Bullpen Strategies for Major League Baseball

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Major League Baseball teams are turning to analytics in an attempt to gain a number of small advantages that, in the composite, may result in significantly altering the odds of winning in their favor.  This paper addresses two related areas surrounding the evolving strategies of baseball in the wake of the sports analytics movement, and, in particular, the potential of unconventional uses of relief and starting pitchers. The first area addresses the home-field advantage and proposes a strategy for starters of visiting teams that can be used to remove roughly one half of the home team’s first-inning advantage. A byproduct of this analysis is a set of proper adjustments that must be made to calculate the true home-field advantage, which is roughly 0.429 runs/game, rather than the 0.133 runs/game suggested by the scoring data. The second area addresses pitching performance degradation for both starters and relievers and tackles the age-old question of when to remove a pitcher from a game. The strikes-to-balls ratio is tracked as a function of pitch count to identify trigger points that appear to act as thresholds in pitcher degradation. This comparative analysis of inter- and intra-pitcher performance uses data that can be easily measured during a game, and could better inform and support managers in real-time decision making for pitcher changes. Finally, this work concludes with a summary of additional pitching strategies and a list of potential bullpen tactics for future research.

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