Evaluating Pitchers



With baseball season now underway, and the first FULL schedule of action set for today, this seemed like the perfect time to go over the key stats we use at JIM HURLEY'S NOTEBOOK when evaluating Major League pitchers.

First, we want to explain why we DON'T use two of the most common media stats.

  • WINS/LOSSES: this stat is often heavily influenced by run support. Much if the time it does give you a good sense of a pitcher...but when it doesn't, the errors are HUGE. Mediocre pitchers can get hot in this stat if they happen to be on the mound when their hitters explode. Strong pitchers can post losing records if they're suffering bad luck in support.

In future games...the strong pitchers are going to win because run support will regress to the mean. Mediocre pitchers will start to lose for the same exact reason. If you're betting based on won-lost records, you're going to get spanked! You want to focus on "indicator" stats that tell you about the pitcher, NOT about his run support.

  • ERA: We're okay with earned run average over a large sample size. In fact, CAREER ERA is probably one of the best indicator stats out there. What we take issue with is using current ERA for the season, or ERA over the last three games. Those sample sizes are too small...particularly if there was one bad outing that messed everything up.

A few guys from opening day will have ugly ERA's the rest of the month even if they pitch fine the rest of the way. You'd be better off THROWING OUT the outlier game rather than using current ERA as an indicator.

Look at it this way. Imagine a pitcher does this over a three-game stretch:

5 IP, 7 ER
6 IP, 1 ER
7 IP, 2 ER

That's 18 IP and 10 ER, for an ERA of 5.00. You typically will avoid a pitcher with an ERA of 5.00. But, in fact, his last two starts were solid as a rock. He looks to be back on track for success. You should be taking him!

So, if you want to be a winning handicapper NOW, stop looking at won-lost marks or ERA.

Here's what you SHOULD look at:

  • STRIKEOUTS PER NINE INNINGS: This is the single best indicator stat for a pitcher. Success, longevity, beating the line in Vegas, can all be tied into this one stat. Look at a pitcher's career mark for context, then see how things are going this season. We've found that shoulder or elbow issues often show up first in this stat...making it another great tool for handicapping. Back the guys who get K's at value prices. Look for potential injuries when volume drops.
  • INNINGS PITCHED PER START: Most guys are going to be around 6.0 for their careers. The very best will be up around 6.5 to 7.0. Pitchers who don't really deserve to be in the rotation will be at 5.5 or worse. Look at career marks for early season guidance. After about a month, use the current season numbers. This is a terrific indicator stat for seeing at a glance how good a guy really is.
  • WHIP: this is walks plus hits allowed per inning pitched. The standard mark is now around 1.3. Anyone at 1.4 or higher is usually a go-against pitcher. Those at 1.2 or less is somebody to invest in when affordable. Note how the numbers we're focusing on today have nothing to do with run support, and are able to trump the sample size issue if you're focusing on career marks at first, then season marks once you have enough action in the books. Pitchers are literally DEFINED by what we're talking about today. If you can define reality better than the oddsmakers, you're going to make some money.
  • HOME/ROAD SPLITS: We've talked often in the past about how several ballparks favor either the pitcher or the hitter. You need to know if a guy's stats are being warped by his home influence. WHIP and IP/START in particular can get a little warped if the home games are in a pitcher's paradise, or in a pitcher's nightmare. It's okay to back a guy in his pet park. He's probably figured out how to maximize his edge there. Just don't ask him to pitch great on the road in a hitter's park! We'll outline the park factors for you here in a future edition of the NOTEBOOK.
  • PITCH COUNTS: This has actually become less important over time because managers caught on to the need to protect their most prized arms. Dusty Baker is still doing his best to ruin careers. Fewer managers will take that risk. In the past, this was higher up for us. You wanted to go against anybody who cracked 115 pitches his next time out...and really load up against anyone at 120 or higher. Those thresholds rarely get reached now, and typically only do with the guys who have proven they can handle it. Still, we do encourage you to scan through this every day in the boxscores just to see if any brain farts from managers took place. You can often string together 2-3 winners going against a pitcher with a tired arm. It's worth your time!

We've made it very clear in past years that baseball handicapping isn't ALL about pitchers. Too many pundits keep saying that baseball is 80% pitching or whatever. Offense is just as important. And, we'll be talking about that once everyone's played enough games for the sample sizes to matter. We will say this though, YOU CAN'T BEAT BASEBALL IF YOU DON'T HAVE A TRUE READ ON THE PITCHERS!

Here at JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK, we've always been way ahead of the market curve in this sport. We were using the earliest stathead principles back when the revolution started a couple of decades ago. That's part of what put us on the map when we were first created. We used proper statistical principals in all sports---and that was inspired by what was happening in baseball.

We're still at the head of the pack, cashing in just as consistently now as ever. If you'd like to see how easy it is to beat the bases, sign up for service by calling 1-800-323-4453. You can also purchase game day baseball and service packages here at the website with your credit card.

From this point forward, we'll be emphasizing MLB and NBA here in the NOTEBOOK until football arrives in August. We look forward to focusing on two of our very favorite handicapping sports. MARCH MADNESS was great. Congrats to all of you who went 3-0 with us over FINAL FOUR weekend. Now, let's get down to business in baseball and pro hoops.

Among the games of interest for us tonight:

MLB: NY Yankees at Boston, Minnesota at LA Angels, Chicago Cubs at Atlanta, St. Louis ant Cincinnati.

NBA: Denver at Oklahoma City, Memphis at Dallas, Utah at Houston, San Antonio at Phoenix.

The Cavs and Lakers will be on TV again Thursday Night...and we'll have split sessions in the baseball tomorrow because of the busy get-away day schedules. What a great time to be a sports fan!

Back tomorrow with a closer look at the recent woes of the LA Lakers. Now, call JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK for a WILD WEDNESDAY!


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