Best/Worst MLB Bullpens



One of the hidden keys to successfully picking sides and totals in Major League Baseball is an understanding of the huge role that bullpens play in determining which bettors get the money.

  • Oddsmakers and bettors pay a lot of attention to starting pitchers. But, those guys usually only last 6-7 innings per game (sometimes less)
  • Oddsmakers and bettors pay attention to team won-lost records in the newspaper standings. The best teams usually get expensive to back. The worst teams usually get expensive to fade.
  • Oddsmakers and bettors pay some (but not enough) attention to offenses.

Bullpens? Occasionally a big story will break loose at one end of the spectrum or the other. Mariano Rivera is considered a saint in New York. A new guy or two will break in each year and be unhittable in his new role until the league catches up. Those guys are celebrated. Kansas City just benched their closer though because he's blown a few games this week. Other teams are experimenting because of woes. For the most part, gamblers couldn't tell you the difference between bullpens amongst probably 25 of the 30 teams.

Yet, THESE are the pitchers that determine which teams win or lose close games. And THESE are the pitchers that often determine whether a game goes Over or stays Under the Vegas total. Doesn't this suggest YOU should be paying attention?!

We've gathered up all the bullpen ERA's through the games of Monday Night. That will give you a sense of how teams have stacked up heading into June. A stroll through the data will help you see why some surprise teams have taken big steps forward, and while a few others have fallen off the map. Let's take a look. We'll discuss some handicapping strategies along the way.

San Diego 2.32
Atlanta 2.49
Philadelphia 2.61
NY Yankees 2.95
Toronto 3.06
Florida 3.11
Cleveland 3.13
Milwaukee 3.22
Arizona 3.27
Pittsburgh 3.32
Washington 3.32

We'll mentally make some adjustments for home ballparks along the way. San Diego grades out great in many pitching stats because they play their home games in a pitcher's paradise. They're not THIS good on a neutral field. But, it's good to know that if you've bet an Under in San Diego the bullpen isn't going to blow it for you. Quick highlights:

  • Atlanta and Philadelphia are getting championship performance from their bullpens thus far. They were thought of as strong contenders before the season even not accounting much for the bullpens. This speaks very well for their chances to maintain early success.
  • Cleveland is third in the American League, exposing a hidden reason for their success thus far. A lot of pundits are scratching their heads about the Indians of 2011. They weren't supposed to be this good. What we've seen so far in terms of balance amongst offense, starting pitching, and the bullpen suggest the Tribe may be able to maintain their advantage in the Central Division.
  • Arizona deserves some plaudits because they play home games in a hitter's park. This generally isn't a list that features teams from hitter's parks! The Diamondbacks have gotten red hot of late, surging to the top of the NL West from completely off the radar. Their bullpen is a big part of that.

Handicapping with this group is fairly simple. Look for reasons to take them at value prices. If you don't trust the offenses of the lesser lights like Pittsburgh or Washington, look for reasons to bet the Unders. Now, if there's an injury to a set-up man or a closer, then all bets are off until things re-settle. Bullpen play is something that can get into a groove early on and just stay that way through the summer if there aren't injuries. You want to take advantage whenever you can. Many of these teams have yet to break through and earn respect in Vegas. Punish the oddsmakers for that oversight!

Note that we had planned on breaking the listings into three hunks of ten. Washington and Pittsburgh were tired for 10th place through Monday Night. So, we have 11 teams in this first group...then will have just nine tweeners. 

St. Louis 3.36
Oakland 3.38
Chicago Cubs 3.38
San Francisco 3.42
Cincinnati 3.52
Seattle 3.55
Tampa Bay 3.60
Colorado 3.65
LA Angels 3.68

Kind of a no harm no foul group. You're not hurt badly with a bullpen that's in the middle of the pack. You don't scare people to death in the 8th and 9th innings either. Solid list of teams for the most part. The Cubs are a surprise given some of their windy home games. Colorado is too because of the altitude. Think about Unders when those teams are on the road in pitcher's parks.

Handicapping with this hunk of teams allows you to focus mostly on starting pitchers and offenses. You don't have to worry about groups of kerosene kids blowing your leads very often. That happens to everyone sometimes, but not a lot to the tweeners. But, you don't really have any bonus SLAM THE DOOR certainty with leads either. Trust your handicapping and let your edges pay off over time.

Kansas City 3.97
Texas 4.06
NY Mets 4.09
Chicago White Sox 4.26
Boston 4.36
Houston 4.62
LA Dodgers 4.70
Baltimore 4.88
Detroit 5.35
Minnesota 5.58

This is a group that's very dangerous to trust. We're going to take Texas out of the mix because they play in a great hitter's park at home. The bullpen is better than these numbers make it look...and they're not far off the back end of the tweeners anyway. And, obviously Boston provides you some extra insurance because of the big bats. Everyone else here has some explaining to do.

  • The Mets are over 4.00 despite playing home games in a good pitcher's park...and despite coming off two relatively cool weather months. That bullpen is likely to be a problem in the summer.
  • The LA Dodgers are at 4.70 despite playing home games in a GREAT pitcher's park. That's horrible! We talked some about the woes of the Dodgers this year a couple of days ago (and that article inspired them to a couple of big wins!). They have to win big because they can't trust their bullpen in close games.
  • Minnesota has been an absolute disaster. The new stadium was a pitcher's park in its debut season. It's been cold early this year in the Midwest. Yet, the Twins are making it look like every day is July at altitude. A lot has gone wrong with the Twinkies this year. Problems in the bullpen are a major cause of the decline. Even if the team plays well early in a game the bullpen is likely to blow things late.
  • Detroit and the Chicago White Sox have also been disappointments in the AL Central. Today we've solved some of the mystery behind Cleveland's surge to greatness. The Indians are in the top list. All four of their divisional cohorts are down here with the stragglers. Have you heard anyone in the mainstream media talking much about Cleveland's bullpen? It may become one of the big stories of the year when it's all said and done.

You might be thinking we're going to tell you to bet against all of these teams this summer because of their bullpens. Life isn't that simple. One thing we've learned over the years is that most managers won't keep throwing games away with the same relievers. Closers will get replaced. Middle relievers who can't get anybody out are sent to the minors or releases. EVENTUALLY, most teams find a way to make it through games...or to at least give themselves a fighting chance to hold leads in the 8th and 9th when they have them.

And, THAT means you need to watch the "bottom 10" very closely from this point forward. Make an effort to monitor their line scores every night so you can see what's happening in the 6th inning and later. Some of these bottom 10 are going to get their acts together and pitch like top 10 teams from this point forward. That will make them STEALS against moneylines that are priced based on early slumps.

Let's just pick one as an example. If Minnesota gets its ducks in a row, you'll probably make a lot of money betting the Twins at very affordable prices in June and July. Or, maybe Detroit will figure things out and start playing a lot of Unders. FUTURE VALUE is waiting there for you to find it. It's to late to bet the collapses of the disappointments. Be there for the bounce backs.

JIM HURLEY loves handicapping Major League Baseball because the busy daily schedules create great plays seemingly on demand. We will have a major release going Wednesday (possibly in one of the 7 day games, so act EARLY!). More are scheduled throughout the week if the projected pitching matchups hold up.

You can always purchase game day releases here at the website with your credit card. We have great rates for longer term packages too. Don't forget that we still have plenty of thrills remaining in the NBA championships too (we'll preview Game Two for you Thursday here in the NOTEBOOK). If you have any questions about rates or combo packages, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

If you've been losing on your own...bring JIM HURLEY in from the bullpen and TURN YOUR SEASON AROUND!


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