MLB Handicapping: High-Value Pitchers
by Trevor Whenham - 5/29/2013
Handicapping baseball is so different than other sports. In most sports you have to focus so much on the whole team — how they are performing and how they match up with an opponent. The nature of baseball, though, means you can look a lot more closely at one player — the pitcher — and what opportunities he can create.
When a pitcher is likely to perform at a different level than the public is likely to expect, then there is a real chance for value. Good baseball handicapping, then, is often as much about detective work — finding the hidden gems — as anything else. Here are four pitchers who are likely in the short term to pitch at a higher level than the public is likely to assume:
Jerome Williams, Los Angeles Angels
The Angels are finally starting to get their act together, stringing together eight straight wins before dropping their last two. They are still six games under .500, though, so the public isn’t jumping onto them just yet. That’s good news for bettors — especially for a guy like Williams who is far, far from a household name.
Williams is a 31-year-old journeyman who has bounced around teams and leagues since 2003 and has only 97 career starts. He started this year in the bullpen after health issues limited him last year, but he has started five games recently. The first start wasn’t great, but his last four have been sharp, and the team is 3-1 over that time — and should have won the fourth.
He’s confident and efficient right now, and against the right opponents he’ll provide some nice value. His likely next start is at home against the Astros, so he is in good position to keep winning.
Jeff Locke, Pittsburgh Pirates
Locke is a youngster the Pirates picked up from the Braves for Nate McLouth. He got his first major league win last October, and is in his first full-time season.
In his 10 starts this year he is quietly putting together a nice season. The team is 6-4 when he starts, and two of the losses were strong starts by him ruined by a lack of run support. In six of his team starts he has allowed one or fewer earned runs, and he has completed at least five innings in all but one start. His 1.14 WHIP is more than solid, too.
All but one of his wins has been as an underdog, so he is rewarding bettors nicely. If he keeps this level of pitching up, he’ll continue to do so.
Jonathan Pettibone, Philadelphia Phillies
If you ask most baseball fans to describe the disappointing Phillies in just a few words it would be simple — “lousy pitching”.
Cliff Lee is performing well, but the rest of the stars — Hamels and Halladay especially — have been massive disappointments. When the stars aren’t coming through, public bettors will be negative about the whole team. That opens up a nice opportunity for value for a low-profile pitcher like Pettibone who is pitching well.
He made his major league debut on April 22 of this year, so he is young and raw. The team likes playing behind him, however.
Though the Phillies are just 25-27 overall, they are 6-1 in the seven starts Pettibone has made, including 5-1 when he has been the underdog. He has quality starts in his last three outings and is gaining confidence with each start.
His effectiveness could fall over the longer term this year as his pitching volume increases and opponents become more familiar with him and his stuff. Over the short term, though, he should continue to provide some nice value.
James Shields, Kansas City Royals
Shields is a different story than the others we have looked as so far. He is an established veteran with good game and a recognizable name. He moved from Tampa Bay to Kansas City this year and was expected to provide quality pitching.
On the surface so far, though, he has been a disaster.
His record is 2-6, and the team is just 3-8 in his starts. The Royals have lost his last five outings, and he was favored in four of them.
When you look a little closer, though, things aren’t nearly as bleak as they seem. He was beaten up in his last start against the Cardinals. Before that, though, he had registered a quality start in all but one of his 10 outings, including eight in a row before the St. Louis game.
With a WHIP of 1.06, he is pitching far above his record. The biggest problem he has is that his team has scored just seven runs in his last five starts. That makes it very tough for any pitcher to win games.
It’s a good bet that Shields will continue pitching at a strong level. With patience, then, he should be able to treat bettors who maintain faith in him more kindly.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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