MLB Handicapping: Nine Pitchers with Value
by Robert Ferringo - 04/23/2009
Today I also wrote a story about how Zach Grienke has gone from a blind "Play Against" pitcher to someone that is nearly a blind "Play On". The Royals righthander's transformation from scrap heap to stud starter has been a remarkable one. But as I look around the Majors right now I'm actually seeing a lot of guys that I'm used to betting against throwing very well and winning games.
Below are nine pitchers that I used to fade strongly that I'm starting to take a second look at while betting on the Major Leagues. All nine have gotten off to decent starts and they are worth monitoring. Because of their shaky pasts this group is normally given very favorable underdog odds, which means that they could offer some strong value to anyone with the stones to back them.
Here is my list of pitchers that might be making the transformation from fade to follow:
Paul Maholm, Pittsburgh
In 2007 I put Maholm on my Christmas Card List. The Pirates were just 12-17 in his starts that year, but actually won four of his last six to make those numbers look more respectable than they really were. But so far in 2009 Maholm has been legit. He is 4-for-4 in cashing tickets this year and has an outstanding 2.02 ERA through 27 innings. Pitching has been a big reason why the Bucs have been competitive this year and Maholm has been the tip of the sword. One thing to keep an eye on, though, is the fact that he's still in a division with three teams - Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Louis - that feast on left-handed pitching.
Dave Bush, Milwaukee
Bush actually made his first appearance of this season in relief. But a guy who was supposed to be just an innings-eater has been Milwaukee's best arm this season. Yes, he did lose three of his first four outings before his near no-hitter against Philadelphia on Wednesday. But Bush's stuff has been great this year. He has a ton of movement on his pitches and his array of junk has been very tough to square up for opposing hitters. He has had starts against the Cubs, the Mets, and the Phillies - three of the best lineups in the National League - and has only allowed 13 hits and six runs in 20 innings of work. Milwaukee is not a very good team this year but we might find some good value betting on Bush moving forward.
Joel Pineiro, St. Louis
Pineiro hasn't been lights out in his first three outings this year. But the former 16-game winner has won all three while posting a respectable 4.17 ERA. Pineiro was a bright young arm in the Seattle system that went 30-18 in 2002 and 2003 combined. However, he has only had one winning season in the five years since, a 7-5 performance in 2007. The Cardinals have been playing great baseball this year and should continue to perform as the season goes on. Dating back to last year the Cards have won 12 of his 17 starts and at small favorite prices offers great value.
Zach Duke, Pittsburgh
I'm still not 100 percent sold on Duke. There have been just too many times I've won big games betting against him so it's tough to go the other way just like that. But I have to admit that he has looked sharp in the early goings of 2009. Over the last three years the Pirates were just 31-53 in games that Duke started. He has gone 2-1 to start this year and that includes a complete game shutout against the Astros. I still think that the value is on betting against The Duke, but he has to be on any watch list. And if Maholm can turn it around there is no reason to think that Duke can't as well.
Jarrod Washburn, Seattle
Washburn has really run the gamut in his career, going from ace to also-ran and possibly back to ace. He was 50-39 during a four-year run with the Angels from 2001-2004. However, over the last three years he has gone just 23-43, including a pathetic 5-14 showing last year. Most soft-tossers have trouble in April as they try to get a feel for their pitches. But Washburn has hit the ground running and been dominating people from Inning 1. He is 3-0 with a sparkling 1.71 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. Seattle is a team that's playing very good baseball early in the year. And if Wash keeps it up he could revert to his former cash cow form.
Kyle Davies, Kansas City
Davies was once touted as "The Next Big Arm" out of the Atlanta farm system before an 8.38 ERA in 14 starts in 2006 put him squarely on the Bet Against/Over list. In 2007, when he was traded to the Royals, his teams went 10-18 in his starts. And last year it wasn't until June that he became a regular in the Royals rotation. K.C. won five of his first seven outings before a 2-7 slide. But Davies rebounded to win four of his last five starts last year before a 2-1 start to the season this year. His fastball is still a little flat. But with Gil Meche and Greinke in front of him Davies seems to feed off of their great outings.
Wandy Rodriguez, Houston
Roy Oswalt has been the Astros ace for a decade. But as the righty listens to questions about his downslide it's this Houston lefty that's throwing like a staff stud. Wandy used to be a simple pitcher to handicap: bet on him at home and bet against him on the road. His team was 5-11 backing him on the road in 2007 and 11-4 behind him at home. In 2008 he managed to go 6-5 away from home and was 6-8 at Minute Maid. And this year he's just winning. He did lose his road start at St. Louis, but Wandy is 2-1 on the year and has posted three straight quality starts.
Barry Zito, San Francisco
I know, I know - this seems ridiculous, right? Zito has been a punch line for the past two years and was even relegated to the bullpen at one point last year. San Fran is just 28-41 in his 69 starts since signing him to one of the largest contracts in MLB history. And so far this year Zito is just 0-2 with a 5.62 ERA. However, he threw seven shutout innings against the Padres on Wednesday and I have to say that he's looked better than his numbers indicate. Zito has been one of the worst April pitchers of the last quarter-century. So if he has been able to show this level of control so far I think that the kid could be in for a bounceback year on an improving team.
Mike Hampton, Houston
It's tough to say that Hampton has been a "strong fade" of mine since he has only made 28 total starts over the last five seasons. However, Hampton had been all but written off by most serious baseball people and I have to say that I've been very impressed with how he has looked in the early portion of this year. He is spotting his pitches very well and has posted three quality outings against divisional opponents. Houston is just 1-2 in his starts but Hampton has posted a solid 3.12 ERA and he has also been a victim of poor run support. Keep your eye on Hampton. That is, until he gets hurt again.
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