Going into every baseball season most bettors have a list - either formally or just loosely in their minds - of some guys they expect to pitch well and deliver value and others they don't expect much from. Making those lists is an inexact science, so inevitably there will be guys every year who were on the wrong list - or who were on no list and should obviously, in hindsight, have been. It's very early in the season this year - the most active pitchers only have four starts to their credit - so we can't jump to any conclusions yet. By most measures, though, you would have to say that these five guys are exceeding the expectations people had for them - if people bothered to have any expectations about them at all.
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Jon Niese, Pittsburgh Pirates: I guess you could argue that the Pirates had some high-ish hopes for Niese after trading Neil Walker to the Mets for him in the offseason. Walker is grossly overpaid in my eyes, though, so I don't think there was a ton of value in the trade. Regardless, I wasn't looking for much from Niese after three mediocre seasons in a row - he was 26-29 from 2013-15 over 83 starts. So far he has actually been pretty solid. Surprisingly so. He has improved significantly in each outing, and his last start against the Brewers was just plain good. Most significantly, he has two wins and the team has won all three of his starts. I don't see it lasting, but I would consider riding the heat for a while.
Chad Bettis, Colorado Rockies: Bettis started 20 games for the Rockies last year and was serviceable - which is a massive compliment for a Rockies pitcher. He has shown a whole new level of confidence so far in his three starts this season, though. His first outing at Arizona was a bit rough, and the team lost the game. In his last two, though, he has allowed just nine hits and one earned run in 13 innings, and he has struck out 10 while walking just three. Most significantly, the last start was at the Cubs, and it came with the Rockies as a massive +214 underdog. Bettis almost single-handedly won the game. He only needs to do that kind of thing a couple more times this year to make bettors really happy about noticing him.
Tyler Chatwood, Colorado Rockies: Bettis isn't the only Rockies pitcher on this list, and that seemed almost impossible heading into this season. Chatwood is coming back from Tommy John surgery and hasn't pitched since making four starts at the beginning of the 2014 season. Like Bettis, he has had two strong starts in three outings. He was beat up by the Giants at home but has won as a big underdog at Arizona (+135) and the Cubs (+210). Like Bettis, he has allowed only one earned run combined in his two strong starts while eating up 13.1 innings. Even when he was lousy against the Giants he still went through the sixth, saving his bullpen from excess wear and tear. It's always hard to know how well a surgically-repaired elbow will hold up, but at this point it seems like Chatwood might have a bit of magic to offer - even if magic is relative because he still plays for a truly lousy team.
Hector Santiago, L.A. Angels: Santiago is one of those totally anonymous guys. He has been a full-time starter the last two years for the Angels and the year before that with the White Sox, yet most casual fans couldn't tell you a single thing about him - or even know that he is alive. There is good reason for that, too - he's only 19-27 over that stretch and doesn't offer a lot of stats to get too excited about. Out of the gate this year, though, he has been useful for bettors. The Angels have won all three of his starts, with the last two coming on the road as mid-sized underdogs. His last outing at the White Sox was a real gem - just two hits over seven innings with 10 strikeouts against just three walks. His record is only 1-0 despite the three solid outings, so he won't leap off the page at casual bettors, either. There could be some short-term value here.
Danny Salazar, Cleveland Indians: Salazar's career has followed an orderly progression in Cleveland. He started 10 games as a rookie in 2013, 20 in 2014 and 23 last year. I don't suspect he'll continue the pattern and start 40 this year. He was a quietly solid 14-10 last year, so he isn't new to delivering bettor value. He is right back at it this year, though. He has started only twice so far but has won both and looked stellar in doing so - in 11.1 innings he has allowed one run on five hits while striking out 16 and walking just six. Even more impressive, the first game was played in perhaps the worst weather seen all season - bitter cold, with intermittent rain that turned into snow at one point. Both wins have been on the road, too - the dream place for a pitcher to shine if he wants to please bettors.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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