Without fail, in every season in every sport, there are teams and players that fail to live up to their billing. MLB is no different, and although it is still early, the first month has made some things abundantly clear. One of them is that there are certain starting pitchers who aren’t what they once were, or perhaps were just a year ago, making them untouchable for bettors based on the high prices we have become used to paying for them. I’m going to focus on some of those starters, and hopefully if you haven’t caught on to their negative performance trends yet, this article will be enough to get you to abandon backing them at still lofty prices.
Before digging into the specific pitchers who have come to disappoint this season, we should all be reminded that MLB put changes in place this year to help pitchers, specifically a lighter ball, humidors in every ballpark and an electronic sign communication system. As I noted a couple of weeks ago, scoring and home runs are way down, and thus pitchers failing to live up to expectations are underperforming even worse than usual. The good news is that oddsmakers tend to be slow to react to declining levels of performance by pitchers, particularly veteran pitchers.
These pitchers have commanded respect in the past, but as I’ll detail later, there is something dragging down their performance in 2022. Perhaps it has something to do with the changes put in place. Maybe it’s simply a matter of Father Time starting to creep in. Or perhaps even worse, a pitcher’s struggles could be a sign of injury troubles. Whatever the case, while these pitchers continue to receive undue respect from those setting the lines, let’s take advantage.
Here are nine pitchers you will want to avoid putting your money behind until some drastic performance level changes occur:
Ian Anderson (Atlanta Braves)
2022 team record in his starts: 3-2 (-0.1 units)
Key stats: 1.378 WHIP, 15 BB/18 Ks in 24 2/3 innings
I’ll start off with one that some bettors might question. Anderson has an individual record of 3-1 this season, and the Braves are 3-2 in his starts. However, he has been given 30 runs of support in his five starts, thus covering up what could be an emerging problem. Anderson had a huge 2020 COVID-19-shortened season and then came back with 24 strong starts last year. However, this season he has had control problems, walking 15 hitters in just shy of 25 innings, while also striking out just 18. His strikeouts per nine innings stats in his first three seasons are 11.4, 8.7 and 6.6 in 2022. That is obviously trending in the wrong direction in conditions designed to aid the pitcher. It is of concern and prices haven’t adjusted to it yet.
Nick Pivetta (Boston Red Sox)
2022 team record: 0-6 (-6.6 units)
Key stats: 6.08 ERA, 1.613 WHIP, .286 opponent batting Avg., 0-4 individual record
If you haven’t noticed, the Red Sox have not won any of Pivetta’s first six starts, and as you can see above, his individual numbers are quite ugly. Not much is going right so far in 2022 for Boston, and the starting rotation, perhaps the team’s biggest question mark heading into the season, has taken a hit because of Pivetta’s poor start. He had put up fairly solid numbers since coming over from Philadelphia midway through the shortened 2020 season. He is another pitcher whose strikeout numbers are trending in the wrong direction, a bad sign for a guy once considered a big, physical, power pitcher.
Dallas Keuchel (Chicago White Sox)
2022 team record: 2-3 (-1 unit)
Key stats: 6.86 ERA, 2.095 WHIP, .340 opponent batting average
I’m probably not waking up any astute baseball bettors here, but the Keuchel who has pitched for the White Sox the last two years bears no resemblance to the Keuchel of previous seasons. After making a splashy signing of Keuchel before the 2020 season, the White Sox have gotten just one shortened season of what they thought they were getting with the former Cy Young award winner. The 2.095 WHIP is as ugly as it gets, but as I’ve detailed on some of the other pitchers, the strikeout figures concern me the most. After averaging about 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings from 2012 to 2020, Keuchel has recorded just 5.4 the last two seasons. Having spent some time in baseball dugouts in my earlier life, we would characterize what this guy is throwing up there as “meat.”
Marcus Stroman (Chicago Cubs)
2022 team record: 1-4 (-2 units)
Key stats: 5.13 ERA, 1-3 individual record, 29.1% line drive batted balls
Stroman had some parting shots for the Mets when he chose to sign with the Cubs earlier this year, but I can assure you New York isn’t exactly shedding tears that he is gone. Stroman has become known as a high-level pitcher by name only, not recent performance. Don’t be fooled by what is a respectable 1.177 WHIP, as there is a big concern because Stroman is yielding a career-high 29.1% line drives on batted balls. On top of that, his strikeouts per nine innings numbers are his lowest since 2018. Batters are seeing his pitches well, and things could get worse as we go into the summer months at Wrigley Field.
Shane Bieber (Cleveland)
2022 team record: 3-3 (-2.8 units)
Key stats: 4.13 ERA, .242 opponent batting average, 8.0 Ks/9
Bieber might be the pitcher I have the most concern for on this list. Two years ago, in the COVID season, he was the best pitcher in baseball, winning the AL Cy Young after posting an 8-1 record and 1.63 ERA. In 2021, he followed that up with a lesser but still strong performance. This year he is way off the pace. The problem for Bieber is obvious: He has lost about 5 mph on his fastball over the course of two years. The strikeout stats reflect it too. In 2019, he averaged 10.9 Ks per nine innings. In 2020, that number was 14.2. Last year it was 12.5. So far in 2022, he has recorded just 8.0. That is a massive drop-off. He is also allowing a career-high 24.7% fly balls on contact. The command and dominance just aren’t there. Stop paying elite prices for a pitcher who might have fallen into middle-of-the-road status.
Zack Wheeler (Philadelphia)
2022 team record: 1-4 (-5 units)
Key stats: 4.10 ERA, .242 opponent batting average, 28.4% line drives on batted balls
This might be somewhat of a controversial pick, but Wheeler was so good last year that oddsmakers have not turned on him yet despite a lesser performance early in 2022. He has been favored in all five of his starts, at an average of -159. Like several others I have detailed, Wheeler’s strikeout numbers are down and batters are squaring up his pitches. The strikeouts per nine innings count is down almost 2.0 from last year. He’s allowing line drives at the highest rate of his career. I’ll say I am not convinced Wheeler is off entirely, but there is enough reason for concern to lay off, or perhaps even fade him in upcoming opportunities.
Robbie Ray (Seattle Mariners)
2022 team record: 3-3 (+ 0 units)
Key stats: 4.38 ERA, 1.243 WHIP, $21 million salary
After his Cy Young season for Toronto in 2021, Ray signing with Seattle was one of the biggest moves of the offseason. His salary for 2022 is $21 million, up from $8 million a year ago. Unfortunately for the Mariners, he is performing much more like an $8 million pitcher than a $21 million pitcher. Like Bieber, Ray’s fastball velocity has been down. Is it cause for major concern? The numbers would indicate so and suggest bettors be much more prudent in deciding whether to back or fade him in coming starts. His 2021 WHIP was 1.045, his 2022 WHIP is 1.243. His Ks/9 in 2021 was 11.5. That has dropped to 7.5 in his first six Mariners starts. In his most recent start, Ray was a + 125 home dog. That is very rare for a returning Cy Young pitcher and a sign that oddsmakers know something is off.
Hyun Jin Ryu (Toronto Blue Jays)
2022 team record: 0-2 (-4.1 units)
Key stats: 13.50 ERA, 1.773 WHIP, 42.9% hard hit balls
Ryu was one of the biggest offseason signings for Toronto before the 2020 season, when the Blue Jays went all in. His first season was stellar and he finished third in the Cy Young voting. Last year he went 14-10, but the other statistical numbers declined significantly from the prior season. In his first two starts in 2022, the numbers were ugly, and the Jays lost both games despite being favored heavily each time. He proceeded to head to the injury list with a forearm issue but is expected back this month. This isn’t just a case of two bad starts, though. Ryu is trending downward in all statistical categories since a tremendous three-year run from 2018 to 2020. Case in point, over the last two seasons, 42% of batted balls were hard hit. He was in the low 30s for the three years prior. Even though he’s expected back this month, don’t expect the 2020 Ryu to return.
Patrick Corbin (Washington Nationals)
2022 team record: 0-6 (-6.2 units)
Key stats: 7.16 WHIP, 1.807 WHIP, 0-5 individual record
The Nationals got exactly one good season from their huge signing of Corbin in 2019. He was 14-7 that season. Since then, he has gone 11-28 and his ERA has risen in each of his four seasons in Washington. Hopefully I’m not breaking ground with any active MLB bettors with this one as this has been a multiyear fade by the former ace left-hander. Corbin has become a struggling pitcher on a bad team. If there is a worse recipe than that in betting baseball, I can’t think of it.