There's a new term that's been added to the baseball lexicon. You won't find it in any dictionary - at least not yet - but the word is bullpening, and it's all the rage among the diamond set. In its simplest explanation, bullpening is about counting outs. In today's game, managing of the bullpen is the most vital factor that will determine the ultimate success of a team's season. That's why mismanagement of a bullpen is going to be a vital factor for every baseball bettor to be monitoring on a daily basis.
Make no mistake, starting pitching is still essential to long-term success. A team absent a decent starting rotation won't be postseason participants, but long gone are the days when a team like the 1971 Baltimore Orioles included four 20-game winners in their starting rotation. In the modern game, what constitutes successful starting pitching has been significantly redefined. Today, 20-game winners are rarer than complete games by starters. A quality start is defined as six innings - bascially, two times through the batting order.
At that point, the game is put into the hands of the bullpen, and this is where the tired bullpen baseball handicap comes into play. While a well-rested bullpen is a manager's best friend, a tired bullpen is a bettor's key ally. A ballclub entering a series with an overworked group of relievers is going to be susceptible, especially if they are a team that is not deep in reliable starters. Couple this scenario with a hard-hitting opponent and suddenly you've assembled the perfect storm to cash in on some winning wagers.
Know The Relievers
Every Major League Basbeball team will put into place a blueprint for usage of their bullpen at the start of the season, and every pitcher will be assigned a specific task, from long and middle relievers, to situational lefthanders, set-up men and the star of the show, the closer. But just like the engine of a finely-tuned sports car, if all the components aren't performing effectively, the unit can't hum with precision. If the spark plugs are worn out, it won't matter that the oil has been changed.
If the situational lefthander can't get left hitters out, then it doesn't matter that the set-up man is overpowering. And if the set-up man is imploding, then a dominant closer is rendered irrelevant. Often, these maladies are brought on by overwork, and you need to learn to recognize the signs of tired bullpen syndrome. Generally, teams with solid rotations will also be equipped with stellar bullpens, because consistent quality starts means a bullpen isn't being overtaxed.
But over the course of a 162-game season, numerous factors will evolve that will lead to tired bullpens. Obviously, teams with poor rotations will always be susceptible. But it isn't just about the pitchers. Weak defensive teams put more pressure on a pitching staff, because they give away outs via their poor play in the field. And weather is a constant factor, delaying games and leading to doubleheaders that prove especially tiresome to bullpens.
Study The Trends
Big-league teams utilize sabermetrics and other methods of advanced stats in order to determine their plan for a specific game, and so can you. All the stats at their disposal can be found on baseball analytics sites on the web. Heading into a series, you will get each team's starting rotation and by doing a bit of homework, you will know exactly what to expect from every starter and what sort of workload should be anticipated for the bullpens. Recent past performances will indicate if a bullpen is well-rested, or running on fumes.
It also helps to break down what to expect from each reliever. Are they delivering the goods, or is there someone in the bullpen not doing their job and putting pressure on the other members of the group to pick up the slack? If the situational lefty can't get lefty hitters out of late and a team loaded with southpaw sluggers is due in town next, that's a huge red flag. If the closer has gone to the mound three days in a row, the key man in the bullpen is unlikely to be available at the start of the next series.
Monitoring Bullpen Management
Back in the 1970s, Cincinnati Reds manager Sparky Anderson, among the early proponents of quick and frequent bullpen usage, was handed the nickname Captain Hook for what baseball purists viewed as a foolhardy strategy. But when the Reds began winning World Series, the laughing stopped. In the 1980s, Oakland Athletics skipper Tony LaRussa refined bullpen usage even further, assigning each reliever specifiic roles, and utilizing his closer Dennis Eckersley to begin the ninth inning, rather than bringing him in to mop up a mess created by someone else.
The Bullpen: Baseball's Biggest Investment
With no salary cap in place, Major League Baseball teams are free to spend as they wish on their roster, and much of that funding is allocated toward building a beneficial bullpen. In 2018, for example, the Colorado Rockies invested $106 million to put together a bullpen, and it paid off when they earned a National League wildcard playoff position. The teams that win the World Series do so because they armed with a lights-out bullpen.
Today, the vast majority of starting pitchers are closely monitored via pitch counts and when that number gets up into triple digits, that's when the bullpen is going to get the call. But if that starting staff is struggling with location and that 100-pitch count is arriving by the fourth inning instead of the sixth or seventh inning, now you've got a problem. That team's crew of relievers is going to be overworked, they are going to be worn down, and that's when you ponce and capitalize on the tired bullpen baseball handicap.
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