MLB Betting: Worst Bullpens
by Trevor Whenham - 7/23/2010
There is nothing more frustrating in baseball then getting out to a big lead in a baseball game you have bet on and then see it all evaporate because the bullpen entirely forgets how to pitch.
There was a very painful example of that for me on Tuesday night. I had the Reds on the run line, so I needed to win by two runs. As I hoped, Reds’ starter Mike Leake had been very good, and Washington’s Luis Atilano was unimpressive. Leake came out of the game after five innings and a rain delay with a very comfortable 8-1 lead. That should have been insurmountable for a bad team playing on the road against a pretty good one, but by the time the top of the sixth ended the score was 8-7, and that’s where it stayed. The Cincy bullpen gave up six runs in a single inning, and I had lost my bet. Very frustrating.
Bullpens are very tough for bettors to get their heads around because you don’t know how much of a role they are going to play on a given night, and who is going to get the call to perform. Every team obviously has some bullpen pitchers who are better than others. That being said, there are definitely some bullpen groups that are significantly worse than others - so bad that betting on their teams is often a scary notion - especially if the starter isn’t likely to go deep. Here are three such teams:
Arizona Diamondbacks - You can’t possibly overstate how bad this bullpen is. It really redefines terrible. Their combined ERA is an incomprehensible 6.71. That’s 1.62 runs per game worse than the second worst bullpen - Houston - and 2.65 runs per game worse than the Major League average. That’s ugly, but it gets uglier.
The bullpen’s record is just 8-19, they have blown 14 saves in just 32 tries (which means that they are converting on just 56 percent of their save opportunities compared to 81 percent from league leading Detroit), their WHIP of 1.74 is by far the worst in baseball, and the 40 home runs they have surrendered is eight more than any other National League squad.
They make opposing batters look like they are Cooperstown-bound as well - hitters are hitting a combined .302 against them, with an OPS of .868 - by far the best in the league for batters against any bullpen.
There have been 15 different arms called out of the bullpen so far this season, and not many have looked particularly good. Only two guys, Sam Demel and Aaron Heilman, would likely have a role in a top class bullpen, and both have shown vulnerability recently. Chad Qualls has recorded 12 of the 18 saves for the team, but with an ERA of 8.35 and a WHIP of 2.07 no one is going to mistake him for Mariano Rivera.
This is one incredibly ugly bullpen. It’s not a wonder that the Diamondbacks are absolutely hopeless this year despite some promise and hopes coming into the season.
Seattle Mariners - No team in the majors has lost more money for bettors this year, and no team has more dramatically failed to meet their expectations. There are endless reasons for the collapse - a total absence of offense, the Erik Bedard injury, some odd coaching decisions, terrible road play, and so on. To that long list you can definitely add the bullpen.
They have the worst bullpen ERA in the American League, and their 22 combined losses are the worst in all of baseball. Those 22 losses look worse when compared to just 11 wins, and 13 blown saves - the second worst in the AL.
Sean White is a perfect example of the problems with this unit. White has been absolutely brutal all year - just terrible - but he has made the third most appearances of any reliever, and they were forced to keep him in the lineup until last week because they just didn’t have any better options.
The most damning stat of all about this bullpen, though, is this - they are as bad as they are despite the fact that no unit in the AL has been asked to pitch fewer innings. They certainly can’t say that they are so lousy because they are worn out.
Baltimore Orioles - There was no one in the world who thought that Baltimore was going to be a good team this year, and they certainly haven’t been. In that sense the fact that their bullpen is so underwhelming is far less damaging for bettors than the first two teams on this list - it’s not like a lot of people are betting on the Orioles and being let down by the bullpen.
Things aren’t all bad for the O’s - their 4.34 combined ERA is better than 10 teams in the league, and their 14-16 record isn’t as ugly as a lot of teams. There are obvious problems, though - the .275 opposing batting average is only better than Seattle’s, their 18 saves in 33 opportunities is the worst percentage in baseball, and the 320 hits they have allowed is 22 more than any other AL squad. At least they have the potential excuse that the Mariners don’t - the Baltimore rotation has been far from exciting or durable, so the O’s are matched only by Texas for the most innings the bullpen has had to face.
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