MLB Handicapping: Young Pitchers to Avoid
by Robert Ferringo - 4/8/2010
Sometimes you just have to go out on a limb. Especially when it is in regards to a commodities market that is as volatile as young pitching in Major League Baseball betting.
Below is a list of young “up-and-coming” pitching that I’m not quite as high on as a lot of fans, scouts, bettors and oddsmakers. The names on this list are ones that some people might recognize and think, “Yeah, that kid is going to be good.” While others are names that only fantasy baseball players or diehard fans would be able to opine about. But in my opinion the list below is full of guys that I expect Reality to slam in the face with the force of an Albert Pujols 42-ounce Louisville Slugger.
Here are 11 young pitchers that I think, when all is said and done in 2010, will be money burners on the bump. For some of the starters below their demise will have less to do with performance and more to do with the elite expectations and skyrocketing prices that they entail. For others it will be about unfulfilled potential. And yet others, I believe, pose strong injury risk that could either cut their seasons short (and create a fade opportunity for their replacements) or nag on them all season and pull their performance into the tank.
Here are 11 arms that I think are ripe for a fade in 2010:
Clay Buchholz, Boston
I just don’t like this kid’s stuff or his demeanor. He is always going to be severely overvalued because he plays for the Sox. And that stellar roster is going to bail him out of a lot of messes. He did win nine of his last 11 starts to close out 2009. But prior to that Boston was just 5-17 in the first 22 appearances of his career. There is likely only going to be about a 15-cent difference between betting Buchholz or John Lackey this year. There is a much more significant difference between those two arms than that and that is what makes Buchholz overrated in my opinion.
Scott Feldman, Texas
I have nothing against the 27-year-old ace of the Rangers. But the bottom line is that Feldman won too many games last year. He doesn’t have the stuff of a 17-game winner and he will come back to reality this season. He was the Opening Day starter for the Rangers and Texas ended up cashing another Feldman ticket. But that was due to a ridiculous comeback in which the Rangers managed five runs on six hits. Again, that type of luck is great to ride while it’s going good. But when it cuts out guys tend to fall really far, really fast.
J.A. Happ, Philadelphia
I was very ‘iffy’ about Happ prior to his breakout 2009. And now I think I’m even ‘iffier’ on him. Like Buchholz, Happ has the benefit of playing for one of the best four or five teams in baseball. But last year he benefited from some major luck that helped him go 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA last year. He was No. 1 in the Majors in strand rate, meaning that he was extraordinarily successful in wiggling out of jams, and to that point teams hit just .158 against him with runners in scoring position. He was also No. 14 in batting average on balls in play (BABIP), meaning that even when he was hit the ball was finding gloves. None of that is going to happen again because he’s good, but not that good.
David Huff, Cleveland
Along with Jeremy Sowers and Aaron Laffey, Huff forms the worst trio of lefties since Maholm-Gorzelanny-Duke were toeing the rubber in back-to-back-to-back games in Pittsburgh. Huff does have better stuff than either of those other two clowns. But he won 11 games despite a 5.61 ERA last year and his fastball tops out around 88 miles per hour. He barely nudged his southpaw counterparts for the No. 5 slot in Cleveland. And because the Indians are going to be pretty bad all by themselves this year it’s not a stretch to think that Huff could actually lower his ERA to, I don’t know, let’s say 5.05 for starters, and still experience less success.
Phil Hughes, New York Yankees
Hughes is a lot like Buchholz to me. Both have an impressive array of pitches and have some sick movement. But there is something with Hughes that gets lost in translation. In 28 career starts he has a 5.22 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP. In 44 appearances as a reliever he had a 1.40 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP. We will see if that experience in the bullpen helps him turn the corner. But considering the price that you have to pay to back any Yankees starter Hughes is a guy I’m much more likely to fade than get behind. At least until he proves that he can get it done in the rotation.
Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta
I absolutely hate to put Jurrjens on this list because he’s been one of my favorite pitchers to watch and bet over the last two years. The kid is a bona fide ace. But he was on the list of 2009 Verducci Effect pitchers and actually improved his production. Other players that have had that occur (Cole Hamels, for example) have still wound up getting injured or becoming less effective. And don’t forget that Jurrjens had a shoulder issue already this spring, albeit a minor one. He logged a ton of innings and still posted a sparkling 2.60 ERA. That’s not likely to happen again for anyone. But when you finished No. 3 in the league in strand rate and No. 19 in BABIP without a high strikeout rate I can guarantee you that your ERA is going to swell.
Mat Latos, San Diego
This is a name that most people don’t recognize but Latos is a 6-5, 215-pound 22-year-old power arm out at Petco. He won half of his 10 starts as a rookie last year and managed to sneak into the No. 5 slot for the Padres this season. But A) his workload puts him on the Verducci Effect list and B) he doesn’t have any command of his secondary pitches. He has a nice young arm. But I think things are going to get worse before they get better for Latos.
Ross Ohlendorf, Pittsburgh
I suppose I could put just about any Pirates starter in this slot but I’ll go with Ohlly. He’s 27 years old so it’s not as if he is a young buck and Ohlendorf was pounded for 15 combined runs in back-to-back starts late in the spring. Ohlendorf had 11 wins in 29 starts for the Pirates last season and posted a 3.92 ERA. But he was also No. 11 in BABIP and No. 45 in strand rate. Ohlendorf only averages 5.5 strikeouts per nine innings, meaning that he pitches to contact. Well, balls were finding gloves last year and runners were getting on but not getting in. I’m afraid that last year might have been his ceiling. And if teams are laying the lumber to him he doesn’t have the stuff to work his way out.
Rick Porcello, Detroit
I love Porcello’s stuff and he was one of the pleasant surprises of all young pitchers last year. But he is just 21 years old and he threw 170.2 innings last year, many of which came in the midst of a pressure-packed playoff race. That is normally a huge red flag for a young arm. Porcello was also No. 16 for starters with more than 75 innings in terms of BABIP and he was No. 29 in strand rate. He managed both of those numbers despite averaging just 4.69 K’s per nine innings. Again, this was a young arm pitching to contact and that contact wasn’t finding the holes. I have a feeling that either he’s going to get hurt this year or the ball is going to be finding more green against him this season. Or both.
Max Scherzer, Detroit
Like Porcello, Scherzer is a young pitcher on the list of Verducci Effect prospects because of the number of innings he’s thrown the last two seasons. He leapt from 56 to 170.1 innings from 2008 to 2009 and that’s the worst thing you can do with a pitcher under 25. There is no denying that Scherzer has really impressive stuff. But because he’s a strikeout guy it’s not just the innings bump that worries me as much as it is the amount of pitches he has to throw to work through those innings. He’s going from the small ball N.L. West to the A.L. East and that’s been a pretty unkind path to some arms that are much more established than Scherzer. I see a few too many four-inning outings for Jim Leyland’s liking before either an injury or a move is made.
Randy Wells, Chicago Cubs
Wells won 12 games and notched a stellar 3.05 ERA last year with the Cubs. But when I watched him I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how he did it. His stuff is just average, in my opinion, and when you consider that he will be overpriced because he plays for the Cubs I see Wells ripe for a fall. He was No. 12 in the Majors in strand rate, with 80 percent of the runners he put on base failing to score. Those numbers are hard enough to duplicate for ace pitchers, much less for guys with flat 89 mile per hour fastballs.
Robert Ferringo is a professional sports handicapper. He has posted three straight winning MLB regular seasons and posted over +300 Units in two of the last three years. For more information on Ferringo's MLB picks, check out his Insider Page here.
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