MLB Handicapping: Potential Breakout Pitchers
by Trevor Whenham - 3/7/2012
Every year in baseball there are a handful of pitchers who take a dramatic step forward in their productivity. It could be that they are young pitchers that have yet to establish themselves who become productive throwers. Or it could be that solid pitchers develop into great ones. Or maybe a journeyman pitcher suddenly finds a new level and outperforms what we have come to expect from him.
Whatever the reason, the important thing from an MLB betting perspective is that there is money to be made if you can spot the pitchers that could break out before it happens — and before the public catches on to the potential.
Here are four pitchers that stand out to me this year as having the potential to take a significant step forward in production:
Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
Bumgarner is only 22 years old, so he is basically a baby in pitching terms. He already has a season and a half of full-time major league duty under his belt, though, so he’s definitely not raw.
Last year he started out with a combination of poor play and bad luck that dropped him to 0-6 out of the gate. It seemed like he was suffering a dreaded sophomore slump as so many guys have before him. He did a remarkable job of turning it around down the stretch, though, and was more than solid in the second half — something that could be hidden from view if you only take a casual glance at his numbers.
When you look closer, though, there are a couple things that really stand out. His strikeouts per nine innings jumped dramatically last year, and now sits at a very solid 8.40. His WHIP fell from an already impressive 1.31 as a rookie to 1.21 last year. He also had the best strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.15-to-1) on the Giants’ staff. That’s no small accomplishment in that group.
If Bumgarner only pitches as well as he did in the second half of last year then he’ll put together some nice numbers this season. He’s young enough that he can still mature and improve, though. If he can take another step forward this year like he did late last year then he could rise into the ranks of the elite.
I’m very optimistic about Bumgarner this year.
Jordan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
Stephen Strasburg’s recovery from Tommy John Surgery is going to be very closely-watched in the baseball world. Zimmerman is traveling the same path, though, and though he doesn’t have the upside of Strasburg he could still be a very good pitcher.
Last year he was limited by the same 160-inning limit that Strasburg could face this year. He didn’t strike out batters at the rate that he did before he was injured, but his walks were minimal and his ERA was solid. He has reportedly shown an increased zip on his pitch in the spring, and he’ll be confident and without restriction this year.
Zimmerman was on a strong path before the injury, and he should be right back on it now. He has the luxury of being able to operate out of the spotlight thanks to Strasburg and Bryce Harper, so that should make things easier for him.
Jonathon Niese, New York Mets
The Mets have been pathetic for quite a while and seem destined to stay that way, but this 25 year old could give them at least a little to cheer about.
In his second full season last year he made some decent statistical progress, and much of his effectiveness was hidden by the fact that his team seems incapable of fielding behind him. He’s entering his third season as a full-time starter and should be ready to progress nicely.
Beyond that, there is a strange but compelling reason to be optimistic — his nose job.
Reports are that Carlos Beltran not only suggested the surgery but also paid for it. He may look better, but what matters for us is that a deviated septum was fixed, and Niese is reportedly finding it much easier to breathe. His late-inning stamina was an issue, but should be less of one now. Add that to his maturity and he could take a big step forward.
Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers
Gallardo is a different case than the other three here because he is much more advanced in his career — 115 career starts since 2007. Because of that most people have probably cemented their opinion of him — as a good-but-not-spectacular, top-half-of-the-rotation starter.
What’s easy to forget, though, is that Gallardo only just turned 26. He hasn’t even hit his prime years of production yet, so there is still a lot of room for growth. His walks are consistently falling. His command is better than ever, and his stamina is improving as well.
He has been a strong pitcher — 17-10 last year — but he has what it takes to become one of the elite pitchers in the National League, and this could be the year that he takes that leap.
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