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DFS MLB: Using Bullpens To Pick Hitters And Pitchers

A large part of the process of picking hitters in DFS MLB is pretty simple. We pick guys going against bad pitchers and we pick guys in good hitters parks. Use this strategy, and you’ll do pretty well in cash games. But in tournaments, those hitters tend to be far too obvious of plays, and high ownership can kill your edge. That is why piecing together small, not-so-obvious factors can be incredibly important. One of those not-so-obvious factors is bullpen evaluation. In this article, I will show you how to use bullpens to help evaluate hitters, as well as a small factor I use to evaluate pitchers.

Bullpen Strength

A decent way to evaluate the strength of a teams bullpen is to use this chart over at fangraphs. All this chart does is evaluates the total WAR of each position of every team. Lower values in the RP column mean a worse bullpen. According to this chart at the time I write this article, the 3 worst bullpens are the Reds, Rays, and Phillies, so always expect hitters going against those teams to do a little better than expected. It should also be noted that the Yankees have by far the best bullpen. This is because they have arguably 3 of the top 5 best relief pitchers in the league, Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman. If you haven’t looked at their fangraphs pages, you should, because all three of them have mind blowing statistics.

Righties vs Lefties

Unfortunately, I cannot find a good free resource for MLB depth charts that also include handedness. If someone finds one, please let me know. I subscribe to Rotowire because of their depth charts, so if you feel like ponying up some cash, it can be a great resource for quickly evaluating righties vs lefties in the bullpen, and I will use it for the analysis in this section. For slower analysis, you can go to each teams depth chart on the mlb site, simply type in the url http://m.(TEAM NAME HERE).mlb.com/roster/. For example, http://m.angels.mlb.com/roster/ will give you the Angels active roster. Rotowire often does not have the entire active roster so it’s good to check these pages anyways.

Pitchers in the bullpen often have large platoon splits, so a bullpen with a lot of righties or lefties can be a big deal for lefty and righty hitters. Occasionally because of injuries, a teams bullpen can have exclusively right handed pitchers, which means a big boost for lefties on the opposing team.

The first thing I’d recommend doing is looking through each teams active roster page or through the Rotowire depth charts page. Look for teams that have one or less lefty in the bullpen. These teams are going to be worse against left handed hitters, because left handed hitters are likely going to face big platoon split righties. With left handed hitters that are often pinch hit for, their value will increase a quite a bit, because they likely will never be taken out of the game.

It’s rare that a team will actually have 0 lefties, although it has happened a few times this year, recently with the Brewers, Royals, and Marlins. But sometimes a team’s lefties have pitched often in the past couple of days, and therefore they are about equivalent to a team with no lefties at all. Pitching in the previous day makes that pitcher a little less likely to pitch the next day. Two days in a row makes them extremely unlikely, and three out of four days probably means that player is unavailable.

Dailybaseballdata offers a free tool that gives a nice visual of bullpen usage over the past four days. Have this chart up in conjunction with Rotowire or while scrolling through each teams active roster. If the one lefty in the pen for a given team has pitched the previous day or a few times in the past 4, you can treat them like a no lefty bullpen. You can also do a similar thing with teams with a large amount of lefties in the bullpen. If that team has a lot of righties who have pitched a few times in the past few days, we can expect a heavy dose of lefties to be used, which can be a big boost to right handed hitters.

Spent Bullpen = More Innings For SP

This is a pretty small signal but I think a useful one when evaluating starting pitchers for fantasy purposes. Innings are arguably the most important statistic for starting pitchers in DFS. The more innings a pitcher pitches, the more opportunities he will have for strikeouts, as well as outs, shutouts, and complete games on DraftKings. A starting pitcher’s innings will partially depend on how spent his bullpen is. A pitcher on a team with a very rested bullpen is more likely to get pulled early because there are relief pitchers that can easily be used. A heavily worked bullpen means a manager is likely to leave his starting pitcher in the game longer to get his bullpen some rest. Dailybaseballdata has bullpen innings pitched totals on their bullpen usage page. I suggest mostly looking at the past two days. Anything 8 IP or over I regard as a spent bullpen, and will bump starting pitcher projections on that team a little bit. Anything under 3 IP means a really well rested bullpen, which means the starting pitcher is a little less likely to go deep into a game.

Some bullpens are much weaker than other bullpens. Some bullpens have many righties and others have many lefties, which can boost projections for righties and lefties on opposing teams. Some bullpens are heavily worked in the past few days, which means more innings for that teams starting pitcher. While these factors only have a small impact on daily fantasy, knowing them well can give you an edge in DFS baseball.

View all posts by Daniel Steinberg
Daniel Steinberg

About the Author

Daniel Steinberg Daniel Steinberg is a former bond trader at a multi-billion dollar proprietary trading firm in Chicago. He uses his knowledge of statistics and his creativity from his career as a poker professional to create the most advanced Daily Fantasy statistical analysis that you will find anywhere. Follow him on twitter @DanielSingerS

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