Submitted by Jim Feist on Tuesday, June 6, 2017 at 12:00 AM
Baseball Pitchers: A Different Breed
by Jim Feist
Baseball is very much a thinking man's game, be it the battle between the pitcher and the hitter or managers making adjustments in the field and utilizing their bullpens, to sports bettors trying to beat the oddsmakers each day. This is an age of specialization for baseball pitchers. You have starters, closers, middle relievers, long relief, set-up men and lefty specialists. Some pitchers feel more comfortable and excel in the role of set-up man than closer, for example.
It can all seem overwhelming and even silly at times. I recall an interview with a pitcher a few years ago who was asked about what his role would be on the team. He looked strangely at the inquisitor. "A pitcher's role," he said, "is to get guys out." If more hurlers simplified things like that, we might see better pitching league-wide.
Pitchers are a unique breed in the sports world. One thing to keep in mind during the baseball season, especially early on, is that pitchers can perform very differently year to year, for a variety of reasons.
The Red Sox paid big bucks for an ace when they signed David Price last year, but he didn't throw like an ace. Price had a 4.11 ERA at Fenway and allowed more hits than innings pitched on the road. It's hard to believe age was the reason, as he should be in his prime, but that's the thing: You never know how pitchers are going to perform from year to year.
Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey parlayed a dominant season back in 2012 when he went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA with the Mets into a new contract with Toronto. He's still in the majors, but has a record below .500 since his monster season. Here's how unpredictable pitchers can be from year to year, with Dickey from 2010-2016:
Year --- Wins-Losses -- ERA
2010: 11-9 -- 2.84
2011: 8-13 --- 3.28
2012: 20-6 --- 2.73
2013: 14-13 --- 4.21
2014: 14-13 -- 3.71
2015: 11-11 -- 3.91
2016: 10-15 -- 4.46
The first three years were with the Mets in the NL. Then in 2013 he went to Toronto, a home run happy park while facing teams with the DH. Changing leagues and even parks can influence some pitchers. Former Arizona and LA Dodgers lefty Omar Daal did something similar:
Year --- Wins-Losses -- ERA
1999: 16-9 -- 3.65
2000: 4-19 -- 6.14
2001: 13-7 -- 4.46
2002: 11-9 -- 3.90
2003: 4-11 -- 6.34
He had some good years, and some bad ones - some very bad ones. Sometimes pitcher's simply don't have it the next season, be it confidence or perhaps a nagging injury. Other times a player gets traded to a new team, one with poor defense or a very different ballpark.
It's essential for sports bettors to keep up on moves, parks and injuries like this. Early in the season, betting lines on pitchers can be based largely on what happened last season, and as I've outlined, pitchers can vary significantly from year to year.
Injuries, too, can be significant. Detroit righty Justin Verlander is still a good strikeout pitcher, but his numbers have fluctuated wildly since his 24-5 campaign in 2011. He had a good ERA in 2015, but 4.54 three years ago. In addition, some pitchers can have different seasons before and after the All-Star break, either because of the workload or injuries. Last season Chris Sale was 14-3 at the break, then 3-7 afterward. The last three seasons he's 30-8 before the mid-summer classic, 12-17 in the second half.
Betting lines are made around the starting pitcher, but be careful - starters don't always pitch the same from season to season for a variety of reasons. That's why it's essential to include defense in the field in your handicapping and bullpen strength, a pair of assets the defending champion Royals have enjoyed the last two seasons. Baseball is still a thinking man's game -- just as successful sports betting has always been.