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Knowing pens, no bull

Jun 3, 2008 7:03 PM

Feist Facts by Jim Feist | The average starting pitcher is asked to go 6-7 innings, while aces are expected to give 7-8 quality innings. Many games are decided in the last three innings, however, making relief pitchers an extremely important, and often overlooked, factor.

Specialized closers were around in the 1960s, with terrific relievers like Dick Radatz, John Hiller, Luis Arroyo and knuckeballer Hoyt Wilhelm. During the early 1970s, the Oakland Athletics had a deep bullpen that helped win three straight World Series from 1972-74. Then came the Big Red Machine with Will McEnaney and Rawley Eastwick.

It’s important from a betting perspective to examine which teams have solid bullpen depth and which ones don’t. The Rockies had a lot of effective relievers last season, which was a huge key in their shocking late 21-1 run that led to the NL pennant. This season Colorado is second worst in the NL in team ERA.

Just like the old days.

A year ago, the Cubs started 2-10 in one run games while the bullpen was meltdown city, going 3-11. The bullpen has been a significant upgrade on the first-place Cubbies this season, with middlemen Jon Lieber, Carlos Marmol and Mike Wuertz. Closer Kerry Wood has been effective and already pitched more innings than in all of 2007.

In 2007 the eventual champion Red Sox had outstanding starting pitching that took a load off an outstanding bullpen which was used sparingly.

The opposite has taken place the last two years with the struggling Yankees, who’ve gotten little quality starting pitching and the bullpen has been overused. After Chien-Ming Wang’s 7 innings per start, Andy Pettitte is averaging below 6, Mike Mussina below 5, while Ian Kennedy (4), Phil Hughes (3½) and Kei Igawa (3) have been shelled.

The Angels and Blue Jays have produced the most saves. After a rough start, the Jays have won 11 of 14 games (three as a dog). Meanwhile, the first-place Angels have won 10 of 15 and with the under going 13-1. Over a 9-game stretch, the relievers didn’t allow a run in 17 innings.

Florida’s young pitching is mediocre, ranking in the middle of the pack in the NL in team ERA. The Marlins are using a four-man rotation through the first two series of their current road trip. Rookie starter Burke Badenhop, who has struggled, is the odd man out.

The surprising Cardinals are ranked fourth in pitching, partly because of a bullpen foursome of Ryan Franklin, Kyle McClellan, Randy Flores and Jason Isringhausen. Only Isringhausen is a big name.

The Yankees should take note, having spent too much money on high profile players in recent years and too little attention to the pen.