MLB Picks: Starting Pitcher Success As Correlated To OPS

Joe Gavazzi

Friday, May 22, 2015 8:39 PM GMT

Friday, May. 22, 2015 8:39 PM GMT

In this article I will show you how the OPS can be used in handicapping starting pitchers. This statistic is the sum of OBP (on base percentage) and SLG (slugging average, which is derived by dividing total bases by at bats). The combination is a team or pitcher’s OPS. 

In an article posted last week here at SBR I showed the correlation between MLB TEAM BATTING OPS and TEAM PITCHING OPS to a team’s won loss percentage. The teams with Top 8 rankings in BOTH batting and pitching OPS had 4 of the 5 best records in the league. Conversely, teams who are in the bottom 9 of both OPS batting AND pitching had 4 of the 5 worst records in the league.  

This week, I shift gears a bit to show you how the OPS can be used in handicapping starting pitchers to make MLB picks. Before the advent of the internet and a myriad of MLB statistics, the baseball handicapper looked at a pitcher’s personal record and his ERA for confirmation of his performance. Since that time, many other indicators have come into play to serve as peripheral numbers that can point to a pitcher’s success. These include WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched), K/BB (a pitcher’s strike out to walk ratio), and BAA (a pitcher’s batting average against).  

But, as MLB odds makers know, every starting pitcher also has an OPS. To review this statistic, it is the sum of OBP (on base percentage) and SLG (slugging average, which is derived by dividing total bases by at bats). The combination is a team or pitcher’s OPS. Furthermore, we are not paid on a pitcher’s personal record. The win or loss decision in betting is a function of the starter’s TRGS (team record in games started). It is those variables which I will use in the charts below to evaluate the best and worst of the 2015 MLB starters.  

Let’s begin with the starters who have the 20 lowest OPS marks and their current TRGS.   

 

 Pitcher

Team

OPS

TRGS

S. Gray

OAK

.471

4-4

S. Miller

ATL

.471

7-1

G. Richards

LAA

.484

4-2

D. Keuchel

HOU

.485

7-1

Z. Greinke

LAD

.521

6-2

F. Liriano

PIT

.533

1-6

C. Archer

TB

.534

5-4

M. Scherzer

WSH

.538

5-3

E. Volquez

KC

.538

5-3

U. Jimenez

BAL

.547

3-4

C.J. Wilson

LAA

.553

4-3

A. Harang

PHI

.568

5-3

J. Arrieta

CUB

.569

4-4

M. Harvey

NYM

.580

5-2

A.J. Burnett

PIT

.589

4-4

G. Cole

PIT

.590

5-3

J. Odorizzi

TB

.590

4-4

F. Hernandez

SEA

.594

7-1

J. Cueto

CIN

.604

5-3

M. Wacha

STL

.616

7-0

 

The combined TRGS of these pitchers is 92-57 for a record of over 60% winners. That is a number that many of you will choose to follow, and with some success. But as the season progresses, many of these pitchers, particularly the ones with an excellent TRGS, will be overrated. Pay special attention to these pitchers when they are installed as an underdog. In addition, my suggestion is to follow the six of these pitchers who have a TRGS of .500 or worse. Those would be Gray, Liriano, Jimenez, Arrieta, Burnett, and Odorizzi. These pitchers are in the rotation of teams all of whom are no better than 4 games above .500. There can be immense VALUE on these pitchers as they toil for mediocre teams. 

Now let’s turn our attention to the 22 starters all of whom have a greater than .800 OPS. These guys for the most part are getting ripped.

 

 Pitcher

Team

OPS

TRGS

R. Dickey

TOR

.806

2-6

Y. Ventura

KC

.808

3-4

J. Danks

CWS

.812

4-3

M. Garza

MIL

.813

3-5

V. Worley

PIT

.819

3-4

P. Hughes

MIN

.826

3-5

D. Duffy

KC

.827

4-4

S. Strasburg

WSH

.828

3-5

J. Shields

SD

.831

5-3

J. Williams

PHI

.840

4-4

M. Shoemaker

LAA

.842

4-3

J. Guthrie

KC

.843

5-2

R. Vogelsong

SF

.848

4-2

J. Collmenter

ARI

.856

3-5

E. Stults

ATL

.865

2-5

W. Peralta

MIL

.865

2-6

C. Tillman

BAL

.876

2-5

E. Butler

COL

.878

3-4

M. Buehrle

TOR

.886

5-3

J. Teheran

ATL

.899

5-3

J. Hellickson

ARI

.903

1-6

K. Kendrick

COL

.915

2-6

J. Marquis

CIN

.938

4-3

 

The combined record of these pitchers is 72-96 TRGS. These pitchers are all considered to be solid play against candidates. But the best group to play against may well be those who are overrated because of their .500 or better TRGS record. That group would include Danks, Shields, Shoemaker, Guthrie, Vogelsong, Buehrle, Teheran, and Marquis. You should become increasingly interested in playing against these starters when they are installed as a favorite. 

It makes good sense that the OPS is a reliable indicator of starting pitcher success. But since it does not encompass the abilities of the entire team, such as team batting OPS, it must be used IN CONJUNCTION with other indices. By this time, you’ve now realized the value of the OPS as meaningful indicator. I hope you use it to provide you with successful wagers this baseball season.

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