10 Overrated MLB Pitchers
by Robert Ferringo - 05/09/2008
Every baseball season is different. Every baseball season is exactly the same. It's part of the allure of our former National Pastime. It's like comfort food. And one of my favorite annual rituals is watching what can best be described as the Woodification of baseball pitchers.
May 6 marked the 10th anniversary of Kerry Wood's incredible 20-strikeout performance against the Houston Astros. If you close your eyes I'm sure you can picture that video-game curveball, breaking sharply at 12-to-6, and baffled Houston batters swinging at nothing but air. You can't tell me that every time you see Kerry Wood you don't think of that game.
But did you know that in the six seasons between the year 2000 and 2005, the last year in which he made 10 or more starts, that the Cubs were just 80-79 in all of the games that Wood started? He was a .500 pitcher, yet that didn't stop oddsmakers from routinely posting him as a -250 favorite in his final full season, 2004. Why? Because people would readily eat all of that chalk just because they felt like they could be backing The Kid when he danced with destiny again. However, he was a bank account-busting 5-7 in 2004 as a favorite of -160 or more.
Wood was overrated, and the as the prices on him soared it seemed like the amount of people willing to spend their hard-earned money backing him escalated right along side them. He wasn't the first pitcher to have this happen to him (remember Fernando Mania?) and he won't be the last (this year it's Cueto Mania). But the lesson here is a long-lasting one and it's something that any gambler or handicapper has to keep be able to do: separate Myth from Money.
Below I've compiled a list of 10 of the least-profitable pitchers in Major League Baseball through the first month-plus of the season. I am not trying to project where these hurlers will end up on the Money Board, but I am simply pointing out that some of the marquee arms in the game can be sucker bets for squares and unsuspecting amateurs alike. Baseball betting is all about value. And with these starters you're paying for the name, not the production.
We're talking about former Cy Young winners. Guys with 15- and 20-win seasons and no-hitters on their resumes. Studs. Aces. NAMES. Guys you know. Guys you have trusted with many a Big Play in the past. And what further complicates matters is that four of the players that have been money pits this year - King Felix (No. 4), Justin Verlander (No. 11), C.C. (No. 23), and Buehrle (No. 37) - were each among the Top 40 most profitable pitchers in 2006.
However, if you're going to turn a profit in baseball betting you have to be able to let the past be the past and be able to separate fact from fiction when it comes to who has the goods - right now - on the mound. Here's a list of 10 of the least profitable "aces" so far in 2008:
1) Justin Verlander (1-7, -837)
Detroit brass won't talk about it publicly, but there are definitely some people that are curious about whether Verlander has thrown too many innings already in his young career. His fastball is not nearly as lively as it was in 2006 or 2007, when the flamethrower posted an intense 35-15 record. The Tigers were an excellent 41-21 in his 62 starts in those years, but now Verlander doesn't even look like the same guy. He has an ERA of 6.43 and has been lit up for five or more runs in five of his eight starts.
2) Barry Zito (0-7, -700)
Can you believe that this guy was a Cy Young winner? Barry Zito's fastball is topping out around 84 miles per hour this year and he has a WHIP of nearly 2.00. He was recently demoted to the bullpen, but after missing just one turn in the rotation he started against the Pirates - a team that was 2-10 against lefty starters - and took yet another "L". Not sure who has been ripped off more: the Giants or those foolish enough to bet on Zito since he's been in San Fran.
3) C.C. Sabathia (2-5, -589)
In a lot of ways I'm really not that surprised by this "sudden" turn in Sabathia. He posted a 38-31 mark from 2004-2006, which is decent but not nearly as dominant as he is treated by linesmakers. He is also well below average at home, posting a 44-39 mark in his career at Jacobs Field, where he's nearly always a heavy favorite. With the exception of 2005 and 2007, Sabathia has been a losing proposition in 2003, 2003, 2004, and 2006. I will guarantee that he doesn't end up in the black this year either.
4) Jared Weaver (2-6, -530)
You really can't have a list of least profitable pitchers in the Major Leagues without having a representative of the Weaver family on there. The has had fleeting flashes of brilliance, but since he burst onto the scene with an 11-2 record in his rookie year (2006) the Angels are just 16-22 in his starts.
5) Oliver Perez (2-5, -469)
Perez has undergone a career Renaissance since Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson picked him up off the scrap heap in 2006. Perez has had little or no control of his stuff this year, walking nearly six batters per nine innings. This is a contract year for Perez, who is a Scott Boras client, and you have to wonder if he's thinking more about strikeouts than team victories.
6) Johnny Cueto (2-5, -456)
Cueto burst onto the scene with a dazzling 10-strikeout performance against the Diamondbacks in early April. Since then the juice on him as a favorite has grown higher while his performance has gotten worse. He lost five straight starts at one point and currently has a 5.27 ERA.
7) Felix Hernandez (3-5, -428)
King Felix is somewhat of an anomaly. On one hand, the Mariners are 14-7 in his last 21 starts and he is coming off a season in which Seattle went 21-9 when he took the mound. On the other hand, Hernandez is just 32-27 in his career and, even including his "breakout" 2007, the M's are just 43-37 in his 80 career starts. I would have to say that makes him a bit overrated at the moment.
8) Brett Myers (3-5, -401)
This starter-turned-closer-turned-starter-again is just wretched. He is a woman beater, but that's not why I despise him. Like so many on this list, Myers can take the hill and simply dominate lineups with his impressive arsenal of pitches. But he's also like the rest of this group because he is amazingly inconsistent and doesn't justify the price one routinely has to pay on him. He has a career ERA of 4.44 and if you eliminate his record in day games he is just 38-36 in his career.
9) Chris Young (2-5, -352)
It occurred to me last fall that Young was perhaps the most overrated starting pitcher in baseball. So far this year I've been dead on. He's been posted as a favorite in 19 of his last 23 starts despite the Padres winning just 10 of those outings. He is just 2-10 in his last 12 road games and without much run support he has to be considered one of the worst bets on the board.
10) Mark Buehrle (2-5, -328)
I have fallen victim to the wiles of Mark Buehrle several times already this year. It's not just the games where I have backed him, but also the games where I don't bet on his opponent out of some unexplainable respect for him. It was earned, in my opinion. In the four years preceding this one the White Sox were 76-54 in his last 130 starts. But he's been feeble this year, and the trouble is that he's always been a better pitcher in the first half of the year than in the second. So if he isn't winning now I don't know if the value will return any time soon.
Honorable Mention: Tom Glavine (1-4, -357), Andy Pettite (3-4, -303), Jeff Francis (2-5, -285).