MLB Handicapping: Overachieving Pitchers
by Trevor Whenham - 6/14/2012
We are now more than 60 games into the baseball season. There is still a long, long way to go, but we’ve now seen enough to have a sense of what to expect from teams and players. That also means that the betting public has had time to form opinions and get wrapped up in the hype surrounding pitchers off to strong starts.
Each year we see many pitchers who look very good at this point in the season who are much, much worse down the stretch. Here are six pitchers that stand out as major overachievers this year — guys that could be far less kind to MLB handicappers the rest of the way than they have been so far.
R.A. Dickey, New York Mets
Dickey has been spectacular this year — 10-1 with a 2.20 ERA for a Mets team with more than a few flaws — and he is currently the most profitable pitcher in baseball.
As easy as he is to cheer for, though, it is even easier to doubt he can sustain it the rest of the way.
For starters, he’s a knuckleballer, and the next consistent knuckleballer you can think of will be the first one ever. He’s also 37 years old, and has never performed like this before.
His current ERA is almost two full runs below his career average, and his opponent’s batting average is currently 61 points below his career mark.
I want to believe, but I am braced for him to come crashing back to earth.
Lance Lynn, St. Louis Cardinals
Lynn is a 25-year-old who was a first round pick in 2008, and he has a ton of upside. He was a key part of last year’s playoff success out of the bullpen.
This is only his first full year in the majors, though, and his first year as a starter at this level. He’s 10-2 so far this year and massively exceeding the expectations of him as the replacement for Chris Carpenter in the rotation. He’s still on his first time through much of the league, though, so it’s hard to have faith he can keep it up all year.
If he were a stock I’d buy it over the long term, but I wouldn’t expect to profit in the short term.
Jason Hammel, Baltimore Orioles
You can’t blame Hammel for being happy to be out of the pitcher’s graveyard that is Coors Field. He’s coming off a season in which he was 7-13 with a 4.76 ERA, though, so it’s hard to have a lot of faith that he can keep up his current pace of nine team wins in 12 starts.
There are a few reasons to be skeptical.
He’s working his way through a league he hasn’t pitched in for three years, so his opponents aren’t familiar with him. He’s also pitching for a team that has been one of the biggest overachievers early in the season.
He has never finished a season better than 10-8, so his current 6-2 mark is above expectations.
A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates are 8-2 with Burnett on the mound, and he has been the fifth most profitable pitcher in baseball so far.
That’s the good news.
The bad news, for the Pirates at least, is that he is still A.J. Burnett. He has been increasingly ineffective over the last four years, so it’s hard to believe that his 6-2 start is sustainable.
He’s back in the National League after six years hiding behind a DH, so he has the advantage of unfamiliarity here. He’s also playing for a team that is the most surprising in the NL — and which has a recent history of second-half fades.
I’m just not buying that at 35 he has turned his game around.
Wei-Yin Chen, Baltimore Orioles
I don’t want to seem like I am picking on the Orioles, but Chen is no easier to trust than Hammel.
The team is 8-4 in his starts and he is among the 10 most profitable pitchers in the league. He’s new to the league, though, after enjoying reasonable success in Japan.
Teams will start getting a better scouting report on him, and it will be tougher for him to shine — especially if his Orioles cool down.
Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals
The Nationals have the second-best record in baseball, and their excellent starting pitching is the biggest reason. The team had to know that they had acquired a nice pitcher in Gonzalez, but his 8-2 record has far exceeded expectations.
He’s the third most profitable pitcher in the league so far — behind only Dickey and teammate Stephen Strasburg. Like so many pitchers on this list he is enjoying great success in a new league, and could easily regress as opponents get more familiar with him and have another shot at facing him.
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