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MLB Early Season Bullpen Ratings

By Steve Makinen  () 

For years I have shared my beliefs in how important bullpen success is to a team’s overall performance in baseball. It is especially an important piece for baseball bettors to consider, as for the most part, lines are predicated upon starting pitchers, and in truth, starters are going fewer innings than ever nowadays, so that part of the equation shouldn’t be such a big factor. In fact, bullpens are averaging 3.64 innings of work per contest for teams, and that accounts for well over a third of a game. If you ignore teams’ ability to get outs late in the contest, I assure you are doing it at your own peril.

With the importance of bullpens now stated, I move to present my first bullpen ratings of the season. What I have done is to put together a chart of the key stats that I use to help build my own power ratings. I combine statistics with talent indicators, recent performance and a couple of other things to build my final ratings. As far as stats go, typically I like to look at ERA, WHIP, K’s/9, and a category I call Effective Runs Per 9 Allowed. The first three categories are easy to calculate, the fourth is determined through a formula I have developed that takes into account the lineups the teams have faced to date and the location at which the games are played. I believe it gives a better indication of how “effective” the bullpens have been.

The chart below shows the statistical rankings, in order of the Effective Runs Per 9 Allowed category. Note that these are not my EXACT power ratings order, as again, I include talent level as a big part of the equation, as well as the stats, recent performance, and consistency factors. Here are some highlights from the chart:

• According to the figures, San Francisco & Detroit have had the best bullpens in terms of limiting opposing lineups to runs. Their WHIP statistics are also ranked near the top of the league. Neither team is among my top five bullpens in my power ratings as they are not overwhelmingly talented and not overpowering either, note the K’s per 9. At this point, with as anemic as their teams’ offenses have been, the Giants and Tigers bullpens are keeping them in games.

• The team I have rated as my best bullpen in baseball right now is the Houston Astros, as to me, they have the best combined stats, talent, recent performance, and consistency factor of any team’s relief corps.

• The Yankees’ bullpen rates high on the talent level but the stats and consistency to date have not been overwhelmingly impressive. There is certainly room for improvement in the coming weeks.

• Milwaukee’s bullpen last year was one of the most impressive in baseball, with the three-headed power core of Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, and Corey Knebel. In 2019, Hader has been dominant, but we have yet to see Jeffress, and Knebel is out for the season. There are some other good arms in that bullpen, but it is not as intimidating of a group as it was in the Brewers’ near run to a World Series.

• One of the key things to watch for could be teams that rank high in K’s per 9 at this point but haven’t been as effective in yielding runs. The Pirates and Blue Jays have some very live arms in their relief staffs, and I could see both climbing in my ratings over the course of this season.

• At the bottom of the chart you will find two teams whose relief corps aren’t matching the production of their starting staffs. The Nationals and Mets are losing games late and wasting efforts of their strong starters. They are specific examples of why you don’t want to overrate the starting pitcher element in evaluating MLB betting lines, as teams like these tend to see many of their games decided in the late innings.

Use these stats to help create your own ratings or to aid in your daily baseball wagering. Watch for streaks of strong or poor performances, as they tend to drive teams up or down my ratings. I will have several updates to these numbers throughout the season for you to follow.

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