The first month of the MLB season featured dominant bullpens and the death of the late-inning comeback. Hitters have warmed up and caught up to the pitching from the shortened spring. The ball has started to fly more in warmer temperatures, and the league has seen an increase in bullpen meltdowns and late rallies.
There are few more frustrating losses as a bettor than the ninth-inning meltdown, and bullpens are more and more a part of betting baseball as starting pitchers are not going as deep into games as they used to.
Five best bullpens by ERA
1st: Astros 2.75
2nd: Yankees 2.84
3rd: Rays 3.06
4th: Orioles 3.06
5th: Braves 3.08
Four of these five teams would make the playoffs if the season ended today, with the exception being Baltimore. Three of them also play in the AL East, with the Yankees leading the league in comeback victories in part because the bullpen has kept games close enough to enable them.
Five worst bullpens by ERA
30th: Reds 5.24
29th: Rockies 4.72
28th: Royals 4.71
27th: Cubs 4.61
26th: Nationals 4.50
All five of these teams are well under .500 and none has a realistic chance of making a run to the playoffs.
A simple ranking of K-BB percentage would suggest which bullpens will perform the best for the future games, and it projects really well for Atlanta to make another big second-half run and compete for a National League title again.
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The Braves have the best K-BB percentage for bullpens in the majors and may even look to improve further at the deadline. The Braves’ NLCS foes from the last two seasons, the Dodgers, are in second. As much as Los Angeles has seen its pitching depth tested, the bullpen remains stellar going forward.
Five best bullpens by K-BB percentage:
1st: Braves 20 percent
2nd: Dodgers 18.9 percent
3rd: Mariners 18.2 percent
4th: Cubs 17.5 percent
5rd: Mets 17.4 percent
Atlanta is the only bullpen that also finds itself in the top five based on ERA. The Astros and the Yankees both do have some regression coming with runners on base. They’ve been unsustainably good at getting out of jams and that’s made up for their good, but not elite strikeout to walk ratios.
The Mariners’ bullpen ran really well last year and has actually been a bit unfortunate with injuries and variance in 2022. Seattle is an excellent bet to improve, especially when you consider that Paul Sewald, Penn Murfee, Andres Munoz and Erik Swanson all grade out as elite bullpen arms by Sarris’ Pitching+ model.
Five worst bullpens by K-BB percentage
Ordered from worst (30th) to better (26th)
30th: Royals 8.6 percent;
29th: Diamondbacks 10.3 percent;
28th: Rockies 10.6 percent;
27th: Athletics 11.1 percent;
26th: Cardinals 11.5 percent
The Cardinals do play excellent defense and often defy the regression metrics because of that. But this bullpen just isn’t very good outside of the dominant Ryan Helsley this season. They have a bottom-10 rank in xFIP, strikeout rate, SIERA, and yet have maintained an average bullpen. Bettors shouldn’t expect that to continue over the second half of the season.
Based off of this deep dive into bullpens, I’m recommending a bet on Atlanta to win the NL East at +200. It’s a sizable gap between them and the Mets, but the teams still have 15 games to play against each other. Charlie Morton is back to being himself, the Braves have the better bullpen, and a comparable lineup.
Don’t rule out another late-season surge by the defending World Series champions.