Starting Pitchers Burning Up Bettors Money

When you are handicapping baseball one of the easiest traps to fall into is the curse of the big name pitcher. Sometimes guys who have built a reputation up over years of excellence just aren’t performing at a level that matches that reputation. If you bet on them based on what they were or can be and not what they currently are then you’re just throwing away your money. There’s no value in the bets and there’s a much better chance than you expect that you are going to lose. Here’s a look at five guys with big reputations who haven’t been doing bettors any favors this season:

Zack Greinke, Kansas City – Last year Greinke was the darling of everyone as he overcame a pile of issues – personal and team – to put together a stunningly dominant season and win the Cy Young. There is no danger that he’ll be a repeat Cy Young winner this year. He’s sporting an ugly 1-8 record, and his team is just 2-11 behind their ace. There isn’t another starter in the league who has lost backers more money this year than Greinke. Some of the blame for the problems clearly rests with the team – they are more pathetic than usual, and have already fired a manager. Beyond that, though, Greinke just isn’t pitching like last year. His ERA has climbed by almost two runs per game, and his command isn’t what it was last year. There is still reason for optimism – a walk is still as rare as ever – but for now the best thing you can do with Greinke is stay far away. There’s another unfortunate aspect that needs to be considered when you are looking at Greinke – his mental state. He has had well documented issues that could lead you to believe that he might not handle the pressure of this situation as well as some other guys.

Felix Hernandez, Seattle – King Felix and the Mariners came into the season with very high expectations, but the team has been a dismal disappointment, and they have dragged Hernandez down with them. He has been favored in 11 of his 13 starts – not surprising for a pitcher of his caliber – yet the team is just 5-8 with him on the mound. He’s had three pretty rough games during that stretch, but he’s also lacked run support to an almost criminal extent – the Mariners have scored 0 or 1 run in five of his starts.

Roy Oswalt, Houston – Oswalt wants out of Houston, and I sure can’t blame him. The Astros are just 4-8 when he pitches, so it would be easy to assume that he’s having an off year. That’s just not the case. His ERA is lower than it was in 2008 when he won 17 games, and his k/BB ratio is as brilliant as ever. What has affected Oswalt, though, is a total lack of offense. The team is dead last in the league in OPS, 29th in home runs and batting average, and 28th in runs per game. Oswalt has had 10 quality starts this year, but he would have to be superhuman to be posting great numbers given what is behind him.

CC Sabathia, New York Yankees – Sabathia’s 6-3 record may not be what the Yankees were hoping for when they shelled out the big bucks, but it’s not terrible. What’s more concerning, though, is that the team is just 7-6 when he starts. A team is supposed to play at a new level with their big ace on the mound, but the Yankees seem to actually regress when the big man takes the ball. Sabathia has a history of slow starts, and fans would point out that he’s coming around in his last couple of starts. Though the numbers have been good in those starts they hardly count – he’s pitched against Baltimore both times, so he hasn’t exactly been challenged. It would be a real concern if he weren’t pitching well against them, but he gets little credit for being strong against them. Before that he allowed five or more earned runs in three of four starts and just wasn’t what he can be. You’d be down a good amount if you had bet on him every game this year, and until he really proves he is turned around the smart move is to stay away.

Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs – Dempster was 17-6 two years ago, and people started to think of him as an ace. This year it’s just not happening, though – only Greinke has lost more money for bettors. His ERA has crept up this year, and he has given up just two fewer home runs in 12 starts than he did in 33 starts in 2008, but the problems can’t be placed entirely on Dempster. The Cubs are already 6.5 games out of the division lead and well under .500. They’d be doing much worse than third in their division if they didn’t play in such a pathetic group. Dempster is joined by Ted Lilly and Tom Gorzelanny among the 20 least profitable pitchers in the league, and Carlos Zambrano would be there as well if he hadn’t been so bad at the start of the year that he got sent to the bullpen. This is a rotation in a funk, and trusting them is hard to do.

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