MLB Handicapping: Bullpens To Back
by Trevor Whenham - 5/26/2011
There is nothing I hate more than a bullpen that blows a game that the starter had under control. If I bet on the team that blows the lead, that is. Bettors have few friends more important and valuable than a strong bullpen. You can’t predict how much the bullpen will be needed or who will get the call, so having a bullpen that is generally consistent, deep, and reliable makes any bet easier to make, and makes the final innings far less stressful. Here’s a look at five bullpens that have been particularly pleasant to trust for MLB handicappers so far this season:
San Francisco - The Giants didn’t start out strong, but they are looking much more like a team trying to defend their World Series title these days. It’s certainly not the offense that is pulling them along -- they have by far the worst offense in the National League, and are in a dogfight with the pathetic Twins for worst overall.
The way you win more than your share of games when you are scoring runs, of course, is to not give up many either. We knew how good the starting rotation was, and they have been living up to expectations for the most part this year. What has been impressive, though, is how much the Giants’ bullpen is doing to lift the team as well.
They have a very nice collective record of 13-3 -- the most wins and fewest losses of any bullpen in the majors. When a bullpen is converting that many opportunities into wins the team is destined to be in good shape. If the bullpen can keep it up -- and can get just a bit sharper with saves -- then the Giants will continue to cruise in the decidedly vulnerable NL West.
Philadelphia - Coming into the season one of the areas of concern for the Phillies was with their closer. They didn’t really have a proven one, and that was a perceived issue. It really hasn’t been. In fact, they have been close to perfect in that area despite using a bit of a committee approach.
They have had 16 save opportunities so far, and have recorded the save in all but one. When you have a rotation as strong as the Phillies do you sure don’t want to be wasting good starts.
Ryan Madson leads the way with nine saves, but the real surprise has been Jose Contreras. He climbed off the scrap heap to record five saves before hitting the DL with elbow issues, and he’s about to return to action again. The bullpen as a whole has the fourth best ERA in the league, and is a big part of the reason why this team is atop the NL.
Florida - The Marlins have been a pleasant surprise this year -- they are in control of the NL Wild Card race right now, and are just a game back of the Phillies in their division. One of the reasons for that is their bullpen strength.
They have the most saves of any team in the league with 18, and only two teams have a wider margin between the number of saves and the number of blown opportunities. They have the third best bullpen ERA, and their opponent’s batting average of just .201 is the second best in baseball.
With ace Josh Johnson currently on the sidelines, the bullpen carries an added load if the team wants to stay where they are in the standings. They seem up to the challenge.
San Diego - The Padres aren’t a very good team. They would be a lot worse than they are, though, if they didn’t have the stellar bullpen that they have. They have by far the best bullpen ERA in the league at 2.37, and opposing batters are hitting a microscopic .213 against them.
The bullpen has had remarkably solid control as well -- they have the second most strikeouts of any bullpen, and the fourth fewest walks. The rotation has not been particularly strong, and they aren’t eating up a lot of innings, so things could really be rough if the bullpen wasn’t so good.
Cleveland - Cleveland is a shocking story. If you say you saw this coming -- the best record in baseball through May -- then you are lying. The success has come from a lot of factors, and the
bullpen is certainly carrying their portion of the load.
They aren’t truly spectacular on any front, but they are very solid in every way that matters -- a solid 11-5 record, 13 saves against just five blown saves, the second best ERA in the AL, and a very nice .227 opposing batting average. Good teams have to have a reliable bullpen, and Cleveland certainly does. For now, anyway.
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