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Riding Hot Young Arms

   by Bryan Leonard - 06/09/2008

Pitching is probably the most prized commodity in baseball. The baseball draft just took place and while Tampa Bay took a shortstop with the No. 1 overall pick, notice that the previous two years young pitchers went No. 1 in lefty David Price (Rays) and righty Luke Hochevar (Royals). Pitchers develop differently than offensive players and get hurt more easily, so stockpiling arms is essential.

Many times talented young starters can get the job done at the major league level, yet remain under the radar of oddsmakers, sometimes for long stretches. These kids can provide excellent wagering opportunities. Last week I pointed out some young arms in Clayton Kershaw, Justin Masterson, Edinson Volquez and Matt Garza.

I had a play on Volquez this week, backing the young wunderkind as he went into Philadelphia, a park that eats up pitchers. In my analysis I noted, “In order to have success in this homer friendly ballpark you need to be able to keep the ball on the ground and that's exactly what Edinson Volquez brings to the table. On the rare occasions when you do put wood to the bat you're very likely not going to get the ball out of the infield. Volquez has permitted just three home runs all season. He has struck out 83 batters in 68 innings of work. These Philadelphia free swingers would seem like a perfect fit for the young righty. Brett Myers made the switch from closer to starter this year but he hasn't been very effective. He has a 5.52 ERA and has allowed 116 base runners in 73.1 innings of work. Philadelphia is just 2-10 when Myers takes the mound as a favorite. Both teams hit lefties far better than right-handed starters so we likely won't see much scoring. We would rather trust the hurler who has been untouchable thus far, especially in the underdog role. Philadelphia has been very good as of late but they haven't faced the likes of Volquez.â€쳌 The Reds were an underdog, yet Volquez won again, 2-0, stifling the hot Philly bats.

Another young arm I didn’t mention last week is Oakland hurler Justin Duchscherer, a kid with a funny name but serious stuff. When the Tigers came to town, I backed the kid at a reasonable price, as it was a classic game of a lot of factors. The Tigers were a long way from home, three time zones, have been huge underachievers, were going with an ice cold starter and were facing a red-hot one, and even the umpire provided an interesting edge: “The Tigers continue to struggle offensively and we don't expect a turnaround this afternoon in Oakland. Justin Duchscherer takes the hill for the host and he has been simply outstanding thus far. In eight starts this season he has allowed two or less runs in seven games. His worst start of the season was against Atlanta when he gave up three earned runs in five innings of work.

“He's not a strikeout pitcher which doesn't hurt him in this building. Because of the large foul ball dimensions he just needs to put the ball in play to have success. He has allowed just two home runs all season and zero in his last five starts. Duchscherer owns a 1.35 ERA at home this season.

“He will be opposed by lefty Nate Robertson who has a 6.03 ERA on the road this year. In nine of his 11 starts this season he has yielded four earned runs or more. His best start of the season was when he held Kansas City to two earned runs in seven innings of work. You know what you are going to get from Robertson and most of the time it isn't good. The Tigers are on a 4-13 road run after dropping the first two games of this series. They are 7-19 in Robertson's road starts. Oakland is a very impressive 89-39 at home vs left-handed starters and have taken six of the last seven meetings at home against Detroit. While we normally don't give a great amount of thought to the home plate umpire, in this instance it cannot be overlooked. Angel Hernandez is behind the plate and the home teams in his games are an amazing 41-15. More reason to lay the small number on the A's.â€쳌 It was a laugher, all the way to the bank, as the A’s rolled, 10-2.

One final factor is when a big name pitcher goes south, especially from overuse or he’s getting up there in years. Oddsmakers have to give respect to name pitchers, but the real question serious oddsmakers need to ask is: Are they worth that respect? I had a play against Roy Oswalt for that very reason: “Roy Oswalt is simply not the same pitcher this year. We said it early on and we'll repeat it here. He has simply pitched too many innings the past four years to be effective any longer. He's not a C.C. Sabathia type of pitcher with a body to sustain the constant pounding. He's only 5'10' and he has a slight build. It's pretty incredible that he lasted this long at such a high success rate. Oswalt has 12 starts this season, he has given up three earned runs or more in 11 of those 12 starts.

“He has allowed 16 home runs in 76 innings of work. His career high came in both 2005 and 2006 when he permitted 18 dingers. In those two years he pitched 241.2 and 220.2 innings. He is two home runs shy of his record in about 1/3 of the innings. Simply put he is being priced like the old Oswalt without being the old Oswalt. Houston is in a terrible hitting slump. They have scored a grand total of eight runs in their last six games. They have been shut down by the likes of Phil Dumatrait, David Bush, Manny Parra and Kyle Loshe. Zach Duke has made quality starts in four of his last six appearances. Only the Cubs (twice) were able to get to him. He will be able to do enough to keep the Astros bats relatively silent.â€쳌 The home dog Pirates got the money, 5-2, behind the younger, lesser known pitcher. Study your pitchers, learn when to back one, and when to start fading!

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