions routed the Kiwoom Heroes by a combined 26-11 tally, with their bullpen allowing only four earned runs in 11.2 innings. The Twins stifled Hanwha by a combined 21-4 count, with their bullpen allowing just one earned run in nine innings. 

Current Standings: NC 17-3, LG 14-6, Doosan 12-8, Kia 11-10, Lotte 10-10, Kiwoom 20-11, KT 9-11, Samsung 8-13, Hanwha 7-14, SK 4-16. Note that the top five KBO teams qualify for its step-ladder playoff structure. 

Current Futures Prices (from the Caesars Casino and Sportsbook website): NC 300, Doosan 350, Kiwoom 475, LG 550, Kia 1100, KT 1300, Hanwha 2200, Samsung 2200, SK 2800. 


If you were expecting enthusiastic, informative coverage of the KBO on ESPN2, you’ve been disappointed. Too often, broadcasts feel like “podcasts” about some other topic with a play-by-play host, a color analyst, and a guest jabbering over each other (often about MLB launch angles and similar esoterica), trying not to get distracted by anything happening in the actual game. 

Maybe, in the fifth inning of a yawner, there’s room for that. Late innings, with the tying run on base and the go-ahead run at the plate? Talk about the exciting game, not about borderline MLB Hall-of-Fame candidates from two decades ago. 

ESPN covers college baseball like the games matter. ESPN covers little league baseball like the games matter. Thus far, ESPN has been covering KBO games like they don’t want to hurt the feelings of corporate-partner MLB power brokers by showing too much interest. 

For bettors trying to learn about the KBO on the fly, turn the volume down (except when specialists in Korean baseball are guests), and focus on offensive and pitching skill sets. Read boxscores the next day at You won’t learn much from what have essentially been disinterested podcasters “not” calling the games for ESPN. Don’t let them take your eye off the ball!

This weekend’s ESPN2 slate (all times Eastern)…

Friday: KT at Kiwoom…5:30 a.m. live, 2 p.m. replay

Saturday: KT at Kiwoom…4 a.m. live

Sunday: Lotte at Doosan…1 a.m. live

Back Monday for more KBO coverage from a sports betting perspective. 

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