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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 1:22 PM

When handicapping football and basketball, I encourage you to focus on playmakers and gamebreakers. The same general principal is true when it comes to baseball. But, in this sport, the stars with the biggest impact on who wins and loses aren’t big scorers…they’re the guys who enforce scoring prevention.

PITCHERS are the key to handicapping baseball. Now, I don’t want to suggest that you can win only by studying the pitchers. You also have to study offensive strengths and weaknesses…ballpark effects…weather conditions...etc… But, it terms of playmakers and gamebreakers, this is where the focus is going to be. The stars who matter most are pitchers who can impose their will on a game…the same way a quarterback can in football, or a multi-dimensional star in basketball can.

Here are the pitching keys I pay most attention to when applying the fundamentals of Advanced Handicapping to Major League Baseball.

*First, I look at STRIKEOUTS. This is the single most important stat in all of baseball because we’re talking about instances where the ball doesn’t get put in play. If the hitter doesn’t make contact…there can’t be a bloop hit…there can’t be an error by a fielder…there can’t be runners advancing because of a fielder’s choice or sacrifice…and there certainly can’t be any hard hit balls  that go to the alleys or over the fence. The offense gets a big fat zero for that at bat. Pitchers who can inflict a lot of big fat zeroes on opposing offenses win the most. And, those who can do this when runners are in scoring position are going to win for you. Strikeout pitchers can more easily get out of trouble if they get into it. Finesse guys who pitch to contact are at the mercy of where the ball lands.

*Second, I look at BATTING AVERAGE ALLOWED. Pitchers who shut down opponents consistently are going to be smart bets. Those who can’t should be faded at any reasonable price, particularly in good hitting environments or against strong offenses. My ultimate pitcher will be a high strikeout hurler who allows a low batting average. But, I will also invest in mid-level strikeout guys who have established they can keep opponents off balance. Some pitchers don’t K’s but get a lot of ground balls. That’s fine with me because it takes a lot of seeing eye grounders to cause a big inning.

I want to take a second to mention here that I look at these stats over large sample sizes. I want to know what happened last year, and over a pitcher’s career in these stats. If some confirmed mediocrity suddenly has a couple of good starts, I don’t let short term math trick me into thinking he’s become Roy Halladay. I’m focused on their ABILITY to get strikeouts and prevent hits.

*Third, I look for ANYTHING that suggests a pitcher might be dealing with a minor injury. If there’s been a recent loss of velocity, I don’t want anything to do with him. If the local media says he’s working on his mechanics, that’s a red flag that you shouldn’t make a bet (and that you should consider betting on the opponent!). If a high strikeout pitcher suddenly stops getting strikeouts, that’s often a sign that something’s wrong too. I’m talking about ANYTHING. Read the game reports. Read the local media online for all 30 teams. My money is valuable. I don’t want to give any of it to the sportsbooks because I hadn’t noticed a name pitcher had a sore shoulder or elbow pain.

We’ll talk a lot more about baseball, and pitching in particular over the next several months. It’s only April…and the World Series isn’t until October. I wanted to start you with the most important fundamentals of pitching analysis. You want to bet on pitchers who have the most control over their destiny, particularly in parks or weather that favors pitchers. You want to best against the men who have the least control over their destiny, particularly in parks or weather that favors hitters.

Note that my top baseball selections are available every day for credit card purchase right here at this very website. Be sure to check the game day ads on the home page for big play bulletins. I have several major releases in baseball and basketball planned for the rest of this week.  

I’ll be back again later this week for my next installment in the College of Advanced Handicapping. I’ll try to find the proper balance between baseball and basketball since both sports are making so many headlines at the current time. Thanks again to all of you who have made this feature appointment reading here at the website. It’s been great to hear that so many of you have been making more money by applying sound handicapping principles to your personal Las Vegas betting.

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