One of the best sources of value in baseball betting – especially in the first couple of months of the season – is betting on pitchers coming off a lousy year who are returning to their full potential – or at least something close to it. The trick is, of course, that you have to be able to spot these pitchers. That’s an inexact science at best, but here are six things to consider when you are looking for these pitchers and prior to making your sports picks:
Are they healthy? – This is the biggest single reason why a pitcher can have a bad year. It’s hard to know if the pitcher is healthier this year unless you are a doctor who examines them – you certainly won’t get accurate reports from the team – but there are some clues you can use to assess. First and foremost, if the pitcher is getting a full workload right out of the gate at spring training then he’s probably at least reasonably healthy. The type of injury is also significant. Is it an isolated issue or a recurring one? Was surgery involved, and if so what is the typical rehab timeframe and prognosis? Have other pitchers of similar talent faced similar injuries? How well did they bounce back, and how long did it take them to rediscover their form?
Change in circumstances – Often times a pitcher struggles because they are getting bad advice. That could mean that a manager is using them in an odd way, or that they are working with a pitching coach that is trying to make changes that aren’t working, or that isn’t correcting mistakes that seem to be appearing. Quite often, then, a change of those circumstances can have a dramatic impact on a pitcher – especially if the pitcher was performing fairly well until he started working with the coach or manager is question. A pitcher coming off a sub-par year who is healthy and now has a new manager, a new pitching coach, or a new team around him is one to watch closely. A change in catcher could also have an impact if the pitcher and catcher didn’t seem to mesh.
Is there a good reason for their problems last year? – The best way to illustrate this is with an example. In 2010 Boston ace Josh Beckett had, for him, a very poor year – 6-6 with a 5.78 ERA, and a k/BB ratio that was well below expectations. When you look back at the year, though, two things stand out. First, he signed a massive new contract right at the beginning of the year. He admitted that he didn’t handle the pressure of that well. Second, he changed his pitch selection quite significantly – far fewer power pitches and far more cutting pitches. That’s not what made him who he was, and it had a clear impact on his effectiveness. Those are both serious problems, but they can both be easily remedied, so the positive attitude Beckett has had early in the spring in 20011 makes it seem reasonable that he could bounce back nicely. If the main problems for a pitcher are clear and reasonably easy to fix then a bounce-back season is a reasonable assumption in most cases.
Age – The younger a pitcher is, the easier it will be for him to return to form because the stronger and more resilient his body is. A pitcher who has a sub-standard year at 26 could easily be better the next year, but a guy who does it at 33 might just be wearing down. That doesn’t mean that a 34 year old pitcher can’t be great, just that the odds are lower.
Was the bullpen an issue? Is it still? – If a pitcher has a lousy record but his underlying stats are solid then there might be something else going on. The first place to look here is the number of no decisions a guy has. If he’s routinely coming out of games tied or ahead and the bullpen is blowing it for him then the issues with his record aren’t likely his fault at all. As long as the starter isn’t lasting significantly fewer innings than he used to – and forcing the bullpen to do more as a result – then bullpen issues are an unfortunate reality and not a sign of the decline in the pitcher that may have appeared to exist. The question is, then, whether the bullpen can be expected to be better this year, or if the problems that existed are likely to continue to exist.
What kind of team does he have behind him? – You only need to consider Felix Hernandez here. In 2010 Hernandez had a lousy 13-12 record. If you looked just at that you would think he had a lousy year. He won the Cy Young, though, and put up numbers that were magical, and which clearly identified him as the best pitcher in the AL. Hernandez can do anything with the ball. What he can’t do, though, is hit, or cause his teammates to produce any runs. It doesn’t matter if you are limiting your opponents to just 2.27 runs per nine innings if your team is producing less than that. Hernandez is an extreme example, but there are a lot of pitchers who have what appears to be a bad year because they played for teams that offered no run support for them. A change in those circumstances – either a improved team or a new team – could lead to much better returns for bettors this year even if the pitcher only pitches as well as last year.