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Bad pitching can have its advantages

May 28, 2002 9:48 AM

When marquee pitchers take the mound, TV loves to follow. This is why many of the nationally televised baseball games feature ace pitchers such as Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.

Aces are a rare commodity and you have to lay a lot of juice at the betting window. Just last week, Randy Johnson was a minus $2.70 favorite at home over the Giants. Johnson pitched well and got the money in a 9-4 Arizona win, but on the same night Jamie Moyer was a minus $2.40 favorite over Tampa Bay and lost 1-0.

There’s little value in backing huge favorites because your betting bankroll takes a serious beating when they lose.

Smart wagering often requires creative thinking. This is why it can be advantageous to flip things around and look at bad pitchers to bet against. Like a smart shopper who clips coupons, it can be cheaper to back bad pitchers and often more profitable

The qualities that encompass bad starting pitching can be organized into three categories:

  1. Too many walks.

  2. Injuries.

  3. Bad outings.

Walks are the cardinal sin of pitchers. It’s not easy for a batter to get on base. A guy who is a .300 hitter makes an out seven out of 10 at-bats. Smart athletes and pitching coaches know that throwing strikes and getting ahead of batters is the key to successful pitching.

Schilling is a great example. The Arizona standout gave up a league-leading 37 home runs last year, but was 22-6 with a 2.98 ERA and walked only 39 in 256 innings. Schilling isn’t concerned with giving up home runs, but is smart enough to know the value of not allowing free passes.

The Cubs have had an anemic offense and pitcher Jacob Cruz has suffered. The 23-year old Cruz is a highly heralded prospect with a very respectable 3.74 ERA. But he started the season 0-7 because of a poor offense and wildness. In 45 innings, Cruz hit six batters and walked 31. Cruz was a favorite in his first five starts and the Cubs lost them all (he was a minus $1.60 favorite once and a minus $1.35 favorite twice). At 23, Cruz has to be frustrated, but he did finally win his last outing against Pittsburgh.

The Cubs and Brewers are fighting for last-place in the NL Central, and Milwaukee has a pair of wild starting hurlers who have been terrific to wager against in 23-year old Ruben Quevedo and 21-year old Nick Neugebauer.

Quevedo has walked 111 batters in 192 career innings, which has contributed to an 8-20 career record in the big leagues. The Brewers are 2-8 in games Quevedo has started this season. Quevedo leads the club in walks allowed, just ahead of Neugebauer, who started 1-6 and walked 32 in 41 career innings.

Their lack of control, young ages and Milwaukee’s homer-friendly ballpark could combine to eat away their confidence.

Lefty David Williams of the Pirates has had a poor combination of walks, hit batters and home runs allowed. In his first seven starts, Williams pitched 33 innings and allowed 20 walks, four hit batters and eight home runs. That’s nearly a walk, hit batter or home run given up every inning. Williams has allowed 52 baserunners in 33 innings and Pittsburgh has gone 2-5 in his starts.

The two worst teams in the American League, Detroit and Tampa Bay, are home to three pitchers who have been getting shelled.

The Tigers have a pitcher-friendly ballpark, which makes it hard to explain the poor performances of Mark Redman and Nate Cornejo. Redman (88 baserunners in 59 innings pitched) and Cornejo (70 base-runners in 38 IP) have combined to go 2-9. Tampa Bay’s Tanyon Sturtze has allowed 100 baserunners in 55 IP. Since an opening-day win over the pitiful Tigers, the Devil Rays are 1-7 in his starts.

There are several pitchers who can be classified as not being 100 percent. Jason Bere of the Cubs has had shoulder injuries in recent years, and has an ERA over six while the Cubs went 1-8 in his first nine starts. Toronto’s Luke Prokopec has been rumored to be hurting and he certainly has pitched like it (an ERA over seven, a 2-7 team record, 0-4 at home).

Cleveland pitcher Chuck Finley has had to endure an embarrassing, well-publicized divorce. So, it’s not surprising that Finley isn’t very focused. Finley, owning a 4.77 ERA, has allowed 90 baserunners in 51 innings. The Indians have lost seven of his nine starts.

G. STEPHENSON

Also, St. Louis RHP Garrett Stephenson is coming off shoulder surgery. Bottom line: It’s not always the guys you want to bet for, but the ones against that can cash those winning tickets in the books.