MLB Betting: Underrated Starting Pitchers for 2014

LT Profits Sports Group

Friday, April 4, 2014 4:00 AM UTC

Friday, Apr. 4, 2014 4:00 AM UTC

One key to winning in baseball betting is finding underrated pitchers that offer nice value. Here are five hurlers that figure to perform better than their odds in 2014.

We are now in the first week of the 2014 Major League Baseball season, and bettors that take the summer off while waiting for football to start up again in the fall can be missing out on some nice profits on the MLB odds. After all, baseball should theoretically be easier to beat that the ATS sports without any point spreads to worry about.

And yet many gamblers have failed miserably in this sport that only requires you to pick winners. Remember that no sport is as dependent on one position as baseball is on starting pitchers, but some losing gamblers try to stick with only ace-type pitchers and then are astonished to find themselves in a deficit even with a winning straight up record!

Other losing bettors make their selections based on common baseball statistics such as ERA and WHIP and then curse the heavens when the pitchers cannot maintain those numbers. Well there is a good explanation for both groups of losing gamblers as the first group tends to overpay for “stud” pitchers without regard to the odds, while the latter group is using stats that are as readily available to the sportsbooks as to the bettors and that are not very predictive anyway.

Just like other sports, the key to winning in baseball is finding value, and that value will not be found using conventional stats. Thus we have created a list of pitchers that we feel are underrated to start this 2014 season, and most of these selections are based on sabremetric stats, which are becoming more easily available than in recent years but are still apparently being underutilized.

Here are five of out favorite underrated pitchers for this season.

Doug Fister - Washington Nationals: Fister has always had a knack of pitching better than his record and last year was no exception as he finished at just 14-9 despite pitching for a potent offense in the Detroit Tigers! He does not expect to get the same support now as a member of the Nationals, but yet he does have a chance to break through with 18 to 20 wins in his first season in the National League provided he takes his American League form vs. better lineups to Washington with him. He is expected to make his Washington debut in early May as he is currently recuperating from a strained lat, a recovery that is reportedly going well. The mystery last season in regards to Fister was why one of if not the best offenses in all of baseball did not give him the run support it gave to the rest of the Detroit staff. Fister had great control with only 1.90 walks per nine innings and he kept the ball in the park surrendering 0.60 home runs per nine innings, contributing to a very nice 3.26 FIP and 3.42 xFIP. He also had a very good groundball rate of 54.3 percent, and that is an area where the shaky Detroit infield defense may have hurt him with too many of those ground balls becoming hits. He benefits from a better defensive infield in Washington.

Sonny Gray - Oakland Athletics: Many casual fans never heard of Sonny Gray until he tossed a couple of gems in the playoffs last season, most notably tossing eight scoreless innings while allowing only four hits and striking out nine vs. the Tigers. However, there was a lot more than his two post-season starts last year behind Grey now already being the ace of the Oakland staff with just 10 regular season starts last year under his belt. The Athletics obviously feel that Gray is the real deal and so do we. The only kink in Gray’s armor was his 2.81 walks per nine innings, but that is correctable as the still 24-year-old gets more experience and the rest of his peripherals were quite good as he averaged a whopping 9.42 strikeouts per nine innings while allowing 0.56 home runs. He also had a surprisingly good groundball rate for someone with so many strikeouts at 52.9 percent, all adding up to an exceptional 2.70 FIP and 2.92 xFIP. And the fact that his straight FIP was better than his xFIP is an indication that his success was not due to pitching in the one of the most pitcher-friendly stadiums in baseball in Oakland.

Danny Salazar - Cleveland Indians: Similar to Gray, the Indians thought so highly of Salazar as a rookie last season that they called on him to start the one-game Wild Card Playoff after just 10 Major League starts. But if you saw Salazar pitch last season, you would not know that he was a rookie and you probably came away impressed by his pitching repertoire that included a fastball that hit 100 MPH on many occasions and a biting curveball. That combination should delay the adjustments that teams usually make vs. young pitchers that they have not seen too often, and that is great news for Salazar’s supporters after the undrafted Dominican free agent posted 11.25 strikeouts per nine innings last year while finishing with a 3.16 FIP and an even better xFIP of 2.75, albeit over a limited sampling of just 54 regular season innings. Still, the potential is there for Salazar to maintain his nice sabremetrics as long as his arm can handle a heavier workload. He should be especially tough when facing teams for the first time and there are many of those remaining, but do not for a second think that his success vs. those teams should end there.

Lance Lynn - St. Louis Cardinals: Lance Lynn had many critics when he had a nice season seemingly out of the blue two years ago and we admit that we were among his detractors. However, he then followed that up with another solid season last year, a season that actually looked even better on a sabremetric scale, so we now feel that Lynn has crossed over to being undervalued with many still waiting for regression that does not figure to happen. Yes, novices will point to the fact that Lynn finished with just a 3.97 ERA last season, but as we alluded to earlier, ERA has become meaningless in this sabremetric age. A closer look reveals that Lynn was unlucky allowing a BABIP of .314, which was the eighth highest in baseball among qualifying pitchers. And yet he overcame that for the most part with a low home run rate of 0.62 per nine innings to finish with a fine 3.77 FIP and 3.45 xFIP. Remember that this is a fourth starter we are talking about here, and if he carries those FIP numbers this year, he may replace Doug Fister for the title of the “best fourth starter in baseball” among the sabremetric community, especially if Fister moves up in the rotation in his new home in Washington.

A.J. Burnett - Philadelphia Phillies: Speaking of unlucky, there was a severe disconnect between Burnett’s 10-11 record while pitching for the revitalized Pittsburgh Pirates last year and just how great he pitched most of the season. Even casual fans that look at his 3.30 ERA would attest to that. You see, Burnett showed a great ability to combine striking batters out with keeping the ball in the park, as he was among the Major League leaders among qualified hurlers with his 9.85 strikeouts per nine innings while simultaneously surrendering only 0.52 home runs per nine frames. The end result was a sparkling 2.80 FIP and 2.92 xFIP, and that landed Burnett a pretty good free agent deal with the other Major League team from Pennsylvania, the Phillies. Now, he may be pitching in more if a hitters’ park than he did in Pittsburgh, but his high strikeout rate could help minimize the impact of that switch. So if he could get better run support in Philadelphia than he did with the Pirates, he may finally become the big winner that he is supposed to be.

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