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When to List Starting Pitchers

   by Scott Spreitzer - 05/21/2006

There's been some debate in the cyber world recently about the value of listing pitchers when making major league baseball selections.

Some say you should always list the pitcher when making a selection because you don't want to risk getting stuck with a "rag arm" if your guy gets scratched. Others say you'll have plenty of time in the computer-era to make a decision on the new pitcher and new adjusted price anyway, so why bother even risking an "action" play?

The scope of the debate was such that it seemed that many bettors believe that baseball selections are based on pitching and little else!

The reasons against playing action seemed to miss out on the fact that you can like a play regardless of the pitchers.

This got me to thinking that many of you may be in the same boat. You base your selections on the pitchers at the expense of other edges that may also be in play. Maybe you're not thinking about the offenses; about losing streaks and winning streaks; or about what part of the rotation you're dealing with for your team and the opponent.

For many, it's this simple:

*That guy's a winner, so I'm going to bet on him.

*That guy's a loser, so I’m going to the other way.

If this is the game plan, then by all means list the pitcher. You definitely don't want a late scratch in those instances. You absolutely have to list the pitchers you like and the ones you're specifically going against to make the most of that strategy. No argument there.

But, what if you've stepped back a little bit to look at the big picture. You noticed early on that the Kansas City Royals are much worse than everyone realizes, particularly on the road. You decided in the first few weeks that you were just going to go against them every time they played on the road until they won three games in a row.

Do the pitchers matter then?

At the time of this writing, the Royals are 2-20 on the road this year. The last thing somebody playing this strategy would want is to have a game scratched because of a late pitching change when you were out of pocket and had no time to get down at the adjusted price.

What if you're taking a team with a strong offense because they're likely to score in today's ballpark and weather conditions regardless of who they're facing? Does a pitching change matter then? Heck, it's probably going to help you if anything. If a worse guy gets the nod, your team may just score more runs and win by a bigger margin. An adjusted price won't scare you off in that instance.

Monitoring this debate made it clear that many folks don't look at big picture issues very much, and don't spend that much time thinking about how well or poorly offenses are suited to many environments. It can be an easy trap to fall into.

Here are my guidelines for determining whether or not you should list the pitchers or just play action. This is all based on the assumption that you don't live on your computer constantly monitoring line moves. Those who do monitor all day can almost always just list the pitchers because they'll have time to adjust on the fly if need be:

GUIDELINES:

*If your selection is strongly based on the pitcher you're taking, or the pitcher you're going against then always list the key pitcher.

*If your selection is just "mostly" based on those factors, same thing. You probably don't feel strongly enough about the other elements of the play to back a replacement pitcher. And if you're going against a guy who's really been horrible (say Jose Lima or Josh Towers so far), you definitely don't want big money going against a replacement who's probably much better.

*If your selection is based on riding out a streak or playing a big picture strategy, just use the "action" option. A late pitching change is irrelevant because you're looking at an overall strategy rather than a one-game matchup.

*If your selection is based on how an offense matches up against a generic opposing pitcher in a great scoring environment, you should probably use "action" to protect your play. You don't want the selection scratched while you were out of pocket only to find out that your team won 8-4 against the replacement.

Try to do the smart thing every time you get down on a baseball selection. And, be sure you're going beyond the basics of just handicapping the starting pitchers. Consistent winners are able to find edges beyond the mound.


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