MLB betting tutorial: How to evaluate starting pitching

May 5, 2019 09:43 PM

Last week we talked about the best ways for sports bettors to evaluate Major League Baseball offenses (look at team on-base percentage!). Today, we’re going focus on starting pitching. 

Most bettors place a lot of weight on who’s starting on the mound for each team. But, they do so with a statistic that’s outdated and often very misleading. If you’re going to bet baseball through the summer, DON’T use earned run average!

There are better options. And, real handicappers don’t take shortcuts. Sharps aim to develop a deep sense of skill sets to evaluate how well starting pitchers are equipped to perform in given situations. 

First, let’s discuss what’s wrong with ERA.

It can be easily polluted to give a bad read. Imagine a pitcher who throws well in three starts (six innings, two earned runs allowed each time), but then gets knocked around hard in his fourth start (six earned runs allowed in two innings). That’s 20 innings pitched, and 12 earned runs allowed for an ERA of 5.40.

Would you bet on a starting pitcher with an ERA of 5.40? That’s a lousy mark! You’d avoid him, or go the other way. Would you bet on a starting pitcher that throws well three out of four times? You probably should. You’ll lose the bad outing but be strongly positioned to win the other three. 

Same guy. You let the high ERA scare you off a pitcher who usually gets the job done. It’s worse if you bet against a guy who’s going to pitch well 75% of the time.

On the other end of the spectrum, mediocre hurlers can have misleadingly good ERA’s if they throw their home games in pitchers’ parks, if the majority of their starts have come in difficult hitting weather (cool temperatures or winds blowing in), or if the majority of their starts have come against bad offenses. 

You won’t make money betting on “mediocre,” particularly when those arms are matched up against elite offenses or challenged by friendly hitting conditions. 

What do sharps do? It’s been very clear for YEARS that informed money places a lot of weight on the ability to get strikeouts…and the ability to go deep into games. You may have noticed yourself that the most expensive pitchers have high k-rates (strikeouts per nine innings) and often last into the seventh inning. These are the pitchers who can control their own destiny in dominating fashion.

Here are key stats you should be studying to evaluate skill sets . . .

  • Innings pitched per start (total innings divided by number of starts, the higher the better).
  • Strikeouts per nine innings (low K pitchers are at the mercy of opposing bats, while high K pitchers avoid contact with opposing bats!)
  • WHIP (walks and hits allowed per innings pitched, the lower the better, because opposing offenses can’t score if they’re not getting runners on base)
  • Home runs allowed per nine innings (the lower the better because dinger-prone pitchers are in big trouble with the aerodynamic 2019 baseballs).


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