MLB betting and bullpen beats

By: Nick Parsons | Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mariano Rivera is about as automatic as they come.

Basketball bettors complain of backdoor covers and poker players whine about bad beats on the river, but neither knows the pain of what a baseball capper has to deal with — losing a bet because of the bullpen.

Case in point, last Saturday’s tilt between the Blue Jays and the Rays which had one of the league’s hottest pitchers, Ricky Romero, putting in another solid performance.  All looked good for Blue Jays backers with a 3-2 lead heading into the eighth.

Unfortunately in came one of the American League’s worst bullpens. The Rays scored seven runs in one inning and ended up winning, 9-3.

So how does the informed bettor avoid these bullpen beats? Well the truth is you can’t.

Factoring a bullpen's influence on any given day is near impossible. You basically have to have Pete Rose type inside info to know who is going to come in. However, there are a few key things to look out for that will help minimize (not avoid) the impact of bullpen beats over the course of the long MLB season.


It sounds corny, but the first step to understanding the impact of relievers is dealing with the fact that bullpen beats are unavoidable. Just like rainouts, errors, and last minute pitching changes, its part of the game.

The key is to not let these bullpen beats frustrate you and hurt your future wagering decisions. The worst thing one can do is change what worked in the past after a couple of bad beats.

Most of all do not try and double up or go all in after a bad loss because of the bullpen. Like any form of betting, long term success is rooted in good bankroll management. It's understandable that a middle reliever blowing a huge lead is one of the most frustrating things in sports, but it's important to not let it phase you during the course of the long MLB season.

The bad beats are hard to erase from our memory but if you bet on bases long enough, I guarantee that there were an equal amount of times when you were on the opposite side and benefited from a bad bullpen.

Basically don’t go on tilt because of Scott Downs, Matt Albers, Frank Francisco, LaTroy Hawkins, Brandon League, etc.

Current Form of Star Closer

The obvious place to start when factoring the bullpen on a wager is through the team’s ace reliever. After all they are the ones that will be put in there in tight, clutch situations.

Careful attention needs to placed on a closer’s current form. Has the closer been unhittable the past few weeks?  How many saves has he blown in the last few attempts? How does the closer perform after a blown save? How well does he fair in certain ballparks?

Baseball provides the bettor with a wealth of statistics and while a bet should not be made just because a team has a solid reliever, knowing the closer’s current form will help avoid some losses.

If you love betting on a certain starting pitcher, but his reliever has blown the last three save attempts, then simply pass if you think the game will be close.

Don’t Waste Too Much Time on Middle Relief

Middle Relievers are terrible. Otherwise they would be closers or be part of  the starting rotation. Whether he plays for the Pirates or the Yankees there is going to be one point in the season where a middle reliever ruins a solid play for you.

That same middle reliever will often follow up a loss with several shutout performances. And as mentioned above, unless you are the manager of a team, you don’t know who will be put in at any given time and for how long.  Because of this it becomes tough to access the impact of a middle reliever, especially in regards to current form.

There are very few solid middle reliever in the league, Matt Thornton on the White Sox and maybe Mike Adams on the Padres, but their performances should by no means influence a wager.

Simply put there are too many variables with middle relief. The middle relief should not be completely ignored and the bettor should look at the unit as a whole as opposed to individuals, but just don't invest too much time or stock stressing on its impact.

It ties in with the first part about “acceptance,” there will be times when they will lose you games and times when they will win you games.

Know the Right Stats

Wins and ERA are two of the more misleading stats when looking at a team’s bullpen.

Often a reliever wins a game just because he happened to be the lucky pitcher that was put in before the offense picked up. The Pirates bullpen is currently 4-0, but the team as whole has been one of the best fades this year.

ERA is also misleading. A reliever who consistently comes in with the bases loaded and gives up a hit that scores all the base runners is not charged with those runs, but he did fail to do his job.

The sports bettor would be wise to place more emphasis on stats like Holds (HLD), WHIP, OBA. and Blown Saves. Particular attention should be paid to WHIP and OBA as those stats determine how often base runners get on board.

The Padres bullpen leads the league in WHIP and OBA and oddly enough they have been one of the best value plays in baseball so far.

Always look for value

It seems superficial and maybe somewhat a lazy explanation but the most important point above is the first one “acceptance.” That is why in baseball where there is such a large menu of games every day, it is always important to look for value.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have been favorites in 15 of their first 18 games, but their bullpen has been one of the worst in the league and have contributed to six of their 10 losses.  Bettors would be wise to avoid paying a high price for the Dodgers.

But remember starting pitching and hitting should still remain the main points of emphasis when making a wager, the bullpen factor should just be used as an additional tool.

And if you don’t feel confident because a team’s bullpen has been struggling lately or if the closer has been handing out hits for free, then simply don’t bet. Sometimes a no bet is the best bet.

Nick Parsons is part of the guaranteed picks network.

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