Live On Air

Streaming Now: The Lookahead

play Watch Live radio Listen Live

Bullpen performance a notable early key

By Steve Makinen  () 

I put a lot of stock into bullpen performance in handicapping baseball. I have always believed it is one of the most underrated aspects in sports when it comes to those setting prices for games. So much emphasis is put on the starting pitchers, lineups and key injuries that the bullpen often doesn’t enter much into the equation. With starters now going only about half the innings in a given game, a team’s bullpen strength and the availability of pitchers for that game should be given greater prominence. I don’t think we have reached that point. That leads to incredible wagering opportunities.

In 2020, we have more reasons than ever to focus on bullpen performance:

— Starting pitchers are going fewer innings than ever. The average start length through Monday was 4.72 innings. So in a nine-inning game, this accounts for just over half.

— Fewer days off than usual. With the original schedule packed with 60 days in 66 games, the pressure on pitching staffs was ramped up. Now with postponements and doubleheaders entering the picture, bullpen pitchers will be counted on for even more innings, with some even called on to start games.

— Three-batter minimum. Bullpen depth and quality has become more important with the three-batter-minimum rule. With relievers having to face multiple hitters, teams have less need for specialists. Relievers have to be able to get both left-handed and right-handed hitters out.

— Designated hitters in both leagues. Before this year’s change to using the DH in both leagues, half the games always had a weak spot in the lineup. This led to less hitting depth in the late innings because of earlier pinch-hitting choices. Naturally, the bullpens now will be facing better hitters at the ends of games. 

— New extra-inning rule: The new rule placing a runner on second base with no out in any extra inning has put added pressure on bullpens not only to get hitters out but to prevent that unearned runner from scoring. The best bullpens, particularly those with big arms capable of striking out a lot of hitters, succeed doing this most often.

I’m sure you can see that the weight I put into team bullpen performances is at its peak. With that in mind, let’s look at some key numbers for bullpens so far and how they correlate with won-lost records. I will then show my updated bullpen rankings and how they’ve changed since the season opened almost three weeks ago.

MLB Bullpen ERA Rankings

1. ST. LOUIS: 0.98, Record: 2-3, -1.4 units

2. L.A. DODGERS: 1.39, Record: 11-6, -3.25 units

3. CLEVELAND: 1.51, Record: 10-7, + 1.25 units

4. OAKLAND: 2.01, Record: 12-5, + 4.7 units

5. ATLANTA: 2.85, Record: 11-7, + 3.7 units

6. KANSAS CITY: 3.16, Record: 7-10, -0.05 units

7. MILWAUKEE: 3.19, Record: 6-8, -2.95 units

8. MIAMI: 3.35, Record: 7-3, + 6.45 units

9. TAMPA BAY: 3.38, Record: 9-8, -3.05 units

10. TORONTO: 3.38, Record: 5-8, -2.4 units

11. N.Y. YANKEES: 3.50, Record: 10-6, + 3.25 units

12. COLORADO: 3.52, Record: 11-5, + 5.75 units

13. WASHINGTON: 3.64, Record: 5-8, -6.75 units

14. MINNESOTA: 3.72, Record: 11-6, + 2.45 units

15. HOUSTON: 3.89, Record: 7-9, -4.4 units

16. DETROIT: 3.90, Record: 9-5, + 6.6 units

17. BALTIMORE: 3.99, Record: 8-7, + 7 units

18. ARIZONA: 4.05, Record: 7-10, -1.6 units

19. L.A. ANGELS: 4.31, Record: 6-11, -8.3 units

20. CHICAGO WHITE SOX: 4.32, Record: 8-9, -1.4 units

21. BOSTON: 4.48, Record: 6-10, -4.48 units

22. SAN DIEGO: 5.01, Record: 10-7, + 2.05 units

23. SAN FRANCISCO: 5.14, Record: 7-11, + 2.2 units

24. N.Y. METS: 5.34, Record: 7-10, -4.55 units

25. PITTSBURGH: 5.47, Record: 3-13, -8.5 units

26. TEXAS: 5.72, Record: 6-9, -3.65 units

27. SEATTLE: 6.50, Record: 7-11, + 0.95 units

28. CHICAGO CUBS: 7.30, Record: 10-3, + 6.1 units

29. CINCINNATI: 7.77, Record: 7-9, -5.1 units

30. PHILADELPHIA: 9.87, Record: 5-6, -2.35 units

The jury is still out on St. Louis, since the Cardinals have played only five games and account for fewer than 20 innings of bullpen work. The top half of the league in bullpen ERA had combined for a record of 124-99, or 55.6%, compared with 106-131, or 44.7% for the bottom half. The exception to the rule in the bottom half would obviously be the Cubs, who were 10-3 despite an ERA of 7.30. Chicago had been fortunate in that it had yet to blow a save, and the bullpen had had a lot of close calls that wound up in their favor. Cleveland is perhaps the most impressive team on this list, as the Indians had the No. 17 bullpen in my BOY rankings.

MLB Bullpen WHIP Rankings

1. ST. LOUIS: 0.491, Record: 2-3, -1.4 units

2. CLEVELAND: 0.84, Record: 10-7, + 1.25 units

3. L.A. DODGERS: 0.958, Record: 11-6, -3.25 units

4. OAKLAND: 1.019, Record: 12-5, + 4.7 units

5. DETROIT: 1.075, Record: 9-5, + 6.6 units

6. MILWAUKEE: 1.081, Record: 6-8, -2.95 units

7. COLORADO: 1.118, Record: 11-5, + 5.75 units

8. ATLANTA: 1.15, Record: 11-7, + 3.7 units

9. N.Y. YANKEES: 1.152, Record: 10-6, + 3.25 units

10. ARIZONA: 1.215, Record: 7-10, -1.6 units

11. MINNESOTA: 1.227, Record: 11-6, + 2.45 units

12. MIAMI: 1.232, Record: 7-3, + 6.45 units

13. TORONTO: 1.25, Record: 5-8, -2.4 units

14. BALTIMORE: 1.261, Record: 8-7, + 7 units

15. CHICAGO WHITE SOX: 1.267, Record: 8-9, -1.4 units

16. SAN DIEGO: 1.274, Record: 10-7, + 2.05 units

17. WASHINGTON: 1.298, Record: 5-8, -6.75 units

18. KANSAS CITY: 1.312, Record: 7-10, -0.05 units

19. TAMPA BAY: 1.363, Record: 9-8, -3.05 units

20. N.Y. METS: 1.386, Record: 7-10, -4.55 units

21. SAN FRANCISCO: 1.39, Record: 7-11, + 2.2 units

22. L.A. ANGELS: 1.449, Record: 6-11, -8.3 units

23. BOSTON: 1.468, Record: 6-10, -4.48 units

24. SEATTLE: 1.527, Record: 7-11, + 0.95 units

25. CINCINNATI: 1.541, Record: 7-9, -5.1 units

26. TEXAS: 1.553, Record: 6-9, -3.65 units

27. PITTSBURGH: 1.626, Record: 3-13, -8.5 units

28. CHICAGO CUBS: 1.647, Record: 10-3, + 6.1 units

29. HOUSTON: 1.688, Record: 7-9, -4.4 units

30. PHILADELPHIA: 1.935, Record: 5-6, -2.35 units

The bullpen WHIP statistic has proven to be a bit more defining than ERA in terms of wins and losses. The top half of the league in this key stat had combined to go 128-95 (57.3%), while the bottom half had gone 102-135 (43%). You’ll again find the Cubs near the bottom of the list despite their gaudy record. You’ll also find Houston at No. 29, an obvious disappointment considering the Astros were my No. 8-ranked bullpen at the outset of the season. This has been a big contributor to their unexpectedly slow start. Detroit and Colorado are the two most pleasant surprises on the top end, and both are right in the thick of their divisional races because of it.

MLB Bullpen K’s/9 Rankings

1. CINCINNATI: 12.39, Record: 7-9, -5.1 units

2. MILWAUKEE: 11.47, Record: 6-8, -2.95 units

3. CLEVELAND: 11.23, Record: 10-7, + 1.25 units

4. MINNESOTA: 11.04, Record: 11-6, + 2.45 units

5. TAMPA BAY: 10.35, Record: 9-8, -3.05 units

6. TORONTO: 10.29, Record: 5-8, -2.4 units

7. CHICAGO WHITE SOX: 10.2, Record: 8-9, -1.4 units

8. TEXAS: 10.16, Record: 6-9, -3.65 units

9. N.Y. METS: 10.14, Record: 7-10, -4.55 units

10. OAKLAND: 9.92, Record: 12-5, + 4.7 units

11. L.A. DODGERS: 9.89, Record: 11-6, -3.25 units

12. PITTSBURGH: 9.87, Record: 3-13, -8.5 units

13. ARIZONA: 9.72, Record: 7-10, -1.6 units

14. N.Y. YANKEES: 9.64, Record: 10-6, + 3.25 units

15. ATLANTA: 9.63, Record: 11-7, + 3.7 units

16. BOSTON: 9.54, Record: 6-10, -4.48 units

17. BALTIMORE: 9.51, Record: 8-7, + 7 units

18. COLORADO: 9.39, Record: 11-5, + 5.75 units

19. KANSAS CITY: 9.35, Record: 7-10, -0.05 units

20. CHICAGO CUBS: 9.29, Record: 10-3, + 6.1 units

21. WASHINGTON: 9, Record: 5-8, -6.75 units

22. SEATTLE: 8.71, Record: 7-11, + 0.95 units

23. HOUSTON: 8.66, Record: 7-9, -4.4 units

24. SAN DIEGO: 8.43, Record: 10-7, + 2.05 units

25. PHILADELPHIA: 8.42, Record: 5-6, -2.35 units

26. L.A. ANGELS: 8.03, Record: 6-11, -8.3 units

27. SAN FRANCISCO: 7.6, Record: 7-11, + 2.2 units

28. DETROIT: 7.51, Record: 9-5, + 6.6 units

29. MIAMI: 6.28, Record: 7-3, + 6.45 units

30. ST. LOUIS: 5.89, Record: 2-3, -1.4 units

I spoke last week on the “Point Spread Weekly” show about my love for the K’s/9 statistic. I believe it is a great indicator of bullpens that have potential to dominate in any game or in longer stretches throughout the season. Well, so far, only potential is showing for Cincinnati, whose 7-9 record wasn’t exactly reflective of how good the bullpen arms are. Milwaukee was highly ranked before the season and has followed suit. Although the spread is only four games in this category in terms of upper- and lower-half wins and losses, of the nine teams that had won double-digit games as of Monday, six were ranked in the top 15 in bullpen K’s/9 innings.

MLB Bullpen Innings Pitched per Game Rankings

1. BOSTON: 4.9, Record: 6-10, -4.48 units

2. PITTSBURGH: 4.73, Record: 3-13, -8.5 units

3. TAMPA BAY: 4.71, Record: 9-8, -3.05 units

4. L.A. ANGELS: 4.55, Record: 6-11, -8.3 units

5. KANSAS CITY: 4.53, Record: 7-10, -0.05 units

6. HOUSTON: 4.48, Record: 7-9, -4.4 units

7. DETROIT: 4.45, Record: 9-5, + 6.6 units

8. MILWAUKEE: 4.43, Record: 6-8, -2.95 units

9. CHICAGO WHITE SOX: 4.41, Record: 8-9, -1.4 units

10. TORONTO: 4.31, Record: 5-8, -2.4 units

11. MIAMI: 4.3, Record: 7-3, + 6.45 units

12. SAN FRANCISCO: 4.28, Record: 7-11, + 2.2 units

13. OAKLAND: 4.22, Record: 12-5, + 4.7 units

14. ATLANTA: 4.2, Record: 11-7, + 3.7 units

15. L.A. DODGERS: 4.18, Record: 11-6, -3.25 units

16. SEATTLE: 4.07, Record: 7-11, + 0.95 units

17. SAN DIEGO: 4.02, Record: 10-7, + 2.05 units

18. MINNESOTA: 3.98, Record: 11-6, + 2.45 units

19. ARIZONA: 3.92, Record: 7-10, -1.6 units

20. BALTIMORE: 3.91, Record: 8-7, + 7 units

21. N.Y. METS: 3.86, Record: 7-10, -4.55 units

22. N.Y. YANKEES: 3.85, Record: 10-6, + 3.25 units

23. TEXAS: 3.78, Record: 6-9, -3.65 units

24. ST. LOUIS: 3.67, Record: 2-3, -1.4 units

25. WASHINGTON: 3.62, Record: 5-8, -6.75 units

26. COLORADO: 3.35, Record: 11-5, + 5.75 units

27. CHICAGO CUBS: 3.13, Record: 10-3, + 6.1 units

28. CINCINNATI: 3.04, Record: 7-9, -5.1 units

29. PHILADELPHIA: 2.82, Record: 5-6, -2.35 units

30. CLEVELAND: 2.45, Record: 10-7, + 1.25 units

In most cases when teams are forced to go to their bullpen for more innings, it’s due to the struggles of their starting pitchers. A tired bullpen is usually more ineffective, especially as the season wears on. I would be concerned for the prospects of the Red Sox, Rays and Angels based on the previous data. Interestingly, the top 10 teams in terms of most bullpen innings pitched per game had combined for a record of 66-91, just 42%. Teams that had worked their bullpens the fewest innings should be stronger down the stretch, so teams like Cleveland and Colorado should be able to take advantage of low usage and high performance so far.

My Overall Bullpen Rankings

Here are my current bullpen rankings, using a methodology I have crafted over 20 years or so, taking into account all the key stat indicators plus overall talent perception. I’ve also included each team’s ranking at the outset of the season and how much each has moved since. Be sure to consider the effectiveness of each team’s bullpen as you handicap the upcoming action.

1. CLEVELAND: Record: 10-7, + 1.25 units, EOY Rank: 17, Change: + 16

2. OAKLAND: Record: 12-5, + 4.7 units, EOY Rank: 6, Change: + 4

3. L.A. DODGERS: Record: 11-6, -3.25 units, EOY Rank: 10, Change: + 7

4. N.Y. YANKEES: Record: 10-6, + 3.25 units, EOY Rank: 1, Change: -3

5. MILWAUKEE: Record: 6-8, -2.95 units, EOY Rank: 2, Change: -3

6. TAMPA BAY: Record: 9-8, -3.05 units, EOY Rank: 4, Change: -2

7. TORONTO: Record: 5-8, -2.4 units, EOY Rank: 16, Change: + 9

8. ATLANTA: Record: 11-7, + 3.7 units, EOY Rank: 7, Change: -1

9. COLORADO: Record: 11-5, + 5.75 units, EOY Rank: 23, Change: + 14

10. ST. LOUIS: Record: 2-3, -1.4 units, EOY Rank: 19, Change: + 9

11. MINNESOTA: Record: 11-6, + 2.45 units, EOY Rank: 5, Change: -6

12. DETROIT: Record: 9-5, + 6.6 units, EOY Rank: 28, Change: + 16

13. KANSAS CITY: Record: 7-10, -0.05 units, EOY Rank: 26, Change: + 13

14. MIAMI: Record: 7-3, + 6.45 units, EOY Rank: 27, Change: + 13

15. CHICAGO WHITE SOX: Record: 8-9, -1.4 units, EOY Rank: 20, Change: + 5

16. ARIZONA: Record: 7-10, -1.6 units, EOY Rank: 13, Change: -3

17. WASHINGTON: Record: 5-8, -6.75 units, EOY Rank: 12, Change: -5

18. SAN DIEGO: Record: 10-7, + 2.05 units, EOY Rank: 3, Change: -15

19. BALTIMORE: Record: 8-7, + 7 units, EOY Rank: 25, Change: + 6

20. HOUSTON: Record: 7-9, -4.4 units, EOY Rank: 8, Change: -12

21. CINCINNATI: Record: 7-9, -5.1 units, EOY Rank: 14, Change: -7

22. N.Y. METS: Record: 7-10, -4.55 units, EOY Rank: 9, Change: -13

23. TEXAS: Record: 6-9, -3.65 units, EOY Rank: 15, Change: -8

24. BOSTON: Record: 6-10, -4.48 units, EOY Rank: 11, Change: -13

25. L.A. ANGELS: Record: 6-11, -8.3 units, EOY Rank: 22, Change: -3

26. SEATTLE: Record: 7-11, + 0.95 units, EOY Rank: 29, Change: + 3

27. SAN FRANCISCO: Record: 7-11, + 2.2 units, EOY Rank: 30, Change: + 3

28. CHICAGO CUBS: Record: 10-3, + 6.1 units, EOY Rank: 18, Change: -10

29. PITTSBURGH: Record: 3-13, -8.5 units, EOY Rank: 24, Change: -5

30. PHILADELPHIA: Record: 5-6, -2.35 units, EOY Rank: 21, Change: -9

 

back to news

FREE Email Sign-Up

Get the latest sports betting news & VSiN programming updates with this free daily email from VSiN, The Sports Betting Network.

Headlines

View All

custom-banner-3
VSiN Logo Plus

Free Trial

Make a risk-free bet on VSiN!

VSiN+ FREE TRIAL

  • Afternoon subscriber-only email with highlights and best bets from the day's programs
  • Point Spread Weekly, VSiN's digital magazine on sports betting
  • 24-7 Live video stream of VSiN programs plus replays
  • Any special sport-specified betting guides we do
  • All exclusive subscriber-only stories and data on VSiN.com
Sign Up Now
custom-banner-3
 

LISTEN LIVE!

It's totally free

(Learn more about the player)

OTHER WAYS TO LISTEN

  • On your phone
  • In your home
  • In your car
DETAILS
Google Play
App Store
Close