I’ve already dished on the top hitting teams versus both left and right-handed pitching in the first two pieces of my MLB DFS Advice, now it’s time to look at the pitching side.
One aspect to MLB DFS that many don’t consider is the bullpen factor.
Most starting pitchers will pitch between 5-7 innings, with the majority of pitchers failing to complete a full seven frames. As a result, why are we not looking into the pitchers our stacks will face once the starting pitcher, for better or for worse, is taken out of the game?
It’s really a simple aspect to consider, but few really take it into consideration. I use it in my research prior to releasing my free daily MLB DFS Picks here at The Sports Geek, and I’m going to give you the simple insight into how I go about it.
First, let’s break down how we locate these stats.
As previously mentioned in my other MLB DFS Advice pieces, the overwhelming majority of my research is done at Fangraphs – the industry leader in baseball statistics.
In order to find information on a team’s relievers, start by hovering over the ‘Team’ tab in the black heading at the top of the Fangraphs homepage. Click ‘2019’ under the ‘Team Pitching Stats’ heading.
Once that page opens, simply click on the ‘Relievers’ tab. Now, you will have relief pitching stats for every team.
Now, there’s many stats to look at here, but keeping it on the ‘Dashboard’ tab works best for me as I use many of those stats in my research and articles. We want advanced stats here to derive as much of the relevant and accurate information as possible.
Now, there’s many stats to look at here. Of course, ERA is one. Sports a results-based business and we certainly want to take into consideration what types of end results each bullpen has experience so far.
However, sometimes ERA doesn’t paint a true picture. We need to look past the ERA figure to stats like FIP and xFIP that give us a look into what type of ERA each bullpen truly deserves based on more factors than just earned runs against.
After looking at the ERA and ERA estimator stats, there’s a couple more to consider.
One I would look at is walks. Walks aren’t wait we are after in our stacks, but we also want runners on base for when our bats get to the plate. If we have a four-man stack and the first three walk and our fourth batter gets up with the bases loaded, one swing of the bat is a game-changer. The BB/9 stat is more important than you may think.
Another stat I like to look at is the home runs per nine innings stat, or HR/9. Of course, home runs are the name of the game in MLB DFS so we obviously want to target bullpens that are giving up the long balls.
Of course, a lot of these stats are going to be tied in together. A bullpen with a high ERA is likely walking a lot of batters and surrendering more than their fair share of home runs.
As a result, I’m not going to be ranking the worst bullpens by one single figure, but I am going to combine all the stats I mentioned above to come up with my bottom five bullpens, or in other words, the best bullpens to stack against.
If there is a weak starter pitching for any of these clubs, these could be the best teams to stack your lineup against at the end of the day.
I will be starting with the worst bullpen and working out from there.
Let’s get to it!
Stats as of 5/24/19
1. Washington Nationals
- ERA: 7.02 (30th)
- FIP: 5.22 (28th)
- xFIP: 5.14 (30th)
- BB/9: 4.52 (26th)
- HR/9: 1.65 (27th)
The Nationals have by far the worst bullpen ERA in all of baseball and that group continues to blow leads that their elite top three rotation arms give them, so they are hands down the most targetable bullpen in DFS right now.
It’s a little tough to stack against these guys, however. Three of out of every five days you would be stacking against one of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg or Patrick Corbin. That’s a tough deal as runs come at a premium against all of those arms.
That said, the Nationals have still allowed 241 runs this season, the sixth-most in all of baseball and their rotation is still targetable in two of every five games.
In fact, this could be a sneaky GPP play. While you may not get more than a run or two off of the three-headed monster mentioned above, the fact that the bullpen has been this bad means you still have plenty of chances to score runs upon their departure.
When most of the DFS players are avoiding the elite starters, it opens up a chance too nab some low-owned, and likely low-cost, bats against this bullpen in hopes of touching them up once they enter the game.
It’s a risky play, but GPPs are all about finding low-owned bats with high upside, and you get that when you stack against this Nationals ‘pen.
2. Baltimore Orioles
- ERA: 6.04 (29th)
- FIP: 5.56 (30th)
- xFIP: 4.82 (26th)
- BB/9: 4.30 (23rd)
- HR/9: 1.88 (30th)
The Orioles are giving up an insane amount of home runs both in the rotation and in the bullpen.
They’re the quickest team to allow 100 homers in a season in league history, and they are probably the most targetable team in DFS as a result.
While we know the rotation is poor, we now know the ‘pen certainly follows suit. There are actually some teams with a good rotation and a bad ‘pen (see Nationals above), but also some teams with a poor rotation and a good ‘pen, such as the Giants.
The Orioles are struggling on both ends of the spectrum. They’re allowing the most home runs in the business while their FIP tells us that they should have the worst bullpen ERA at an ugly 5.56.
The bad news is that the word is certainly out on the O’s. You will find two things when attempting to stack against them: high prices and high ownership.
If you are stacking against the Orioles, it’s best reserved for cash games where ownership levels aren’t as much of a concern. Again, the goal in GPPs is to find high upside combined with low ownership. In cash games, you just want the points and you don’t care as much about ownership levels.
As a result, feel free to stack against the Orioles and their unsightly pitching staff. Just get ready to see your bats highly owned, albeit with unworldly upside to boot.
3. Detroit Tigers
- ERA: 5.59 (T-28th)
- FIP: 5.50 (29th)
- xFIP: 5.11 (29th)
- BB/9: 4.40 (24th)
- HR/9: 1.76 (29th)
The Tigers stay out of the second-worst bullpen in the league as they aren’t dead-last in any category on this list, but boy are they close.
The Tigers pitching staff actually got them off to a surprisingly decent start despite every metric telling us they were due for regression, and what a regression it has been.
Their 17.3% HR/FB rate is a little high and likely won’t stay that high for the remainder of the season, but it won’t dip enough to have those unsightly ERA and FIP figures plummet towards the remainder of the league.
Keep in mind this is a rebuilding club. Aside from the high-leverage, late-inning arms, most of this Tigers’ ‘pen is bouncing back and forth from Detroit to Toledo where their Triple-A team resides.
The end result shouldn’t be all that surprising as this is a season where the Tigers’ brass evaluates these arms and makes decisions on whether or not they are going to be in their plans moving forward.
The Tigers haven’t had any luck in the rotation with four of the five projected rotation members injured and two of them out for the season in Michael Fulmer and Matt Moore. Matthew Boyd is the only pitcher you may not want to stack against, but four out of every five games the Tigers are set to give up plenty of runs between the rotation and the bullpen.
Go ahead and stack against these guys all day long, but like with the Orioles, the stacking is best left for cash games as you will see plenty of ownership in opposing bats.
4. Seattle Mariners
- ERA: 5.59 (T-28th)
- FIP: 5.18 (27th)
- xFIP: 4.60 (T-21st)
- BB/9: 5.24 (30th)
- HR/9: 1.68 (28th)
Given how well Seattle has hit and their hot start to the season in April, you were likely stacking the Mariners bats rather than stacking against them.
However, the Mariners bullpen as been nothing short of a disaster so far this season. The only saving grace is that somewhat reasonable xFIP number as Seattle’s 19.1% HR/FB rate is likely due for some positive regression.
Nonetheless, the Mariners traded away their lockdown closer Edwin Diaz in the offseason, taking away the best closer of 2018 and a good, young, hard-throwing arm in the process. Seattle also dealt away Anthony Swarzak this past week, although his 4.91 ERA and 7.45 FIP weren’t exactly helping the bullpen, either.
The Mariners are doing just what we want from a bullpen when stacking against them: giving up plenty of hits, walks, and home runs. That is a wonderful concoction that can have you near the top of GPPs if your stack is able to touch up Seattle’s starter and knock him out of the game early.
The longer this bullpen pitches the better if you’re stacking against them.
As good as their bats are, the Mariners’ pen is just that bad.
Also, the over seems like a nice bet on Mariners’ games from here on out.
5. Texas Rangers
- ERA: 4.88 (24th)
- FIP: 5.03 (26th)
- xFIP: 4.86 (T-28th)
- BB/9: 3.92 (16th)
- HR/9: 1.46 (T-26th)
First, I want to mention that this spot is a dead heat between the Rangers and Miami Marlins. The Marlins walk far more batters, but the remainder of their numbers are extremely close.
However, I’m giving this spot to Texas for one reason, and one reason only: venue.
Miami plays their home games in the pitcher-friendly confines of Marlins Park. The Rangers, however, play theirs at the very hitter-friendly Globe Life Park in Arlington. Furthermore, the Rangers’ outdoor stadium will be host to 100-degree temperatures once the middle of the summer rolls around, and the hotter it is the better the ball carries. I’d be surprised if the Rangers bullpen fared better than Miami’s come season’s end.
They are walking the opposition at a fairly average rate compared to the rest of the league, but the remaining numbers are ugly.
The 15.8% HR/FB rate is likely to climb as the weather gets warmer as well, so expect plenty of long balls and an increase on the 1.46 HR/9 clip from this ‘pen moving forward.
There are plenty of starting pitchers to target in the Rangers rotation as well, so Texas is an all-round big-time target in DFS almost on a nightly basis.