Bullpens make betting baseball frustrating

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I was on Twitter the other night and a well-known handicapper was lamenting yet another blown save by a Major League Baseball team which cost him his bet.

I felt great empathy for him. Not just because he was on the wrong side of his wager, but for the fact that the lack of reliable bullpens makes betting on baseball a virtual crapshoot.

I’m not talking blowing a lead in the bottom of the ninth inning like the Arizona Diamondbacks did against the Los Angeles Dodgers when the Arizona bullpen proceeded to issue five straight walks. It’s more like entrusting four-, five- and even six-run leads and seeing the lead disappear as if it were some magic act on the Las Vegas Strip.

For someone who has watched baseball since 1960 when most pitchers finished what they started, this is truly distressing. I can only imagine how people who bet on baseball occasionally feel, not to mention the professional gamblers who try to grind out a daily living betting on MLB.

As GT baseball columnist Andy Iskoe pointed out a few weeks ago, the way the game is currently constructed requires those willing to wager on it to change their thinking. I’m not sure the conventional handicapping tools crafted over the decades works in 2019 thanks to the way teams utilize their pitching staffs.

You’ve got “opening” pitchers. You’ve got pitchers whose job is to “hold” the lead. You’ve got closers. Starters rarely finish games. Umpiring is inconsistent. Every home plate ump has his own strike zone.

It’s a whole new world. As Brad Pitt astutely said playing Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane in the movie “Moneyball,” — “Adapt or die.”

But you don’t need to have a single cent on a ballgame these days to get frustrated. Watching teams fail to hold substantial leads, let alone one-run advantages, can send you over the edge. You would think in this era of specialization, teams would figure out how to best ultilize their staffs and maximize the effectiveness of their pitchers.

Instead, you see head-scratching moves throughout the majors on a nightly basis. Teams are so worried about pitch counts, spin rates, decreasing velocity and a bunch of other analytics that I’d just as soon not want to understand that it’s like a video game.

Maybe that’s why so many fans who go to ballparks spend the majority of their time on their phones instead of actually watching the game.

Those who do pay attention get plenty of opportunities to second-guess a manager on a given night.

And no one’s immune. You can be Dave Roberts, who manages the Dodgers and whose team is in first place in the National League West by 15 games and when he makes the call to the bullpen (sponsored by fill-in-the-mobile phone company), Dodger fans get nervous. I know because I see their tweets.

It’s also Cubs fans. And Braves fans. And especially Mets fans. The Mets lead baseball with 21 blown saves. And when you consider they are 40-49, had they not blown just half of those 21 games, they’d be above .500 and within striking distance of division-leading Atlanta and Washington, which is six games behind in second place.

For those of you who bet on these teams which have horrible bullpens, which, in reality, is virtually everyone in MLB, you have my sympathy. You may have a great closer working for you with your bet, but what if he never gets to the mound because the guy in the seventh inning squandered a 7-2 lead and the eighth-inning setup guy allowed the other team to come all the way back?

We see it night after night after night. And the truth is, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. As more pitchers suffer various arm, elbow and shoulder injuries, it forces organizations to shuffle the deck, bring in untested performers and put them in virtually untenable positions.

It’s easy to tell a guy to just go out there and throw strikes. It’s a lot tougher trying to do it against Mike Trout. Or Cody Bellinger. Or Christian Yelich, Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu.

The baseball season resumes Thursday. I’m not sure how your bankroll is holding up after betting the first 89, 90 games. Maybe  you’ve figured out a system that works. If you’re ahead, bravo. You have my respect and admiration. If you’re behind, perhaps you’ll adjust and get back on the right side over the next 2 1/2 months.

And if you’re way, way behind, take heart. Football season is coming soon.

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About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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