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Dead Arm Syndrome

   by Scott Spreitzer - 08/07/2006

If you've been following the advice I put forward in my last two weekly articles, you've probably noticed that many starting pitchers are starting to struggle a bit. They may not be getting rocked, but they're not pitching up to their prior levels of performance.

How would you have noticed?

If you started looking at some of the proposition bets as I suggested two articles ago, you would have noticed many high strikeout pitchers suddenly having troubles getting to their over/under number. Pitchers who used to be good for an automatic five, six, or seven strikeouts in their starts have posted some very low numbers. Randy Johnson followed up several strong outings with two goose-eggs in his last three starts!

If you started looking at the depth of teams after reading last week's article about handicapping during heat waves, you would have seen that bullpens are picking up more innings because starters are losing their effectiveness quicker.

If you're serious about making money handicapping baseball, staying on top of what's happening to all the starting pitchers is of paramount importance. Since we've been touching on the topic from different directions of late anyway, I figured today would be a good time to run through some guidelines for how to monitor each and every rotation starter.

*READ THE INJURY REPORTS: You've got to know when a guy is coming back off the disabled list, and why he was on in the first place. Even the very best pitchers aren't usually sharp in their first game back. Some guys come back too soon and make their injuries worse.

If a guy was on the DL for arm or shoulder troubles, you've got to be very cautious. If he's there because he stubbed his toe kicking a water cooler or something, it's less of an issue.

*READ THE TEAM RECAPS IN MAJOR PUBLICATIONS: The USA Today is particularly valuable to handicappers, but many other print and online publications do a great job of letting you know about injuries before the guy goes on the DL. You'll often read that a pitcher has concerns about a twinge in his elbow, or is starting to feel the effects of dead arm syndrome. A team will often let the guy go one more start to make sure there's a real problem. More often than not, it IS a real problem, and you can make money knowing that he's going to have troubles pitching up to expectations.

At the very least, you should mark all of these reports with a yellow highlighter. I suggest keeping a notebook so you can reference any comments you see about starting pitchers.

*STAY UP TO SPEED: Check out the speed gun readings when you're watching the games on TV. Most networks show you the MPH of every pitch after it's thrown. Often the first early warning sign that trouble is on the way is when a fastball pitcher loses 3-5 MPH off his heater. That's already happened to a few guys this year.

Even if you can't watch 10 games at once, get in the habit of looking at the speed gun numbers in the games you are watching. It can't hurt and it might help you a lot when you see something the oddsmakers miss.

*GRADE EACH OUTING: There are countless ways to do this. A handy method I've come up with is to add up the hits and walks that each starting pitcher allows, then subtract the number of strikeouts. You can really get an idea of which pitchers are fooling hitters and which starters are there for the taking.

If you keep track of this for each pitcher you can literally see in this little number when a guy starts to lose his effectiveness. He'll have a string of five starts that will go -4, -2, +1, +3, +7. Nobody was making consistent contact, then the trouble started. Many website matchup formats show you what each starting pitcher did in his last 3, 5, or 7 starts. If you don't have the discipline to keep track of all the numbers yourself, be sure you scan these matchup reports to look for changing trends.

I can honestly say that about 15-20 current rotation starters have been moving in the wrong direction in the past two weeks. You may not think that's much out of 150 guys (5 for each of the 30 teams). But it works out to about one guy per day on average who's not likely to live up to oddsmaker expectations. With the difference between winning money and losing money what it is, this can have a HUGE impact on your bankroll.

How do you take advantage of anything you find? Many options:

*Go against the fading pitcher if he's a favorite or a small dog.

*Take the total to go 'Over'.

*Take the opponent's 'team total' to go 'Over'.

*Take the pitcher's strikeout proposition to go 'Under'.

*Take the opposing team in the staff vs. staff strikeout proposition.

Now, I wouldn't advise doing all of those at once. If the guy pitches great you go 0-5! Pick one option that offers the most value based on your analysis and focus on that one. Consider the opposing hitters, the ballpark, the weather, and the umpire if you know who it's going to be. All of that will help you decide if it's better to ask for a high scoring game (taking the Over), or if it's just better to focus on a proposition (Under the strikeout number).

With so many pitchers starting to break down, or get worn down by the heat, this kind of emphasis is CRITICAL for your handicapping success the next two months.

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