The Impact of Bullpens for Bettors

AthleticsScribnerTallYesterday, we took a look at the impact of bad defense on MLB betting. The conclusion? Be careful before laying money down on the Athletics, Rangers, Pirates, and Brewers. Today, as promised, we turn to another area that is often overlooked by both sportsbooks and bettors – relief pitching – and we start with a familiar team, the AL cellar-dwellars from Oakland.

Oakland Athletics – The A’s save percentage is a laughable 52.6-percent, worst in the bigs. (In 38 chances this season, Oakland’s relievers have only been able to lock down a win 20 times.) The best teams in the sport are converting around 80-percent. As a team, the A’s have the third-worst bullpen ERA and the second-fewest wins from non-starters. Five A’s relievers have allowed at least five home runs, including Evan Scribner, who has been pounded for 11 taters in 48 appearances.

Colorado Rockies – With an ERA of 4.83, the Rockies bullpen is the worst in the big leagues by a substantial margin. Opponents are batting .274 against Colorado relievers, again worst in the majors and more than thirty points higher than the league average. They’ve converted 25 of 36 save tries, which is third-worst and two bullpen members (Scott Oberg and Rafael Betancourt, who have combined for more than 80 appearances) have -0.6 WAR ratings. Oberg has given up ten homers, while Betancourt, occasionally the team’s closer, has an ERA of 5.94.

Texas Rangers – Texas has the second-worst bullpen ERA and they are not in danger of moving up or down in the rankings. It could be even worse for the Rangers if it wasn’t for Shawn Tolleson’s excellent season. He has saved ten straight since his last blown save and is 23 of 24 since taking over closer duties in mid-May.

Sam Freeman and Keone Kela have also been very effective, but the problem is depth. Spencer Patton and Tanner Scheppers are awful, and the team’s bullpen seems to be different every night. Adding Wandy Rodriguez (4.90 ERA with ten homers allowed) and Joba Chamberlain (1.68 WHIP and five homers allowed in 22 innings) isn’t going to help.

While the A’s and Rockies are disasters when their managers go to the pen, Texas is a special circumstance. Their games tend to get lopsided when they are trailing, but they do a decent job when leading or in tight contests. Thoughtful bettors my consider laying runs when they are already considering a play against the Rangers.

As for the opposite end of the spectrum, the Cardinals lead baseball in bullpen ERA and are second in save percentage. Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Houston are also very good once starters depart.

(Photo credit: Jrchun (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)

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