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Bullpen Stats and Bullpen Ratings -- Betting the National League
by Max - 05/04/2005

When betting baseball the most important thing to consider is the starting pitchers. This is the major force behind the oddsmakers when they establish a line on the game. If either starting pitcher has to be scratched, the line on the game may change dramatically or the game may be taken off the board altogether. Most books offer refunds if there is a pitching change in order to protect themselves from a major line adjustment. However, with so much attention being paid to the starting pitchers, often times books fail to evaluate each team's bullpen.

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The following will demonstrate the importance of studying bullpen stats and bullpen ratings when trying to make money-betting baseball. This is apparent in the National League, where starting pitchers often time have to be pulled early for a pinch hitter because it is their turn to hit at the plate.

I like nothing more in baseball than a pitcher's duel. The game seems to flow with little interruption and often a timely hit at the end will decide the outcome of the contest. However, it is demoralizing to suffer a 1-0 loss when betting baseball because both starting pitchers seem to have the 'A' game and the hitters are at their mercy. In the American League, both of these pitchers would likely throw complete games and one of them would come away with a tough luck loss. However, this will not likely happen in the National League because of the pitchers having to bat for themselves.

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Most pitchers hit between .070 to .170 and because of this low statistic most managers feel it is to the team's benefit to pinch hit for them especially when there are ducks on the pond.

This is when panic can arise for the gambler. For seven innings your starting pitcher was in complete control of the game and left the game with either a tie score or a one-run lead. Everything seemed to be going as planned and the next moment a reliever comes in, walks the first man he faces, and the gambler now knows that he is going to be in a dogfight to collect his money.

This has happened to me numerous times in my gambling career. More times than not, my starting pitcher leaves with a slim lead and the next thing you know the bullpen comes into play and my one run lead is now a two-run deficit and eventually a loss. Because of numerous heartbreaks like this, I now factor in bullpen stats and bullpen ratings when making my selections.

The first thing to look at is a manager's tendency with pulling the starting pitcher. I get frustrated when managers pull their starter too early in the game because it is his turn to bat. If a starter is involved in a low scoring affair where the score it tied or he trails by one run, there is no need to pull him until the eight innings. The pitcher has already shown he can consistently get out the opposing team so why would the manager want to disrupt the rhythm of his defense. I would rather take my chances trailing one to nothing, then use a pitch hitter, who will most likely strikeout because he is not good enough to crack the everyday line-up. The next thing you know the bullpen comes in and the score is now four to nothing.

An example of this philosophy is the New York Mets Manager Willie Randolph. During an April game with the Atlanta Braves his ace, Pedro Martinez, was involved in a pitching duel with John Smoltz. Smoltz was electric in this game and finished it with 15 strikeouts. The Mets went into the seventh inning trailing one to nothing. They had two runners on and it was Pedro's turn at the plate. Whereas most managers would choose to pinch hit for him in this situation, Randolph let Pedro hit for himself. Martinez grounded out to end the inning but the next inning the Mets exploded off of Smoltz capped by a two-run homer by Carlos Beltran. Pedro wound up with a complete game victory by a score of 6-1. By Randolph not pressing the panic button too early, his team pulled away and won the game comfortably. This is exactly the type of manager I look for when betting on baseball.

But as we all know, complete games are a rarity; and a team's bullpen will have a factor in the outcome of a game. The first thing that I look for out of a reliever is his ability to throw strikes. There is nothing more frustrating than a reliever coming out of the pen and walking the first man that he faces. This almost always spells disaster and usually the reliever over compensates for his lack of control and grooves pitches to the next batter. A single walk will not spell doom for a pitcher, but a walk followed by a blast spells trouble.

Another key factor to look for when studying bullpen stats and bullpen ratings is the pitchers' ability to keep the ball inside the ballpark. Often times, home runs given up by the pens means an end to the game. Therefore it is imperative that they make quality pitching and for the most part have ability to keep the baseball down. Make the hitter beat you with your pitches and, if that happens, which it will from time to time, just tip you hat to him.

The next thing to look for in a strong bullpen is its ability to recover from a leadoff man reaching base. The next guy will most likely be bunting the runner to second and this becomes a litmus test for the pitcher. A well establish pitcher will take the out that the batter is giving them and not panic by forcing a throw the second base. A runner on second with one out still means that the team on offense has to get a hit to score a run. With first base being open, the pitcher usually can attack hitters he feels comfortable with and pitch around the ones that have had success against him.

The final thing to look for in bullpen stats and bullpen ratings is the ability to strikeout hitters. Relievers often come in with runners in scoring position and need to have the ability to strikeout hitters to avoid giving up runs via manufacturing. With a runner on third and less than two outs, a strikeout is the best way to prevent that run from scoring. A fly ball to the outfield will not affect his E.R.A., however a run scores and that has a big difference in the outcome of the game. Most strikeouts come via a hard fastball and another pitch to compliment it.

Now that I have established my criteria, it time to examine pitchers that meet it. It starts with my favorite closer Brad Lidge. I feel very comfortable entering the ninth inning with a one run lead with Lidge as my closer. Since taking over the closer's role last season, Lidge have prospered. This season Lidge has given up only one run in over nine innings pitched. He is averaging 15 strikeouts over a complete game and it appears he has become the next Eric Gagne in the National League. He has the ability to get out of tough jams with runners on base because of his ability to strikeout hitters. I also realize that when I bet against the Astros, I need to have a lead going into the eighth and ninth innings or I face the prospect of Lidge, something that will take you money virtually every time.

A closer that I do not have much confidence in is Dan Kolb of the Atlanta Braves. I felt much better with John Smoltz finishing out the game then I do with Kolb. Kolb had an outstanding season with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2004, but I feel that was fool's gold. He is not a typical closer as he pitched 57 innings last season and had only 21 strikeouts. It is hard to be a closer with this type of format because teams are able to manufacture runs off of any mistakes that you may make. Therefore the margin on error is a lot less for Kolb compared to Brad Lidge.

Hopefully, by reading this one is able to realize the importance of bullpen stats and bullpen ratings. I feel that bullpens that have the ability to throw strikes and record strikeouts are the blueprints for lasting success in betting baseball. Betting on a team with a solid bullpen often leads to good night of sleep because they were able to preserve the money in your pocket. Starting pitching is just half the battle when it comes to winning money in baseball.

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