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Evaluating New Pitchers

   by Scott Spreitzer - 06/15/2009

We’ve had a rash of young (and not so young) pitchers getting starts lately Major League Baseball. It’s very difficult for handicappers of all types to make proper decisions when a guy they’ve never heard of gets a start.

The public tends to automatically bet against a new starter. They figure if he was any good, he would have been starting already! Of course, all eventual stars were no-names at some point. Sometimes the off-rotation starter is a stiff who’s going to get rocked. Sometimes he’s the next big thing.

Professional wagerers are better informed, but they still make some mistakes. They’ll bet heavily on a guy who had great stats in the minors only to find he’s not ready to shine in the majors just yet.

What’s the right approach?

Here are some guidelines I follow:

*Look to go against any long reliever who’s getting a spot start because of an injury or a doubleheader. Long relievers are rarely “buddingâ€쳌 stars who are about to take the sport by storm. These days, franchises keep their best young arms in the minors working in a normal rotation until it’s time to call them up. The public basically treats all middle relievers like no-names because they weren't listed as starters before. There’s a BIG difference between a journeyman long reliever and a promising call-up, even if they both seem like no-names to casual fans. You need to think of any middle reliever as a guy who’s likely to allow a few runs, and probably only go five innings.

*Look to go against any minor league call up who has unimpressive numbers in the minors. You’d be surprised how often guys like this get a look. Bad teams are out of arms and they need to start SOMEBODY! Well, if the guy wasn’t getting people out consistently at Double A or Triple A, he’s unlikely to thrive in the majors right away. I’ve noticed in recent years a lot of really tall pitchers, or guys with tricky deliveries will get shots even with mediocre minor league stats. The team is hoping to steal a few good innings with the element of surprise. It doesn’t work very often.

*Look to take minor league call-ups with a lot of buzz. Thanks to the internet and fantasy baseball, there’s a lot more coverage of young pitchers than there used to be. The guys who rank high on prospect lists and who are posting good stats in the minors are likely to do better than the public realizes at first. Remember, the odds are primarily based on public perception and the public will bet against anybody they haven’t heard of. The public isn’t reading the reports on potential phenoms. You need to be! It’s become very clear in recent years that professional wagerers are reading these reports. You’ll often see “steamâ€쳌 (big line moves) in the direction of young hotshots because professional wagerers think they’re going to succeed. The pro’s are right more than they’re wrong.

*Emphasize strikeout stats when evaluating a pitcher. Statheads have known for years that there’s a strong correlation between strikeouts and long term success. If you see a guy has 7.0 K’s per nine innings or higher (and the young phenoms are A LOT HIGHER in the minor leagues), he’s a pitcher you want to invest in. Pitchers with K per nine inning ratios of 5.0 or less are likely to be shaky. Some middle relief emergency starters have numbers that bad. Blowout fodder. Personally, I put more weight on strikeouts than I do ERA when evaluating new starters.

*Pay close attention to walks. Pitchers with control trouble in the minors won’t see that disappear in the majors. If anything, it gets worse at first because top notch hitters know how to work a count. Don’t invest in high walk pitchers. They put too many guys on base, and they don’t last deep into games. If they manage to walk a tightrope for five innings, they’re replaced by a poor middle reliever who might blow the game for you anyway.

In short:

TAKE pitchers with high K-rates and impressive overall stats. Trust the buzz with hot prospects.

PASS if a pitcher with a high K-rate also has a high walk rate.

GO AGAINST pitchers with poor K-rates, which will cover many middle relievers getting a spot start.

GO AGAINST pitchers with mediocre minor league stats, especially if walks are a problem

As a general rule, the public goes against too many “takeâ€쳌 and “passâ€쳌 pitchers because of their knee jerk reaction to bet against anyone they haven’t heard of. This prevents them from posting a solid win percentage even if they do win some blowouts against the worst of the no-names.

Hey, it’s only June. There are going to be a lot MORE of these pitchers you’ve never heard of getting starts the rest of this season! Hopefully, these thoughts will help you stay in the black.

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