Handicapping Rookie Pitcher Hype

Every year in baseball there are a couple of rookie pitchers who absolutely explode onto the scene. They may or may not have been highly heralded before the season starts, but by June they have piled up the wins, scorched the radar guns, and garnered miles and miles of headlines. Sometimes these hot rookies turn into hot aces. Other times, though, their stars have burnt out by the time August or September rolls around. If you can spot the MLB rookies who aren’t likely to live up to the hype then you have a good shot at getting some value from your sports picks thanks to the adoring, headline following betting public. Here are six questions for baseball handicappers to ask to help spot when a rookie pitcher’s 15 minutes of fame could be about to end:

Is he getting starts on regular intervals? – Rookies can struggle to deal with the intensity and strain of the major leagues. Sure, they have pitched regularly in the minor leagues, but things are far more demanding in the pros. If a pitcher isn’t able to hold up physically then he obviously isn’t going to remain at the top of his effectiveness. One of the first signs that a pitcher is having troubles is if his starts get pushed back a day or two with any regularity. Sometimes changes to the rotation happen for good reasons, but if there is no clear reason why changes are happening but a pitcher seems to miss starts more than once then it could be a sign of big problems down the road.

Is his velocity holding up? – A lot of young pitchers don’t rely on subtlety to gain an edge. They try to overpower opposing batters, not trick them. If their velocity suffers, then, they are going to lose effectiveness. If you can track down the velocity of pitchers during games you can make valuable comparisons to see how they are holding up. I like to do three comparisons – the average speed of the three fastest fastballs, the average speed of the 10 fastest fastballs, and the difference between the average of the 10 fastest fastballs and the changeups. If any or all of those three stats are declining as the season goes along then it is a clear sign that the pitcher is feeling wear and tear and is likely going to lose some effectiveness as time progresses.

How consistent is he? – When you think of a good veteran pitcher you think of the ones who are reasonably reliable and trustworthy from game to game. They obviously have better or worse days, but they are generally in the same range in terms of accuracy, velocity, and confidence. Is the rookie like that, or is he all over the place? I’m far less impressed by a rookie who has a couple of amazing standout games among some less impressive ones than I am by one who is consistently impressive.

Are key stats holding up? – I like to track WHIP and k/BB for rookie pitchers on a game by game basis. They will obviously change from game to game, but you are looking for them to fall within a reasonable range. If those stats are getting less impressive as time passes, though, then there could be a problem. Like I said before, consistency is key.

Who has he played? – I am far less impressed by a rookie putting up huge numbers if those performances have been against lousy teams that can’t hit than I would be if they have come against the top teams in the AL East or NL Central. It’s crucial but often overlooked to consider the opponent and the context of the stats.

How is he performing on the road? – Most pitchers aren’t as good on the road as they are at home. With a rookie, though, you should be concerned if the game between home and away are particularly big. Rookies aren’t as settled into home routines, and they don’t have big reputations that will fuel opposing crowds, so they shouldn’t face as many hurdles on the road as established veterans can. If they struggle on the road, then, it could be a sign of some bigger issues – like they only suit a particular type of ballpark, or they have faced easy teams at home.

Has he faced any team twice yet? – If a rookie comes into the league with a nasty pitch or a unique delivery then he can have his way with teams early on because they have never seen him and they don’t know how to deal with him. MLB teams are very good at scouting and learning from the past, though, so the second time he faces a team they will be ready for him. If a pitcher can still have a big day in those circumstances then he could be something impressive. If he struggles the first time he makes a repeat showing against a ball team, though, then it could be a good time to jump off the bandwagon and look at other pitchers to bet on.

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