In last week’s column it was noted there can be great “value” in playing on up and coming starting pitchers before they become established and therefore highly priced.
There are very few secrets these days and such pitchers are harder to spot than in years past with the wide availability, and immediacy, of information whether it be scouting reports or performances in the minor leagues. It does not take long for a young stud to be highly valued after just a handful of major league starts.
One example can be found in Kansas City. Yordano Ventura has been widely acclaimed as baseball’s brightest pitching prospect. After a brief taste of the bigs in 2013 Ventura earned his way into the Royals’ rotation for 2014.
And Ventura did not disappoint in his first two starts. Against Tampa Bay and Houston, over a combined 13 innings, the youngster allowed just 1 earned run and 6 hits while walking 3 and striking out 13.
Impressive enough that in his third start, a week ago this past Sunday, April 20, Ventura and the Royals opened as 200 home favorites over Minnesota. KC had won 5 in a row, including the first two games of their series against the Twins. Although laying such a high price of two to one is rarely recommended, there was some justification for doing so.
And the public did lay the price while the “wise guys” concluded that perhaps the youngster had been valued too highly based upon just two starts. The professionals bet the underdog Twins such that Ventura closed as still a solid favorite, but priced around -180.
In addition to considering the Ventura was being priced too highly too soon the pro bettors may have also been following the long standing mathematical concept of “regression to the mean” which, loosely explained, suggests that in most instances extreme results in one direction tend to be balanced by results in the other direction such that, over time and a large number of results, the overall results tend to hover around 50/50 or within a few percentage points of .500.
Sure enough, while the general public was all too willing to lay 200 on Ventura the professional bettors took note of all the love being shown after just two starts and bet Ventura down to between -175 and -180. As could have been anticipated, but was nothing close to a certainty, Ventura had a poor outing and the Royals lost 8-3.
In his next start, April 25 in Baltimore, Ventura and the Royals were priced around pick ‘em against the Orioles and he bounced back with a gem. The Royals won 5-0 and their backers cashed a ticket in a game that did not feature much line volatility in either direction.
Just as much as we can look to back young up and coming pitchers who show signs of promise we can also look to go against youngsters who struggle early in their major league careers. Often it can be a case of rushing a pitcher with great potential but little professional experience too soon. Or perhaps the prospect has been overrated.
Detecting those pitchers may be more difficult as observers tend to be more stubborn in changing what had been a high opinion of a promising prospect and in many cases that stubbornness will prove correct down the road.
Rather than playing against such a pitcher, which often means laying a high price on the opposing team, the option of playing the game OVER the total presents a more palatable option. The expectation is the struggling pitcher may not pitch deep into the game, bringing the bullpen into play earlier than hoped for by the manager.
Some of the up and coming pitchers who have gotten off to strong starts, in addition to Ventura, would include San Diego’s Andrew Cashner, Atlanta’s Julio Teheran and Alex Wood and St. Louis righty Michael Wacha.
Keep an eye on these promising hurlers over the next month, looking to play on them when made underdogs. It would not be all that surprising if, between now and Memorial Day, these five starters collectively show a nice profit. Cashner, at 27, is the elder statesman of the group. The others are 23 years old or younger.
Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend.
Washington at Philadelphia: These NL East rivals meet for the first time this season, after starting the week separated by just a half game in the standing with each just above .500. Washington has struggled over the first month of the season whereas Philadelphia has played better than expected. The Nationals’ strength is expected to be their starting pitching but ace Stephen Strasburg and veteran Jordan Zimmermann have posted below average stats for their 11 combined starts. Rather, developing Tanner Roark has been Washington’s most effective starter with Gio Gonzalez also pitching well. The Phillies are paced by ace Cliff Lee.
AJ Burnett, signed in the offseason, has actually put up the best stats through his first 6 stats. And Cole Hamels, who started the season on the DL, pitched well in his 2014 debut last week. Both offenses have been more productive on the road than at home. Washington has played 8 OVERs and just 1 UNDER on the road. Washington’s Bryce Harper will miss this series as he was placed on the DL with an injured thumb.
Recommended plays: Washington +125 or more against Lee or Hamels; Washington +110 or more against other Philadelphia starters, including Burnett; Philadelphia -125 or less in starts by Lee or Hamels; Philadelphia +120 or more against Strasburg; UNDER 7.5 or higher if Lee, Hamels or Burnett oppose Strasburg, Roark or Gonzalez; OVER 7 or lower if none of those starters is involved.
Milwaukee at Cincinnati: These NL Central rivals meet in a four game series that starts Thursday and are opposing each other for the first time in 2014. Milwaukee started the week with the best record in baseball, 18-7. At 11-14 Cincinnati is off to a disappointing start. Both teams are deep in starting pitching. Cincinnati’s top pitchers have been Johnny Cueto and Alfredo Simon who start the week having had Quality Starts in each of their combined 10 starts. Tony Cingrani has also pitched well. All five Milwaukee starters have pitched well with each having a WHIP below 1.20.
Veteran Matt Garza (4.09) is their only starter with an ERA above 3.00. Milwaukee has been an anomaly in averaging just 2.7 runs per game through 15 home games while averaging 6.0 runs per game in 10 road contests.
Recommended plays: UNDER 7.5 or higher in any matchup; UNDER 7 if Cueto or Simon face Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse or Marco Estrada; Milwaukee as underdogs of any price not facing Cueto or Simon; Cincinnati -130 or lower in starts by Cueto or Simon against any Milwaukee starter.
Oakland at Boston: Oakland’s starting pitching has been led by youngster Sonny Gray and veterans Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez. Jon Lester and Jake Peavy have been the most effective starters for the BoSox while Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront have been awful with each taxing the bullpen. Boston’s other veteran starter, John Lackey, has been more good than bad but is not pitching at the surprisingly high level he pitched at last season.
Recommended plays: Oakland +120 or more in starts by Chavez, Gray or Kazmir against any Boston starter; Boston -140 or less with any starter not opposing Chavez, Gray or Kazmir; OVER 8 or lower in games not started by Kazmir or Boston’s Lester.
Texas at LA Angels: Texas is getting healthy with the return to their starting rotation of both Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison, both of whom missed virtually all of 2013 and started 2014 on the DL.
Recommended plays: OVER 8.5 or lower in all games except in a start by Texas’ Darvish; Texas -125 or less in a start by Darvish against any Angels starter; Texas as underdogs of any price in starts by Martin Perez or Matt Harrison against any Angels starter; Angels -130 or less not facing Yu Darvish, Perez or Harrison.
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]