MLB's Most Overpriced Aces
by Trevor Whenham - 07/29/2008
There are few things in baseball with more potential to rob a bettor of a pile of money than an ace. When a team is decent and an ace has a good reputation then bettors will blindly follow them because they think that they can't lose. It's especially ugly when the opponent isn't very good, or when their starter isn't a big name. Some starters are doing their jobs - winning games and making money for their backers. Livan Hernandez, Cliff Lee, Chien-Ming Wang and Joe Saunders are at the top of their staffs, and they are all among the 10 most profitable pitchers in the league. Other starters haven't been nearly as responsible with the money spent on them, though. Here are five well-respected aces who have been burning money at an alarming rate:
Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox - Once Johan Santana got traded to the Mets you wouldn't have to have worked too hard to win an argument that Beckett was the best pitcher in the American League. His team is fighting for the lead in their division as they are expected to, but Beckett hasn't been the player we expect him to be. He's just 9-7 this year, the team is 10-9 when he has started, and he's lost a total of almost three units for bettors. Beckett has been reasonably healthy, but he just hasn't been as sharp as we have come to expect him to be. Bettors haven't adjusted, though - he has been favored in every one of his starts. In eight of those games he has been heavily favored (-155 or worse), yet he is just 4-4 in those games. Clearly he's not the pitcher that bettors assume he is. It's not getting any better, either - he is 2-4 in his last six starts.
Johan Santana, New York Mets - We just mentioned Santana, so we might as well give him his rightful spot on this list. Santana was a very expensive acquisition for the Mets, and he came in with high hopes. I'm obviously not giving up on him, but he just hasn't been worth it yet. He's 9-7 this year and the Mets are 12-10 in his games. You can get that kind of performance for a lot less money than Santana makes. The team is 3-1 in his last four starts, but that doesn't make up for his six starts before that - they lost all six. Bettors' faith never wavered over that stretch - he was at least -130 in five of the six games. If Santana can't forget that disappointing period and can maintain his current pace then he can certainly turn things around - he's only lost two units.
Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers - Everything else about the Tigers has been disappointing, so why should their ace be any different. Verlander was spectacular last year, but he hasn't recaptured the magic. Bettors like Verlander, but they really shouldn't. There have been 260 pitchers who have started a game in the majors this year. Only two have burned more money than Verlander - he's down almost nine units on the year. Unlike Beckett, though, the tide is changing for Verlander. He may be a financial disaster now, but he was much, much worse a month and a half ago. The team is 7-2 in his last nine games, and in one of those two losses he was at +101, so he has actually been one of the better betting propositions in the league since the middle of June. If he were able to keep this current pace up he may actually be able to break even by the end of the year.
Jake Peavy, San Diego Padres - Obviously it's bad karma this year to be a starter with a first name that starts with J. It's hardly fair to pick on Peavy because his team has been so truly awful this year. It's just that Peavy has been so good in recent years that you expected his dominance to continue. I still can't be too hard on Peavy - the team is only 8-10 when he starts, but that's a better winning percentage than the team has overall. Peavy has blown more than five units this year, but when you look at it its not surprising - he plays for a team that can't score, yet he is consistently heavily favored. He has been at least -130 in 10 of his 18 starts, and the team is 5-5 in those contests. That's a miraculous performance given what he has to deal with, but it's far from good enough to make any money.
Roy Oswalt, Houston Astros - The Astros have been disappointing, and their ace is no exception. Oswalt is just 8-8, and the team is 9-11 when he takes the mound. That's just generally dismal, but even more so when you consider what Oswalt is capable of. He has lost about 3.6 units on the year. His last eight games are a pretty good indicator of what is going on this year - he has exactly alternated wins and losses. That's not good enough for Oswalt at the best of times, but especially not when he has been at least -120 in six of those eight games (not surprisingly, he is 3-3 in those games). Like everyone else on this list, bettors are making decisions based more on the name on the jersey than the stats recorded. That's an expensive way of dong things.