Starting pitchers get the bulk of attention from bettors - and deservedly so. The bullpen, though, is where the souls and wallets of bettors can be crushed or where seemingly hopeless situations can suddenly become profitable ones. A lot of casual bettors make the mistake of not paying enough attention to bullpens when making their betting decisions - and it can come back to haunt them. A lot of the evaluation of bullpens is situational - who is available, who is fresh, what is likely to come from the starter, and so on. The overall quality of the bullpen is significant, though, so this is a good time to look at which bullpens are faring well early on and which ones are really struggling.
Issues now don't mean that a team will have bullpen issues all year necessarily, but in the short to medium term awareness of the form can lead to nice value.
Chicago White Sox: The White Sox bullpen was right in the middle of the pack last year, so this strong start is a pleasant surprise. David Robertson has been flawless as the closer, and no reliever outside of Zach Putnam has looked even slightly mortal - and even Putnam hasn't been bad. That strong bullpen play is a big reason why the team is off to a somewhat surprising 9-5 start, including a nicely profitable 7-3 on the road. They aren't going to maintain this pace of play through the season obviously, but as long as it lasts it's something to keep a close eye on.
Baltimore Orioles: Things have already cooled noticeably on this front. After getting off to a red-hot start the Orioles have lost four of five and have looked very mortal. The bullpen hasn't been entirely to blame by any means, though - they have three blown saves, but they don't shoulder all the issues themselves. They were a top five unit in the league last year and have the potential to be one of the more successful units again this year. We need to get a better feel for what this Baltimore team really is this year, but when things are close and a starting pitcher seems to be in a good spot then the relievers the Orioles have to offer could be all the difference.
St. Louis Cardinals: There is no point in spending much time on this one. They were a top three bullpen by ERA last season and have picked up right where they left off this year. There is no real reason to doubt that they will be a generally strong unit all year. The most stable and consistent of franchises is again stable and consistent. That's hardly worthy of headlines.
Chicago Cubs: The Cubs were supposed to be good this year. So far, they are. The bullpen was in the top 10 in most key statistical categories last year. They should be better this year, and so far they have been. This team will be a contender all year and the bullpen will do their part.
New York Yankees: Like Baltimore, New York has had problems lately that even strong bullpen performances can't overcome - they have dropped five of their last six and look pretty mortal. Now, this bullpen hasn't been nearly as good as the previous two - they have two losses already. Andrew Miller has been brilliant so far, though, and that should continue. With him as the anchor, and with some serviceable talents around him, this should be a decent bullpen. Now if only their starting rotation was better.
Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies are such a bad team that at 6-9 they seem to be overachieving significantly. They lack talent almost everywhere on the roster, so it's no surprise that what they have in the bullpen has posted the largest combined ERA of any staff. When you look closer it's not as bad as it could be - two players that have been truly awful to skew things for others, and some players have actually been decent. Overall, though, this isn't a unit that is suddenly going to improve dramatically.
Colorado Rockies: At 8-6 the Rockies are a bit of a surprise, and they are getting some surprisingly solid starting pitching. Their bullpen hasn't necessarily destroyed this team in many spots, but they aren't helping, either - a 6.00 ERA is far from ideal. The good news is that last year the bullpen had a 4.70 ERA, so improvement is likely. The bad news is that that ERA was worst in all of baseball.
Texas Rangers: Last year the Rangers shocked in the AL West. This year little was expected by many, yet they are again leading their division very early on. The common thread early on? They haven't had much of a bullpen either time. The unit was just 24th in ERA last year and had several issues. They didn't doom the team, but they didn't make things easy, either. This year they are 28th in the league, and the 2-5 record for the bullpen is the worst in baseball. It has to be tiring for a team to consistently have to overcome a frustrating bullpen.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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