One of the most under-rated baseball handicapping strategies has to do with looking at bullpens. A good and rested bullpen has a higher chance of protecting your team’s lead. A bad bullpen will really play with your emotions. Imagine your team ahead in the late innings, you can almost feel the money you won already in your pocket, only to see it disappear because of some poor relief.
It’s not just closers that you want to look at either. Sure, locking down the 9th inning is important. These are the guys who make the most money and have the most notoriety. Saves is a major category, but holds? Who knows what a hold is outside of really intense stat geeks and top handicappers?
But, there are other guys you need to look at. If you have a starter than typically lasts six innings then it’s important to see how the setup men have been performing. The guys who come in to protect leads in the 7th and 8th innings. Some are specialists for lefties or righties. It’s important to look at how stacked a team’s lineup is on one side of the plate to see if those guys are going to be used and if they are, effective.
In today’s games relievers are more important than ever. It used to be that starters would throw a lot of complete games over the course of a season, but now they rarely make it past 100 pitches before managers head to the pen.
However, the MLB lines still factor the starters in heavily. This means there is some value if you study the relief pitchers and can find a team with an edge in that department.
To start, the first thing you are going to want to look at is the ERA of each team’s bullpen. This gives you the general idea of how successful a team is at finishing things off after the starter is removed. It’s not going to surprise you that the teams in the top 10 will correlate pretty strongly with the teams at the top of each division.
The next thing we are going to look at is bullpen usage. No receiver is effective if they pitch three days in a row. Managers are starting to realize this and not even use guys if they have thrown the previous two nights. If the last couple of days the starters have struggled and been pulled early, that puts the bullpen in a tough spot. They have been overused so the manager doesn’t have many options, and the options he has are either use guys who aren’t as good or use guys who are tired and won’t be as effective.
One more thing I look at is multiple inning performances. Baseball Reference keeps track of how many times a reliever is used to get more than three outs. This puts a lot of pressure on an individual arm. The more pitches you require a guy to throw the more rest he is going to need between games. Keep an eye on these teams late in the year as they might provide some good fade opportunities.
It’s important to remember that analyzing spring training games probably won’t do you much good. Relievers typically work on new pitches or getting up to speed. They aren’t necessarily operating with the sole goal of getting guys out.