Chicago Cubs’ pitcher Jeff Samardzija’s 1.45 ERA wasted

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The season is nearly one quarter complete with the first major milepost, Memorial Day, rapidly approaching.

One of the major surprises of the young season has been the play of the Miami Marlins. A candidate for the team with the worst record in baseball come September, the Fish start this week in second place in the NL East with a 20-18 record, just two games behind Atlanta.

But what is most surprising about the Marlins’ start is the stark contrast between their home and road records.

Historically, home teams win about 53 or 54 percent of their games with road teams winning 46 or 47 percent. Remarkably, Miami currently has baseball’s best home record, 17-5 (77 percent) and also baseball’s worst road record, 3-13 (19 percent).

While neither pace will continue much deeper into the season it may well be worth considering, at least in the short term, playing on the Marlins at home, especially as underdogs or even as small favorites when ace Jose Fernandez or durable Tom Koehler starts. It will be too expensive to play against Miami on the road with perhaps their best chances of success being when Fernandez gets the start and is priced at +140 or more.

Starting pitching has long been the major factor that goes into handicapping a baseball game. All things being equal, except for the position or two where a manager may platoon players based on lefty/righty matchups, the largest variable on a day to day basis is the quality of the starting pitcher.

Over the past quarter century or so, and certainly over the past 50 years, the weight given to the starting pitcher has decreased owing to the increased emphasis on relief pitching. Up until the late 1960s and into the early 1970s starting pitchers went the full distance a rather healthy percentage of the time, except when pitching poorly – and even then managers often left the starter in the game.

But with free agency beginning nearly 40 years ago, which led to both higher contracts for players and more specialization in pitching roles – middle relief, long relief, set up men, closers – the bullpen has pitched a greater percentage of the ball game with much greater frequency.

Through this past Sunday night there have been 132 pitchers who have made at least 5 starts this season. Only eight are averaging at least 7 innings per start with Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto earning the title of “Ironman” with his average of 7.9 IPS.

A total of just 33 (including the above eight) are averaging at least 6.5 innings per start and just over half, 74, are averaging at least 6 innings per start. Thus the handicapping equation, while still placing a great emphasis on the starting pitcher, needs to include a factor for a team’s bullpen in addition to the weights included for offense and fielding.

While starting pitching is still the largest part of the equation the performance of a starter does not always point to the expected results. And Cueto is an excellent example. Through Sunday he’s made 8 starts this season and all 8 starts have been Quality Starts, even using my definition of a Quality Start that is more restrictive than the one generally accepted.

The most widely accepted definition of a Quality Start is a start in which a pitcher goes at least 6 innings and allows 3 earned runs or less. But that minimum equates to an ERA of 4.50. Hardly a quality start when the average team scores just over 4 runs per game.

My more restrictive definition still requires at least 6 innings to be pitched but the pitcher can allow no more than 2 earned runs. That minimum qualifying effort equates to an ERA of 3.00.

Despite Cueto going 8 for 8 using my definition of Quality Starts, and producing an ERA of 1.43 and a WHIP of 0.73, Cincinnati is just 4-4 in those starts.

Cueto is posting Cy Young Award-winning numbers but is not getting much run support to boost his win/loss record or his chances for the award (although Seattle’s Felix Hernandez did win the AL Cy Young Award a few seasons ago despite a mediocre record supported by outstanding stats).

But Cueto’s predicament is not the hard luck story of the early season.

Consider the season being fashioned by the Chicago Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija, the former Notre Dame footballer. Of Samardzija’s 8 starts this season 7 have met my definition of Quality Start and he’s averaged 7.0 innings in those 8 starts. His ERA (1.45) and WHIP (1.05) are also worthy of Cy Young Award consideration but the Cubs – as seemingly only the Cubs can do – are just 1-7 in Samardzija’s starts!

Unless the Cubs start picking it up on offense or trade Samardzija to a contending team the 29 year old might do well to consider a return to the gridiron!

Thus, despite pitching brilliantly all season, backing Samardzija would have resulted in a net loss of 6.08 units at the wagering window!

BUT (and there is always a but) had you instead played the UNDER in Samardzija’s starts you would have cashed in 6 of the 8 games with only 2 of the games going OVER.

Similarly, instead of backing Cueto in his 8 starts (which has produced the slightest of net profits, 0.32 units, with the Reds going 4-4 in those starts) his starts have produced 5 UNDERs, 2 OVERs and 1 PUSH.

So there are ways to benefit from a pitcher posting outstanding stats for a team that can’t seem to win when he is on the mound.

Next week’s column will pick up on this theme by looking at the pitchers with poor stats as starting pitchers.

Here’s a look at four series this weekend.

Atlanta at St. Louis: These teams met in Atlanta last week and the teams combined for just 18 total runs with 2 of the 3 games staying UNDER the Total as St. Louis took 2 of the 3. This series handicaps similar to last week’s as being low scoring. Atlanta is averaging just 3.2 runs per game both at home and on the road. St. Louis has been more productive at home (4.7 rpg) than on the road (3.2 rpg) but St. Louis starts the week having played just 12 home games while playing 26 on the road.

PLAYS: UNDER 7 or higher in any matchup; Atlanta +125 or more in most any matchup; Atlanta +150 or more against Adam Wainwright; St. Louis -130 or less in most any matchup; St. Louis -150 or less in a start by Wainwright.

Detroit at Boston: Detroit has been the better offensive team thus far, averaging 5.3 runs per game away from home. Boston’s offense has been basically average overall, but slightly better at home averaging 4.4 rpg. The Tigers’ rotation has been led by Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. Boston’s best starter has been Jon Lester although both John Lackey and Jake Peavy have been solid.

PLAYS: Detroit -140 or less in starts by Scherzer or Verlander not facing Lester; Detroit -125 if Scherzer, Verlander or Lester aren’t pitching; Boston +120 or more in a start by Lester not facing Scherzer or Verlander; Boston +110 or more with any starter other than Buchholz or Doubront not facing Verlander or Lester; OVER 8½ or lower in starts by Doubront or Buchholz against any Detroit starter; UNDER 7½ or higher if Lester starts against Scherzer or Verlander

Baltimore at Kansas City: In their only prior meeting in late April the Royals did win 2 of 3 games in Baltimore. 2 of the 3 games stayed UNDER the Total as the teams combined to score just 22 runs. Kansas City has a decided edge in starting pitching with James Shields, Jason Vargas and rookie Yordano Ventura each putting up significantly better stats than any Baltimore starter. Each has an ERA below 3.05 and a WHIP below 1.15 while no Baltimore starter has an ERA below 3.80 or WHIP below 1.25 from their bullpens.

PLAYS: KC -130 or less in starts by Shields, Vargas or Ventura against any Baltimore starter other than Jimenez; KC -120 or less against Jimenez; Baltimore +110 or more not opposing Shields, Vargas or Ventura; Baltimore +120 or more if Jimenez starts against any of that trio; UNDER 8 or higher if Shields, Vargas or Ventura starts against Jimenez; OVER 8½ or lower if none of those four starters is involved

Pittsburgh at NY Yankees: It’s been more than a half century but the first thought that comes to mind to many long time baseball fans when the mention of Yanks/Pirates is brought up is that tremendous seven game 1960 World Series that ended on Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the bottom of the ninth, the only time the seventh game of the World Series had ended this way. The Pirates could have a slight intangible edge in this series as the Yankees are off of four straight games against their crosstown rivals the Mets during the week.

PLAYS: Pittsburgh +140 or more in any matchup except against Tanaka; Yankees -150 or less with Tanaka against any Pittsburgh starter; Yankees -125 or less in any other matchup; UNDER 8½ or higher in most any matchup; UNDER 7½ or higher in a start by Tanaka.

Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]

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About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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