MLB Betting: Pitchers to Watch in 2009
by Trevor Whenham - 03/04/2009
Spring training is underway, but it's really too early for us to learn anything from what we see or who wins. This time of year is mostly useful for speculation, distilling rumors, and looking forward to the start of the real season. With that in mind, here's a look at six pitchers I will be closely watching this season. All of them are in different phases of their career, but all have one thing in common - they are poised for a breakthrough. Beyond that, most of them desperately need that breakthrough, and that significant improvement would have a big impact both on their teams and on the wallets of bettors.
Barry Zito, San Francisco - Zito's struggles in San Francisco have been well documented, and he's arguably been the most overpaid player in the league the last two years. There is no doubting that the guy has incredible talent, though - he won the Cy Young in 2002 - so it seems to early to write him off entirely. There isn't anything obviously physically wrong with him, so the problems must mainly owe to two factors - mental problems, and the lack of a good supporting cast behind him. At least one of those should be improved this season. The rotation has much more depth, and their is more promise in San Francisco than there has been since he arrived. On the mental front there were signs of progress as well - the team was 6-2 in his last eight starts, and he was 4-2 in those games. He was 10-9 after a brutal 0-8 start.
Mike Pelfrey, New York Mets - Pelfrey made significant steps forward last year in his first full year as a starter, and I hope and expect him to do the same again. The 25 year old has matured both physically and mentally this offseason. He's also worked hard to improve his changeup, and the early results are impressive. I like Pelfrey for one big reason - he keeps the ball in the park. He gave up just 12 home runs all year last year. Beyond what he can do, though, his prospects are significantly improved this year by the support around him - the Mets have significantly upgraded their bullpen by adding K-Rod and J.J. Putz. That will make it easier for him to turn good performances into wins.
Erik Bedard, Seattle - Bedard went to the Mariners with very high hopes, but he was pretty much a bust. I expect him to raise his game to a high enough level that last year will only be a bad memory, though. Bedard has shoulder problems all year, but he didn't make them public until July. He's had surgery to remove a cyst, and the recovery has gone as well as possible. Seattle isn't going to be a great team, but they will be helped by a healthy Bedard. If he returns to form then he should be good early value because the public will think more of the 2008 version of him than the very impressive 2007 version.
Andrew Miller, Florida - Miller came into the league with incredibly high expectations after a stellar college career. He was sent to Florida in a trade before last season, and that was probably not the best thing for him. The Marlins have no depth, so Miller was forced to spend time in the pros when he probably would have been better off in the minors. As a result, he didn't look great last year. He's still only 23, though, so he has lots of time ahead of him. The Marlins still won't be good, but they are a bit better than last year. If Miller can get off to a good start and build some confidence then the big lefty could become the menace he was at North Carolina.
Dontrelle Willis, Detroit - Part of the fascination in this case is, admittedly, like watching a train wreck. Willis went from a solid, impressive, often-brilliant lefty in Florida, to a barely adequate pitcher in A-ball in Detroit. At this point it's not even sure that Willis will make the Major League roster for the Tigers - he's in a deep fight for the fifth spot. Willis may not recover from whatever is bothering him, but I hope he does. More importantly, if he does show some form then he could be useful value for bettors. The best sign is that Willis' attitude is still positive and upbeat in the face of struggles that would crush many players.
Micah Owings, Cincinnati - The best hitting pitcher in the league has a new address this year. Owings had a disastrous end to the season last year, going 0-7 with a 9.21 ERA in his last 12 appearances. He was 14-10 in his career before that slump, though, so he has obvious potential. He had a shoulder problem that caused the decline, but it is reportedly much improved. I'll have to see how he responds in the spring before I get too excited, but I think that Owings has a useful future and could be poised for a solid year.