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Don't bet on these five MLB pitchers

By Steve Makinen  (VSiN.com) 

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Without fail, in every season in every sport, some teams and players fail to live up to their billing. Major League Baseball is no different, and though it is still early in the 2021 season, the first two months have made some things abundantly clear. One is that certain starting pitchers aren’t what they once were, even as recently as last season. If you haven’t caught on to their negative performance trends yet, this might be enough to get you to abandon backing them at still-lofty prices.

Of course, last year was unique in that the season lasted only 60 games. Nearly all the games were played in the summer months, and if a team or pitcher got hot for a stretch, it could last the entire campaign. In other words, it was nothing like a regular baseball calendar year, filled with ups and downs. Taking anything from that season as a foundation for your handicapping this season was probably a mistake. Oddsmakers had to rely on a lot of the incomplete 2020 data as the basis of their early judgments. And, at least with pitchers, they’ve made some mistakes. 

These pitchers have commanded respect in the past, but something is dragging down their performance in 2021. Perhaps it relates to the repercussions of the irregular 2020 schedule. Maybe it’s simply a matter of Father Time starting to creep in. Or their struggles could be due to injuries. Whatever the case, these pitchers were continuing to receive undue respect from those setting the lines, so let’s take advantage.

Here are five starters to avoid putting your money behind until something changes drastically.

Kyle Hendricks (Chicago Cubs)

— 2021 team record: 4-5 (-2.6 units)

— Key Stats: 1.50 WHIP, .304 opponent batting average, 11 home runs allowed

Hendricks vaulted into the role of the Cubs’ ace this season after the departures of Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana. To be fair, Hendricks is not this kind of pitcher, and in that role he often gets matched against other teams’ top starters. He has been hit hard in the early going, with opponents batting .304 against him to go along with 11 home runs. At that pace, Hendricks would allow over 40 for the season. He has been favored in seven of the nine games he has pitched, by an average of about -129, and with the Cubs playing decent baseball lately, I would assume that trend will continue. In my opinion, this is not the type of “ace” you want to get behind consistently. Although he has improved in May, all that means is the prices will get higher.

Luis Castillo (Cincinnati)

— 2021 team record: 1-9 (-9.8 units)

— Key stats: 1.796 WHIP, .917 opponent OPS, 1-7 individual record

Since being tagged for six runs in the first inning of his opening-day start against the Cardinals, Castillo has been unable to bust out of a season-long funk. The Reds have won only once in his 10 starts. It’s a bit of a continuation of a trend that began last season, when Cincinnati was just 5-8 with him on the hill. Castillo finished 2019 at 15-8 with 226 strikeouts in just over 190 innings. At that point, he had the makings of a star. But I watched his outing Sunday against Milwaukee, and his pitches simply looked hittable. It’s no surprise that opposing teams are hitting .328 against him while compiling a .917 OPS. That loss to the Brewers sent his record to 1-7, despite having been favored on six occasions. To illustrate how much oddsmakers are missing with Castillo in his recent starts, I have dropped him 30 points in my power ratings since the outset of the season. In each of his last two outings, my simulations showed him overpriced by at least 10 cents.

Triston McKenzie (Cleveland)

— 2021 team record: 2-5 (-3.1 units)

— Key stats: 6.89 ERA, 1.691 WHIP, 30 walks 

Over the weekend, the Indians sent last year’s phenom McKenzie to Triple A to get things turned around. For good reason, too, as 2021 has looked nothing like 2020 for the once-electric right-hander. He has short-circuited this season, almost as if he has a case of the yips. His base-on-balls stats are almost too crazy to believe. Last year, in his brilliant six-start rookie season, he walked just nine hitters in 33 1/3 innings. In the first two months of 2021, that walk total has ballooned to 30 in 31 1/3 innings, tying for the MLB lead in that statistic despite limited innings compared with other pitchers. McKenzie was still striking out a lot of hitters before being sent down, but it seems that a new “Wild Thing” had come about in Cleveland. Even if the numbers turn around at Columbus, don’t trust your betting dollars with McKenzie until he again proves he can do it against MLB hitters. At the very least, don’t even consider laying numbers like -135 with him, as he was in a 10-0 loss Friday against the Twins.

Jose Quintana (Los Angeles Angels)

— 2021 team record: 3-5 (-2.3 units)

— Key stats: 1.924 WHIP, .304 opponent batting average, 11 home runs allowed

Quintana missed most of the 2020 season with injuries, but when he decided to follow manager Joe Maddon to Los Angeles, most bettors, including me, figured he’d assume the same role and enjoy the same success he had with the Cubs. After all, he was 33-23 in four seasons in Chicago. Reintroducing himself to the American League has proven a challenge for Quintana, however, as his WHIP of 1.924 is among baseball’s worst. He has yet to go more than 5 1/3 innings in any of his eight starts. Like McKenzie, this left-hander has struggled with control, walking 22 hitters in just over 30 innings. The only saving grace is that Quintana has struck out 45 hitters, leaving some room for optimism. But he has been favored in half his starts, including erroneously Friday, when he was short -110 chalk against Oakland. Backing a pitcher with numbers as ugly as he has produced never makes sense, and my simulation showed he should have been a %plussign1 underdog. Naturally, the Angels lost that game handily 8-4.

Kenta Maeda (Minnesota)

— 2021 team record: 2-7 (-5.7 units)

— Key stats: 5.27 ERA, .299 opponent batting average, 9 home runs allowed

Maeda was sensational in the shortened 2020 season, going 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA and gaudy 0.767 WHIP. Those numbers were vastly better than any of the previous four seasons of his career. By that logic alone, it should come as no surprise that he has regressed in 2021, though much more than anyone could have expected. As a result, bettors who bought into the Maeda post-2020 hype have overpaid and lost badly this season. In my opinion, he has been the single most overpriced pitcher in baseball this year. Maeda, who went on the injured list Sunday with a strained groin, has yet to go over six innings after working six or more in eight of his 12 starts in 2020. Unlike Hendricks, Maeda earned the role of ace with the Twins. He just hasn’t performed like it, especially when matched up against other teams’ top dogs. Fade until further notice.

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