Relievers are an overlooked factor in MLB betting
June 13, 2017 3:00 AM
by Jim Feist
Starting pitchers in baseball get much of the attention (and money) thrown their way. The average starter is asked to go 6 to 7 innings, while aces are expected to give 7-8. Many games are decided in the last three innings, however, making relief pitchers an extremely important, and often overlooked, element.
Look at the Cubs last season, loaded with pitching depth but still moving to add hard throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman at the trading deadline. Look at the Kansas City Royals the previous two years. A deep, dominant hard throwing relief staff helped them to back-to-back AL Championships, along with one World Series title.
The use of effective relievers is nothing new. Specialized closers were around in the 1960s, with terrific relievers like Dick Radatz, John Hiller, Luis Arroyo and knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm.
During the early 1970s, the A’s had a deep bullpen with Rollie Fingers, Dave Hamilton and Darold Knowles. That group helped win three straight World Series from 1972-74. Then came the Big Red Machine, and Sparky Anderson had lights-out relievers in Will McEnaney and Rawley Eastwick. That has evolved into a situation where today managers league-wide use a variety of closers, middlemen and lefty/righty specialists.
It’s important from a betting perspective to examine which teams have solid bullpen depth and which ones don’t. The 2014 champion Giants won with the rock solid arms of Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Hudson, supported by a flexible pen with a pair of closers who topped 19 saves (Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo).
Don’t be surprised if you see teams like the Cubs, Astros, Nationals, Rockies, Diamondbacks and Cardinals looking to strengthen the bullpen before the trading deadline. Strong relief staffs can help keep scoring down from the sixth inning on. A few years ago, the Angels had a dynamite bullpen that helped fuel a stretch where they won 10 of 15 games, going 13-2 under the total. Over a nine-game stretch, the relievers didn’t allow a run in 17 innings.
Teams that go with a lot of untested young arms can experience breakdowns. If the kids can’t throw a lot of innings, that can wear down a pen fast, something you can track.