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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at 12:18 PM

Now that we’re a few weeks into the 2012 Major League Baseball season, you’ve probably found a rhythm for your hardball handicapping. I want to spend some more time today talking about the key stats you should be looking at when evaluating pitchers. If you’re like most handicappers, you’re already doing some things right, but already doing some things wrong.

 

WHAT YOU’RE PROBABLY DOING RIGHT

*Looking at Earned Run Average, because this is great stat for defining quality and form given the proper sample size. Maybe you’re prone to overeat to recent extremes…but that’s something that can be tweaked. I do want you looking at this stat.

*Looking at Strikeouts. The media does a good job now of emphasizing strikeout totals. So, if you’re watching games on TV or the baseball analytical shows on ESPN and the MLB Network, you know who’s getting strikeouts, and who’s struggling with their velocity. Strikeout rate (K’s per 9 innings) may be the single most important stat for evaluating the per-game potential of starting pitchers. Be sure you’re paying attention to this vital area of baseball analysis.

*Looking at Injury News. The best pitchers to fade are those who are dealing with publicized injury or mechanical issues. If a name pitcher was pulled early in his last start with elbow or shoulder issues, something is most likely wrong. Don’t back him in his next start. Consider fading him if he’s typically high priced in the markets.

If you’re focusing on just these few things…health, strikeouts, and earned run average…you’re likely to at least hold your own when betting baseball.

 

WHAT YOU’RE PROBABLY DOING WRONG

*Looking at Won-Lost Records. If a pitcher gets off to a great start in April, that could just as easily be connected to run support rather than his own production. It could also be due to catching a few breaks when opposing runners were on base. History has made it clear that this stat is more susceptible to random whims than any other in the sport. Don’t blindly back pitchers with good won-lost records unless they’re ALSO showing up well in the strikeout, ERA, and health categories. Don’t blindly back pitchers with poor records. You can’t handicap luck. Don’t even try.

*Not adjusting for Ballpark Effects. If a home park is a hitter’s park, then pitchers for that team will do better on the road than you’re expecting. If a home park is a pitcher’s park, then pitchers for that team will do worse on the road than you’re expecting. I still can’t believe that Vegas oddsmakers do such a poor job of accounting for these issues. It’s possible that the largest reason professional wagerers are able to beat baseball is because the market prices are poor at reflecting ballpark realities. Advanced Handicapping means seeing through the fog to understand reality. Ballpark effects create quite a fog when you’re trying to evaluate pitchers.

*Making too many negative assumptions about new pitchers. The casual fan is prone to bet any starter he’s heard of over a starter he hasn’t heard of. And, even experienced bettors can sometimes fall into this trap. This is lazy handicapping, not advanced handicapping. Almost every pitcher in a Major League rotation right now was once somebody casual fans hadn’t heard of before. Many newcomers this year are going to do well and win money for their backers. Do what you can to find out the strengths and weaknesses of newcomers based on their career stats in the minors. High strikeout pitchers in particular can be absolute steals when they first come up to the Majors.

Baseball is easy to beat if you know what you’re doing. And, EARLY SEASON baseball is particularly easy if you’re doing the right things and avoiding the wrong things. I’ll be talking about pitchers a lot this year because the PLAYMAKERS AND GAMEBREAKERS in this sport are generally starting pitchers because they have such control over that happens in a game. The best hitters will have 4-5 plate appearances in a typical game. The best pitcher will be imposing his will on more than 20 plate appearances as long as he goes at least six innings.

My next report will provide tips for handicapping the NBA playoffs. Those start this weekend. I’ll be back on Friday to outline Advanced strategies for what’s promising to be a very exciting postseason.

If you’d like help daily finding winners on the card as you continue to try and master Advanced principals, you can purchase my strongest plays right here at this very website with your credit card. I’m grateful that so many of you have improved your own handicapping with this series of web articles. Even if you don’t like handicapping, YOU LIKE TO WIN! Either way, KELSO STURGEON is here to help.

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