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The Bullpen Effect On MLB DFS

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Over the first month and change of the season, the goal in this space has been to highlight different elements of MLB Daily Fantasy Sports that are important but oftentimes overlooked. We’ve looked at topics like weather, GPP strategy, emerging young players and how to deal with small samples. One thing that hasn’t been touched on yet is bullpens and how and why they effect your MLB DFS teams.

It’s very easy to get entirely caught up in the quality of the opposing starting pitcher and him alone when trying to pick out your hitters. Often though, the opposing team’s bullpen will account for between one third and half – sometimes even two thirds – of the opposing team’s pitching for the night. While it seems obvious at a glance, I can personally say that I went quite awhile playing MLB DFS and never giving a lick about bullpens. That was clearly a mistake.

So how do we go about evaluating bullpens? Fortunately for us, FanGraphs makes most baseball research easy. You can go to the team pitching section and select the relievers tab and boom there you have it. I like to look at the same sort of stats I’d look at any other time when evaluating pitching. ERA is the most blatantly obvious one you can look at to get a good barometer of bullpen quality. Other stats like K/9, WHIP and SIERA offer up fairly good pictures of how tough or easy these bullpens are to hit.

Of course, many teams fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum when it comes to bullpens. They probably shouldn’t much factor into your analysis. What we’re looking for are the outliers. The teams that are very generous or very stingy to opposing batters are the ones that we can focus on. So far this year we have a few good candidates on each side.

On the bad side, we have the Reds and then everybody else. The Reds bullpen is sporting a hefty 6.34 ERA, with the second worst Rangers checking in at just 4.94. The Reds are also the worst by all of the other ERA estimators like xFIP and SIERA. They have the highest WHIP, the fourth lowest K%, the second highest BB% and the most home runs per 9 innings. They’re really really bad. They also play in a great hitter’s park. Over the first month of the season, blindly taking good visiting hitters in Cincinnati has likely been very profitable. The Brewers, Pirates and Rangers are a few others that have been merely not very good.

On the good side (which is bad for hitters) we have the Yankees, Astros, Mets and Mariners. These four teams all possess SIERAs that are currently sitting under 3.00, with the fifth lowest sitting at 3.22. Oddly enough, the Yankees and Astros both check in somewhere near the middle of the pack when it comes to ERA, but don’t let that fool you. Both are likely a result of fluky home run rates that will likely regress as the season moves along. The Yankees in particular are going to be ridiculously stingy for the rest of the year, as the trio of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and the fresh off suspension Aroldis Chapman should ice the end game the majority of the time.

Keep these bullpens in mind the next time you’re debating between hitters or just trying to make general choices about your MLB DFS rosters. The runs in the 8th inning count just as much as the ones in the 2nd.

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Thanks for reading. Find me on Twitter @IanJ300 with any questions.


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