Examining baseball pitchers that have overachieved early

May 17, 2011 6:06 AM

Last week, I wrote about a handful of MLB starting pitchers that were good candidates to ‘buy low’ following a rough start to the season. In this week’s article, I’ll look at the other end of the spectrum, examining pitchers that have overachieved early, poised for a steady decline in the weeks and months to come.

I’ve also included a handful of pitchers that were solid in 2010, but look to have fallen off the cliff in the current campaign. Those pitchers haven’t attracted many supporters so far this year, but there is still what I call ‘residual value’ betting against them. The betting markets still offer some level of support for a ‘name’ hurler who has made money in the recent past, even if those hurlers have completely lost their mojo.

It’s worth noting that when I’m recommending a ‘buy’ sign or a ‘sell’ sign on a pitcher, it’s every bit as valid for totals as it is for sides. ‘Buy’ pitchers are solid candidates to cash Under tickets, while ‘sell’ pitchers tend to be good bets for Over wagers.

As I wrote last week, it’s not about how good any given starting pitcher actually is. The key for success in MLB is identifying how appropriately that pitcher is being priced by the betting markets. Beating the modern betting marketplace is about identifying ‘value’ squads (and in MLB, identifying ‘value’ pitchers) – both good and bad – that are mispriced in the short to medium term.

So, without further ado, let’s look at some starting pitchers who look more than a tad bit over-rated by bettors seven weeks into the young season.

Yovani Gallardo, Brewers

I’ve bet against Yovani Gallardo multiple times already this young MLB season, cashing in against the Brewers and on the Over with Gallardo on the hill. There’s absolutely no reason to jump off the anti-Gallardo train despite the fact that he’s put together back-to-back quality efforts in his last two trips to the hill. And with Gallardo leading the team in both wins and innings pitched so far this season, the betting marketplace is likely to be behind the curve recognizing his 2011 decline.

The numbers don’t lie. Over a five start span in April and May, Gallardo got hammered repeatedly: 44 hits, 12 walks and 26 earned runs allowed in just 26.1 innings of work. Relatively light hitting opponents like the Astros, Nationals and Cubs all teed off against him during that time.

Gallardo’s last two starts since that awful quintet have been solid, throwing eight innings of scoreless ball against the Cardinals and six innings of two run ball against the Pirates. The Cardinals game was something of an aberration. Gallardo’s stuff wasn’t particularly nasty, but every time St. Louis hit the ball hard, it was right at somebody.

The Pirates didn’t score a single run in three games against Gallardo last year, but they hit him fairly hard this past weekend, finally ending their scoreless drought against him. And the fact that Gallardo continued to struggle with his control (seven walks) in two games where he had his ‘good’ stuff makes this bettor excited about the prospect of fading him as the weather heats up. It’s surely worth noting that for his career, Gallardo’s post All-Star break ERA is 4.60, in sharp contrast to his pre-break 3.21 career ERA, not a pitcher with a history of strong second halves.

Colby Lewis, Rangers

Lewis was a difference maker for the Rangers on their way to winning the pennant for the first time in team history last year. He notched 196 strikeouts while eating up more than 200 innings; finishing the season with a 3.72 ERA despite making 14 starts at hitter friendly Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. For a journeyman hurler who hadn’t pitched more than 37 innings in the big leagues in any season since 2003, the wear and tear of a 201 inning season has clearly had a negative effect on his performance so far in 2011.

Lewis has seen his fastball velocity decline from last year in his first seven starts of the campaign. He’s been extremely vulnerable to the gopher ball, allowing at least one home run in every single outing so far this season – 12 dingers in just 45.1 innings of work. That stands in sharp contrast to his ‘one home run allowed every ten innings’ stat from last year.

To make matters even more attractive for savvy bettors, Lewis enters the week coming off consecutive quality starts against truly anemic offenses – the A’s twice and Mariners once.

Kyle Drabek, Blue Jays

Drabek was a first round draft choice for the Phillies back in 2006, but his rise through the minors was derailed by Tommy John surgery. Still, the Blue Jays wanted him badly – he was a centerpiece of the trade that sent Doc Halladay to Philadelphia. He was the ‘Eastern League Pitcher of the Year’ in the minors last season and threw a pair of quality starts in three tries following his September call-up to the big leagues.

As a result of last year’s success, there was some hype surrounding Drabek entering the 2011 campaign. After throwing seven innings of one hit ball against the Twins in his debut followed by another quality outing in a win against the Angels, that hoopla only grew stronger. But the results haven’t lived up to the reputation, and Drabek has only one quality start in his last six trips to the hill with a 6.30 ERA during that span.

Drabek has walked 28 batters while notching only 33 strikeouts; a ratio that clearly shows he’s nibbling the corners as opposed to challenging hitters. And Drabek’s pitch counts have been consistently high. He threw 105 + pitches in ach of his last two starts while only recording two sixth inning outs in the process.

Javier Vazquez, Marlins

Javier Vazquez is a classic case of ‘residual value’ offering us excellent prices to fade him. Vazquez has been a solid major league starter since his tenure with the Expos back in the late 90’s. He has done one thing extremely well throughout the course of his career – eat innings. From 2000 to 2009, Vazquez threw for 200+ innings nine times. That elusive tenth year? 198 innings of work!

But here in his 14th season in the big leagues, with more than 2,600 innings under his belt, it’s clear that Vazquez is slowing down. He’s played for four different teams in the last four years.

The numbers don’t lie: Javy Vazquez has only one quality start in eight tries this season. He’s allowed 39 runs in 39.1 innings of work. Vazquez has no strikeout pitch these days, notching only 20 K’s for the year.