Early in the season, pitchers are still building up arm strength, trying to refine their command, and work out the early season kinks. In most cases, it’s too early to be worried about pitchers if they have a bad outing or two. There are some cases, however, where continuing trends and poor performance are not only indicative of what the season could hold but potentially the signs of an impending injury.
An easy example to cherry pick is TampaBay’s Matt Moore. Moore spent 36 days on the disabled list last season with elbow discomfort. One of the biggest advancements in statistical analysis has been the ability to not only predict pitcher injuries, but use the data to see if a pitcher may, in fact, already be hurt. Nobody likes to see injuries and it’s always unfortunate to see a promising pitcher go down. In Moore’s case, this seemed to be coming down the pike and it’s something that bettors can use to their advantage, as ill-intentioned as it may be.
Moore was exhibiting signs of arm trouble last season. His average fastball velocity fell by nearly two miles per hour. The percentage of pitches he threw in the strike zone fell by nearly four percent. There are a myriad of reasons why that could be the case, but often a lack of control is a pitcher manipulating his mechanics to throw as pain-free as possible.
In Moore’s case, the scary trends from 2013 were too much for him to overcome in 2014. His first-pitch strike percentage dropped nearly 10 percent and it was just 45.5 percent in his first two starts. His Zone%, or percentage of pitches in the strike zone, fell from 48.4 percent in 2012 to 44.3 percent in 2013 to 37.9 percent in 2014. The velocity drop to below 92 mph was just the icing on the cake.
Sadly, Moore is headed the disabled list as the Rays were 0-2 in Moore starts. He didn’t pitch bad, per se, but it was clear that the control and command were not there and it was going to get worse. He was a pitcher I isolated in my Tampa Bay Rays season preview as being a guy to watch.
As bettors, we want to find any edge that we can over the sportsbooks and this type of pitcher analysis is one way to do so. There are other pitchers out there to be concerned about that bettors may be able to make money off of before they get straightened out or head to the disabled list. Here are a few of those guys:
CC Sabathia (NYY) – The big southpaw has a lot of red flags in his statistical profile that bettors may be able to capitalize on. For one thing, his velocity has fallen yet again this season. He’s not even reaching 90 on a consistent basis. His reliance on the slider has lowered his Zone% to 38 percent. Sabathia is trending towards having a negative fastball value for the third consecutive season.
In terms of always fading Sabathia, hold off on that notion, but do look to fade Sabathia against patient lineups. At the current stage of his career, Sabathia has a slider, good fastball control, and not much else. There is a correlation between slider reliance and injury, so keep that in mind as well. Sabathia recorded just seven whiffs (swings and misses) against Toronto in his start on Sunday. The Yankees are a poor defensive team on the infield. If Sabathia’s prices on the market continue to be inflated, feel free to go against him.
Wandy Rodriguez (PIT) – Wandy Rodriguez could have had Tommy John surgery last season but opted to try rest and rehab at age 35 instead of go the major surgery route. It’s unclear at this point what effect that will have on his longevity, but the early returns don’t look good.
In his first start, Rodriguez managed a first-pitch strike to just 10 of the 23 batters that he faced. With a career Zone% of 49.3 percent, Rodriguez carved out a decent niche as a reliable, middle-of-the-rotation starter. In his first start of 2014, just 40.9 percent of his tosses were in the zone and he failed to touch 90 all day. His velocity fell off late in his start, which is an indicator of potential trouble down the road.
The most concerning development was that his release point was all over the place. It’s possible that he was just trying to give the Cubs some different looks, but it’s more likely that he’s trying to milk the last drops out of his elbow and trying to find a way to throw as pain-free as possible. If the Pirates prove to be a decent team, going against Rodriguez could be very profitable.
This was written prior to Wandy Rodriguez’s start on Wednesday night against the Cubs. Rodriguez exhibited poor body language on the mound and ran into trouble in the fifth as his pitch count had climbed. If he stays off the disabled list, continue to go against him.
John Lackey (BOS) – John Lackey was a big surprise for the Red Sox last season when he came back from major surgery to post 189.2 innings with a 3.52 ERA for the World Champions. Lackey also threw 26 postseason innings. That was a large workload for a guy who missed the entire 2012 season.
So far, Lackey has been impressive en route to a 2-0 start. Look deeper at his performance however and signs of regression are already popping up. Lackey was unable to maintain his velocity throughout Monday’s start. More concerning is that Lackey worked in the middle of the plate around the belt far too often. That’s the second straight game like that for Lackey with a lot of pitches down the middle and declining velocity.
His good start should provide plenty of value for going against him in the future.
This is one of the ways to gain an edge over the oddsmakers with baseball. Others use weather, umpires, and trends. Starting pitchers dictate a lot about each and every baseball bet, so it’s important to understand what they’re capable of, what problems they may face, and any regression that is possible. Hiding an injury or being at increased risk for injury is something that a lot of pitchers face at some point during the season. Finding those guys and finding good opportunities to bet against them is sure to help your bankroll.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.