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MLB Handicapping: Starting Pitcher Earners and Burners


While a starting pitcher is only one piece to the very complex equation of handicapping the MLB, they continue to account for a big chunk of the traditional moneyline price. Below we take a look at some of this season’s outlier performers — “earners” and “burners” — and analyze how to approach them from a betting perspective moving forward.

Jordan Lyles – Pirates
Betting Record: 8-1 +8.8 units
Quick Take: After failed stints as a starter with Houston and Colorado, Lyles spent much of the last three seasons pitching out of the bullpen with the occasional spot start. This year, as a full-time starter, he’s flourished with a 2.81 ERA and career-high 9.2 K per 9 rate. He’s only 28 years old but his performance thus far as been outlier-esque given his track record. Like a lot of Rockies pitchers, Lyles spent years trying to survive with a sinker. He’s since scrapped it and gone with more of a fastball/curveball approach. Pittsburgh has been the luckiest team in MLB (+6 wins) and while Lyles peripherals don’t scream regression, it’s hard to project he’ll continue on such an effective path.

Lucas Giolito – White Sox
Betting Record: 7-2 +7.5 units
Quick Take: It’s taken time for Giolito, a former top-rated prospect, to find himself. Like Lyles, he too toyed with a mediocre sinker only to scrap it in favor more fastballs and change ups. The results have been remarkable. His K per 9 rate is up from 6.5 to 10.2 per 9 innings. Now that summer has arrived, his 37% ground ball and 6.3 HR/FB rates are likely to go the other way but he remains a very attractive profile: Talented arm with zero track record of success pitching for a bottom-feeder team. Plus prices abound!

Domingo German – Yankees
Betting Record: 8-1 +6.5 units
Quick Take: Had it not been for all of New York’s injuries, German may not have even gotten a chance to toss out of the pen let alone start. He showed flashed last season with a 10.7 K per 9 rate but ran into a bit of bad luck with a 5.57 ERA and semi-respectable 4.39 FIP. This year’s .229 BABIP is a bit of a red flag but throughout his professional career, German has showcased a consistent ability to miss bats. The competition for German has been favorable and despite all of the injuries, the Yankees are an incredible 32-17. You worry about a bit of inflation if and when some of the team’s key players return.

Max Scherzer – Nationals
Betting Record: 2-9 -12.0 units
Quick Take: You rarely if ever get any bargains with Scherzer on the bump but couple his “rock star” status in the markets with Washington horrific start (19-31) and some unlucky peripherals (3.41 ERA vs. 2.33 FIP) and you have the worst starter in MLB in terms of profits. Given Washington’s historically bad bullpen, any bet on Scherzer has to be on the 5-inning line.

Chris Sale – Red Sox
Betting Record: 3-7 -10.3 units
Quick Take: After last season’s World Series run, it was well documented that Boston’s pitchers were not 100 percent to start the season. Nowhere was this more evident than Sale who sported an 8.50 ERA after four starts. The velocity was way down and bettors had a field day as Boston went 0-6 in Sale’s six April starts. Since then, Sale’s velo has returned as has his swing-and-miss ways. Over his last four starts, Sale has 51 strikeouts over just 26.1 innings. Boston went 3-1 in those games. The only problem is Sale is now in “everything is back to normal” mode. Last season, the Red Sox went 18-9 in Sale’s starts which resulted in -1.6 units.

Jacob deGrom – Mets
Betting Record: 4-6 -6.7 units
Quick Take: deGrom has turned into the poster child for the theory that starting pitchers are overvalued in the betting markets. Since the start of last season, no starter has been as dominant, yet the Mets are 18-24 -16.5 units his his starts. And despite tossing a gem the other night vs. Washington (6 IP, 1 ER), deGrom has already shown that last year’s historical performance simply can’t be duplicated as he’s already allowed five or more runs in three starts. Plus, any time you want to bet drGrom, you have to get into bed with this.

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