Don't go after the high-priced pitchers
May 23, 2017 3:00 AM
by Jim Feist
April and May mean many novice sports bettors may look at the matchups and lean toward ace pitchers and lay the big price. But let me give you three words of advice: Don’t do it.
Baseball is unique from football and basketball in that there is no pointspread. Instead you bet merely on which team will win the game and this translates into a money-line wager.
When betting baseball, most professional handicappers look for prices that are close to even money (for example, -120, -135 favorites or +105, +130 underdogs). Bettors can also play totals where, like NFL and NBA totals, there is a pointspread set on each game and the line is usually -110 OVER or UNDER.
The reason is simple: You need to pay serious attention to money-management when wagering on sports. You may like to bet on Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Chris Sale because they are big names who win a lot, but you end up laying roughly two to three dollars. Over the long haul, you are very likely to lose money. This is why you rarely find professional handicappers giving out ace pitchers that are priced as -200 or more favorites.
And what happens when ace pitchers have an injury or a bad season? Former dominant aces Matt Harvey, Justin Verlander and Adam Wainwright have struggled this year. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey had one monster season then changed leagues, struggling in the hitter friendly AL East ever since.
Verlander has been all over the place since winning 24 games back in 2011, going 13-12, 15-12 and 5-8 in three straight seasons; 33-32 is not an ace – especially if you’re backing him as a -180 favorite.
For betting the big favorite you roughly need 66% winning percentage just to stay afloat, or in the case of Kershaw at -240, an even higher percentage.
Max Scherzer made waves with that incredible 20-strikeout game last year, but did you realize that was in the middle of a stretch where the team went 2-4? After throwing the 20-strikeout/no-walk gem in a 3-2 win, he lost 2-0 the next time out, lasting just over six innings.
And that’s the thing about aces, especially in the NL when managers may have to pinch hit for them: They don’t throw 8-9 innings every start.
There are so many factors that can come into play in baseball. For example, the wind could be blowing out, making both starting pitchers vulnerable to a lot of runs and a lot of pitches. This could mean your ace would throw 100 pitches in five innings.
If that is the case, he would be prone to tire around the 100-pitch mark, and/or the game would be turned over to the bullpen, something you hadn’t counted on. Then, all of a sudden the game is in the relief pitcher’s hands, rather than the staff ace that you were counting on to go eight innings.
A team can also fall apart defensively. A couple of ill-timed errors with two outs and two men on base via walks, and you are down 3-0. You had not factored in the errors, only the great starting pitcher.
One season Roy Halladay was a -300 favorite at home against the Pirates (as he should have been). He pitched great, allowing two runs in a complete game, but lost 2-1 as the Phillies mustered only six hits while committing three errors. In 2011 Verlander was outstanding, even throwing a no-hitter. Yet, the Tigers started 3-5 in his first eight starts – all as chalk!
Sometimes teams get pumped up to face an ace, particularly at home, and want to get a win. Another factor is that in the first half of the baseball season, lines are often set on what the pitcher did last year, not the current season. The Blue Jays, Royals and Mets have not played as well this year compared to 2016.
Meanwhile, the Reds, Rockies, Diamondbacks and Yankees have overachieved. Some of those disappointing teams will get better, but the point is, you can’t go on last year’s stats from these starters, as 2017 is a brand new season.
Also, what if the starting pitcher gets injured or there is a rain delay, and the big favorite pitcher only goes three innings? If you had known this before the game started, you probably wouldn’t have taken the big price. In baseball, look for spots with big dogs rather than the big favorites; the percentages are in your favor.