Tired Bullpen: Baseball Handicapping

The role of the pitcher in baseball has evolved dramatically in recent decades. Starting pitchers once exclusively held the key to success for championship teams, often pitching in eight or more innings per game, and 250-plus innings in a season.

Nowadays, the bullpen has become a crucial part of a team’s World Series aspirations. And like the $5 check your grandma has been sending you on your birthday since you were able to walk, the bullpen can help you build your betting bankroll if you wager strategically.

Starters Not Going the Distance

Probable starters are the most important when evaluating five-inning game betting lines. However, it has become somewhat of a rarity for a major league starter to go the distance on a regular basis, with only one pitcher recording more than 10 complete games in a single season since 1998. Can you guess who it is? Here’s a hint: His name rhymes with Banes Bields and he was playing for a team from below the Mason-Dixon Line at the time.*

Bullpen hurlers have consistently seen their number of innings pitched increase substantially during that same stretch. This makes bullpen evaluation a big part of any successful handicapping strategy.

Many factors come into play when assessing bullpens, and it’s not as simple as collective ERA – which sounds like it could be the title of an NWA song before Ice Cube left. Bullpen composition is more important than bullpen ERA, while bullpen fatigue can quickly diminish a team’s value on a given night.

Doing your Bullpen Analysis

Understanding the overall situation within a team’s bullpen is critical, including knowing which arms are fresh and ready to pitch on a given night.

A club could have a great bullpen ERA with a money closer and solid setup relievers, but if the reliable middle relief arms have worn down from overuse like the soles of a Converse sneaker, or have been getting rocked early, the setup man and closer may never take the mound.

A particular game situation to consider is where a No. 5 starter is taking the mound ahead of a tired bullpen. In such a scenario, the starter may stay in the game longer than usual, giving the bullpen a rest, especially if it’s a gateway game and the team is looking ahead to a key series.

A Chance for an OVER Wager

Such circumstances may represent a chance to play the OVER in totals betting, or take a hard look at the opposing team’s moneyline odds, regardless of how long they may appear.

Furthermore, the Odds Shark in-depth MLB matchup reports can provide you with key background info on how a team’s starters have fared in recent games, while our Pitcher Money Won/Lost analysis can provide details on how much money that No. 5 starter has produced for his team. No. 5 Starter also sounds like a two-in-one shampoo and conditioner sold at truck stops.

Building your MLB betting bankroll requires an understanding of the strengths of often unheralded hurlers who work out of the bullpen, but who are often responsible for the strong win/loss records of today’s best starters.

*James Shields, 2011, Tampa Bay Rays

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