When scouting pitchers, the sharpest bettors get ahead of the curve. The value with a starting pitcher does not last forever, and it could be argued Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Alex Wood already has blown his cover.
Wood was available at better prices a few weeks ago. In fact, it was two weeks ago when veteran bird-dogger Brent Musburger alerted his VSiN listeners to keep a close eye on Wood and consider wagering on him. That advice paid off.
Wood was money again Friday, closing as a minus-135 home favorite in a 4-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs and Jake Arrieta. Wood threw only five innings because his pitch count hit 91, but he was dominant while striking out eight.
He’s not Clayton Kershaw, who’s tough to bet at sky-high prices, but Wood is a keeper. He has not allowed a run since May 2 while throwing 25⅓ straight scoreless innings. The Dodgers have won his past five starts.
After opening the season in the bullpen, Wood (6-0, 1.69 ERA, 1.00 WHIP) is mowing down lineups by inducing a high rate of groundballs, allowing only one home run and getting 60 strikeouts in 48 innings. His fastball hits 95 mph and his other stuff includes a sinker, curve and changeup.
He flashed this potential in the past but was derailed by elbow injuries. A second-round pick by Atlanta in 2012, Wood had an impressive 2014 season for the Braves before the Dodgers stole him in a July 2015 three-team trade that was forgettable until now.
Wood, who’s rising at age 26, beat a struggling bet-against pitcher Friday in Los Angeles. Arrieta, who allowed two homers in the loss, has seen his fastball velocity drop from an average of 94.6 mph in 2015 to a tick over 92 this season.
Arrieta is not tossing batting practice and turning into Bronson Arroyo or Jered Weaver, but the Cubs are 3-5 in his past eight starts. Two years ago, Arrieta was a 22-game winner, the best pitcher in the majors and easy to bet because he cashed so often.
Kershaw, Boston lefty Chris Sale and Washington’s Max Scherzer are commanding the highest prices now, but that’s not breaking news to baseball bettors.
Here are several more starters to watch, including a couple obvious aces:
Michael Fulmer, Detroit: A first-round pick by the New York Mets in 2011, he was traded to the Tigers in a July 2015 deal the Mets regret right now. Fulmer was American League Rookie of the Year in 2016. He’s 5-2 with a 2.55 ERA and 1.08 WHIP while going 9-for-9 in quality starts this season. He’s got a live arm and, it appears, a phenomenal future.
Sonny Gray, Oakland: Is it time to make Gray great again? In his past two starts, totaling 13 innings, he has 19 strikeouts and three walks. If recent performances indicate he’s returning to ace-type form, the A’s might be tempted to trade him. Oakland has an intriguing staff that also includes Sean Manaea, a young 6-foot-5 lefty who just shut down the Yankees.
Zack Greinke, Arizona: In order for the Diamondbacks to contend, Greinke needed a bounce-back year. So far, he’s back to being an ace. He struck out 12 in 8⅔ innings in his Monday start, and Arizona has won his past four starts. Greinke has allowed too many homers (10 in 67 innings), but he pitches in a hitter-friendly park. His strikeout total (78) shows his stuff is legit.
Dallas Keuchel, Houston: The Astros, who own the best record in baseball at 33-16, are 8-1 in Keuchel’s starts. He’s expected to come off the 10-day disabled list to start Saturday against Baltimore. Keuchel (7-0, 1.84 ERA, 0.86 WHIP) has recaptured his 20-win form from 2015 after getting hit hard last year. The bearded lefty has been sharper with his sinker and slider. He’s not starting at many bargain prices, however.
Mike Leake, St. Louis: The eighth overall pick of the 2009 draft, the former Arizona State ace went straight from the draft to the major leagues in Cincinnati. Leake (5-2, 1.91 ERA, 0.93 WHIP) is finally delivering consistent quality starts (9 for 9) for the Cardinals this season. Leake’s improvement has given St. Louis a solid five-man rotation with Lance Lynn, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright. Wacha is one to watch.
Ivan Nova, Pittsburgh: The Pirates have their problems, but Nova (5-3, 2.83 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) has not been one. To this point, Pittsburgh got the better of an August trade with the New York Yankees, who gave up Nova for two mediocre prospects. Nova’s success is due mostly to his control (five walks in 70 innings.)
Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston: The Red Sox are 7-2 in his starts. The maturing 24-year-old lefty is giving Boston a lot more than the injured and overpaid David Price. E-Rod has a 2.77 ERA, a strikeout rate of 9.6 per nine innings and a nice changeup to complement a fastball that averages 93 mph.
Ervin Santana, Minnesota: Always a streaky pitcher, Santana (7-2, 1.80 ERA, 0.83 WHIP) has been hot for the surprising Twins. Can he keep it going? But Santana is no longer the hottest topic on the Twins’ staff. The new story is Jose Berrios, a 2012 first-round pick who turns 23 on Saturday. Berrios is 3-0 in his first three starts, and his wicked curveball is worth watching.
Antonio Senzatela, Colorado: Is this 22-year-old right-hander from Venezuela for real? He’s 7-1 after 10 starts for the National League West-leading Rockies (32-18). Colorado made a wise move by hiring manager Bud Black, who’s an outstanding pitching coach. Senzatela has a low strikeout rate and was showing signs of regressing until throwing eight scoreless innings against the Cardinals on Friday.
Luis Severino, N.Y. Yankees: After going 3-8 with a 5.83 ERA last year, Severino (3-2, 3.11 ERA, 1.05 WHIP) is showing positive signs through nine starts. The 23-year-old right-hander has 61 strikeouts in 55 innings and his numbers are better across the board. His improvement is a necessity for the Yankees, who have reasons to be concerned about veterans Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka.