A couple of weeks ago, I focused on 10 MLB starting pitchers that bettors should be giving up on or fading. Since then, the results have been mixed on the list, with some, like Patrick Corbin, continuing to flounder, and others, like Zack Wheeler, perhaps taking motivation from my slighting. Of course, for every struggling player in a given sport, there figures to be one on the opposite end thriving. That is the group I’m going to zero in on today, specifically looking at starting pitchers that have been quite effective in the early going yet still seem to be underpriced by oddsmakers. That in itself equals betting value.
The guys I will be focusing on aren’t the big-name pitchers we’ve come to expect huge results from year after year, such as Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander, all three of whom have produced nice profits for bettors in 2022. These are starters that seem to have caught fire this season, perhaps the start of bigger careers forthcoming. In that regard, they could be considered hidden gems if their elite performances continue. These are pitchers I’ve been backing consistently in the last few weeks and I feel will continue performing at a high level.
These pitchers generally have not commanded respect in the past, which is making them underpriced right now. The situations surrounding each can vary. In some cases, the pitcher is solid and benefitting from an improving team. Others are pitching in the shadows of bigger stars and, therefore, are not taken as seriously. Regardless, let’s take advantage while we can:
Chris Bassitt (New York Mets)
Despite starting last year’s All-Star Game for the American League, Bassitt began this season with the NL’s Mets in the middle of the starting rotation depth chart. That immediately brings a bit of an undeserved downgrade, as if pitching behind Jacob deGrom and Scherzer makes him a lesser pitcher. He has been solid since his first start for New York, going at least 5 2/3 innings in all eight outings. The Mets are 6-2 in those starts, good for + 3.9 units of profit. In only two of the starts was Bassitt favored by more than -145 as well, so quite the value when compared with that of deGrom or Scherzer. With a WHIP of 1.089 and K/9 rate of 9.1, he is right around the career-high numbers he set last season in Oakland, proving himself a solid addition to his first-place team’s rotation.
Paul Blackburn (Oakland A’s)
In his first five years with Oakland, Blackburn was only a spot starter, pitching — and starting — a career-high 10 games in his rookie season of 2017. He posted a 3.22 ERA that season and appeared on his way to becoming a fixture in the A’s rotation. From 2017 to 2021 however, he worked only 79 1/3 innings, posting an ugly WHIP of 1.651. With the team’s rotation ravaged by departures in the offseason, not many bettors expected Blackburn to step into a formidable role. However, he has been a goldmine for backers thus far in 2022, with Oakland going 7-1 in his eight starts for + 9.2 units and a return on investment of 106.4%. He isn’t a big power pitcher, but he induces ground balls at a rate higher than 50%, and opposing batters are hitting just .224 against him. That, plus his HR%, K/9, and walk % are also at career bests. Blackburn’s emergence has saved the A’s rotation.
Dylan Cease (Chicago White Sox)
Cease came on strong last year and I recall talking with Danny Burke about him sometime around midseason on his VSiN show out of Chicago. Since then, I have been a big Cease backer. This year he is commanding respect from oddsmakers, both in his game lines and in his in-game props for strikeout numbers. After averaging 12.3 K/9 in 2021, he has actually upped that number to 13.8 this season in eight starts. His WHIP and ERA are plummeting, too, as he is becoming an ace-level performer in a rotation that features Lucas Giolito and a vastly improved Michael Kopech. In addition, after averaging about 40% hard-hit balls over the first three years of his career, that number has dropped to 30.2% this season. Cease boasts multiple elite-level pitches and an elite mustache, making him worthy of your betting dollar.
Nestor Cortes (New York Yankees)
It’s hard to stay under the radar for long when you’re pitching for the Yankees, so it’s not a surprise to see the prices getting higher and higher with each successive Cortes start. The Yankees are 6-2 in his eight starts and he has not allowed more than three runs in any of them. Coming into the season, there was cautious optimism that Cortes could fill one of the voids in the Yankees’ rotation. He has more than in the 45 innings he has worked. His 1.80 ERA, 0.889 WHIP and 11.2 K/9 are all easily career bests, and actually are better marks than what Cole has posted so far. Opposing batters are hitting just .180 against Cortes’ incredible five-pitch mix. With the Yankees lineup raking, Cortes is not a guy I am shy of laying bigger prices with.
Zac Gallen (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Some of the numbers Gallen has put up through his first seven starts are downright ridiculous. His ERA is 1.14, WHIP 0.712, opponents hitting .146, line drive percentage just 15.3%. These are all numbers worthy of a Cy Young Award if produced for a full season. Gallen’s team is 5-2 in his starts, and since Arizona has struggled this season, bettors have been able to back this elite pitcher as an underdog five times. He was 4-10 in 2021 despite putting up reasonable numbers, which has contributed to his low prices this season. Not exactly a hidden gem, but you could use the word overlooked.
Eric Lauer (Milwaukee Brewers)
Lauer began the 2022 season as the No. 5 starter in the deep Milwaukee starting rotation. He has arguably been the Brewers’ best starting pitcher to date. Before this season, Lauer was perhaps best known for his prowess against the Dodgers. Now he is baffling everyone. In seven starts, his team is 6-1 for + 5.1 units. He has been dominant in five of those seven outings, and his K/9 rate has taken off to a whopping 11.7, more than 3.0 better than his career average. Is this a fluke, or are we in for a full season of Lauer magic? Well, his fastball is up from previous years and he is using four other pitches effectively, making for a very nice mix of sustainability, and thus continued betting value.
Joe Musgrove (San Diego Padres)
Musgrove is the only pitcher whose team is undefeated in his starts, among pitchers with more than four outings. He has doubled that start quantity with the Padres sitting at a cool 8-0 after his impressive outdueling of the Giants’ Carlos Rodon on Saturday. The unsuspecting San Diego ace has gone at least six innings in each one of his starts as well, providing needed depth. Ironically, with his strikeout numbers actually down despite better overall statistics, bettors haven’t had to pay as much for him as many other high performers. In fact, in his last two starts, he was an underdog.
Martin Perez (Texas Rangers)
If Perez would have done for the Red Sox over the last two years what he is doing for the Rangers in 2022, he probably would still be pitching in Boston. The left-hander’s improvement this season over his career numbers has been meteoric, and it isn’t because of a new pitch or any enhanced speed. He has simply shown more command than ever before. His current ground-ball percentage is 54.7%, a level he hadn’t come near to since 2015. He has yet to allow a home run in more than 49 innings of work. Talk about putting the ball where you want to. If you missed out on any of his most recent six starts, I feel for you, as it probably won’t get any better. In that stretch, he has gone 41 1/3 innings, allowing just three earned runs for an ERA of 0.65 and a WHIP of 0.822. In this torrid stretch, he has been favored ONCE.
Drew Rasmussen (Tampa Bay Rays)
The Rays acquired Rasmussen from the Brewers in the trade that sent shortstop Willy Adames to Milwaukee. To this point, the trade has worked out well for both parties. Rasmussen is typical of what has come out of Milwaukee’s minor-league pitching system of late, big strong guys with a high-90s fastballs and a nasty off-speed pitch to counter it. His resume this season shows him throwing just two pitches 95% of the time, his 97-mph fastball and a slider. Both pitches are working in 2022, as he has started eight games, seven of which the Rays have won, and opponents are hitting just .189 against him. A former relief option in Milwaukee, Rasmussen typically goes about five innings the Rays, taking a lot of the load off one of the most overworked bullpens in baseball. This is a pitcher who is in a good spot and doesn’t get priced like an elite starter.
Joe Ryan (Minnesota Twins)
Ryan was one of the prized prospects in the Rays' farm system in the last decade, but he is making that expected magic work for the Twins now. He has become the top option on Minnesota’s retooled staff, with his team going 6-2 in his eight starts. Like several others, he hasn’t been priced accordingly, showing up as a bigger than -145 favorite just twice to date. In his minor-league days, Ryan was known for his strikeout prowess, averaging in excess of 13 K/9 in the 2019-21 seasons. While his numbers are down a bit, even from last year at 8.7, his fastball use is also down as he’s come to rely more on his slider, changeup and curveball, a positive sign that he is becoming a better overall pitcher. That should bode well for his backers the rest of the way.