It is a strange, strange time for pitching in the major leagues. Pitchers are so generally dominant that we are no longer even taking notice of things that should be absolutely remarkable. Proof? Over the course of a week we saw two incredibly freakish feats happen, and neither barely registered on the national radar. First, Seattle tallied a no hitter by using six different pitchers. That absolutely should not happen. Then Matt Cain threw a perfect game and barely made headlines. Recording 27 outs in a row is so incredibly remarkable that it should be widely praised regardless of how common no-hitters have become.
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We have become so spoiled by outstanding pitching that we only barely care about things that in a different era we would totally be in awe of.
It’s not just that we are seeing outstanding individual events, either. The level of performance by pitchers is generally excellent this year, and some guys are really performing at an incredible level — R.A. Dickey and his back-to-back one-hitters comes leaping to mind here.
The strong performances are consistently covered by the media, and they have a big impact on how lines are set, how they move, and how baseball handicappers have to effectively deal with these games in order to maintain a long-term profit. As you pursue the goal of profits in these pitcher-centric times here are five things to consider:
Generalizations are for losers
This is a theme I’ll probably revisit a couple of times in this article. Bettors who are successful over the long-term are not going to fall into the easy trap of assuming that because pitching is strong this year that means that all pitchers are going to be strong this year or that you should show a bias towards pitching in your handicapping.
There are some pitchers that are pitching well, and some that really aren’t. There are some situations in which a pitcher who is generally pitching well is likely to struggle. There are situations in which a pitcher that is struggling is likely to have a pretty good day. The more you generalize about ‘the state of pitching’, the less likely you are to make a profit in the long-term.
The public likes to generalize
Here’s some basic algebra for you. If generalizations are for losers, and the betting public loves to generalize, then the betting public must be losers over the long term. Makes sense — and perfectly true for the most part.
The more pronounced something becomes, and the more the media writes or talks about it, the more likely the public is to react strongly to it. In a situation like this that can be particularly helpful in situations where you don’t think that the pitching is likely to be as strong as it will be perceived to be by the public. That can lead to nice value, and there is nothing sweeter to a smart bettor than nice value.
Not every pitcher is pitching well
Even in an era of ridiculous pitching strength there are guys out there that just aren’t getting the job done — even on good teams. For every R.A. Dickey there is a Chien-Ming Wang. Stephen Strasburg is pitching like the ace we have long been told he is, but wonder-child Tim Lincecum would struggle to get my two-year-old son out right now. Trends look at the average performance — and the perception of those trends will be accentuated by the particularly strong performances.
For every pitcher pitching above average, though, there is likely one performing below average.
Some teams still have serious pitching issues
Even when the league is enjoying great pitching there are teams that are struggling badly with pitching. Toronto, for example, is a potential contender that is being let down both by injuries and performance from their arms. The Rockies and Twins could supplement their incomes by making a horror movie starring their pitching. It would be terrifying.
It’s a time for pitchers, but not all pitchers, and not all teams.
It’s still all about the matchup
When a batter stands in the box and awaits the pitch he doesn’t think about how the pitchers have more of an advantage than normal because of the strength of arms right now. A pitcher still has to choose the right pitch and locate it properly to get a guy out — he can’t rely on the umpire to call the batter out because the pitchers have an edge.
Nothing matters more in handicapping than the matchups that will occur on the field, and no trend or era will change that.