6 Ways to Evaluate MLB Pitchers for Handicapping

Ways To Evaluate MLB Pitchers

I like a lot about betting on Major League Baseball games. You can evaluate 1,000’s of games over the course of the season, and this makes it easier to find the games with the best value.

But you have to learn how to evaluate pitchers effectively if you want to win.

I’m sharing the six main ways I’ve learned to evaluate MLB pitchers and pitching staffs. You’re not going to find a one size fits all evaluation method, so try to learn as multiple ways handicap pitching in MLB.

1. WHIP

WHIP is walks plus hits divided by innings pitched. ERA, or earned run average, was the main stat used to evaluate pitchers for years, along with wins.

I started betting on MLB games before WHIP was used much, but even at that time, I tracked batting average against and how many walks a pitcher gave up. WHIP isn’t the only metric you should use to evaluate pitchers, but it’s a good place to start. On average, a pitcher who gives up fewer base runners is likely to be more effective than a pitcher who gives up more base runners.

When comparing two or more pitchers with similar WHIP stats, the main thing to look for is which pitcher gives up more home runs and extra-base hits.

Please Note:
While it’s rare, a pitcher with a WHIP of 1.0 or lower is usually quite dominant. And some great pitchers have a WHIP as high as 1.20.

Like every handicapping method, there’s never a single stat or thing you can use without anything else. But you can use WHIP along with the other methods listed in this post to get a good idea about every pitcher when you evaluate them.

2. War Variations

WAR usually stands for wins above replacement. The idea is that a number can be assigned to each player that tells you how valuable a player is compared to another. So, for example, a player with a WAR of 1.0 is worth exactly one more win than a replacement-level player.

Over the past several years:
Many different types of WAR have been developed. Some of the WAR calculations do a great job helping you compare hitters. But I haven’t seen one that does a good job for pitchers yet.

I’m including WAR variations here because this post is designed to last forever. And eventually, someone is going to get pitcher WAR correct, or at least close enough to use.

But I currently don’t use any of the WAR evaluations for pitchers when I handicap games.

Instead, I use the other five things listed in this post, and they can help you learn everything you need to know about pitchers in MLB. But when a good pitcher WAR is developed, you can add it to your handicapping and evaluation.

3. Statistics by Pitch Count

It’s not easy to track pitchers this way, but it can give you an edge when it comes to the playoffs. Most pitchers are more effective the first time through the lineup than the second and third times. And most pitchers pitch better when they’re well-rested.

If you track how effective each pitcher is based on how many pitches they’ve thrown, it’s valuable in the playoffs. However, it’s not especially relevant during the regular season because managers tend to use pitchers the same way throughout the season.

But in the playoffs, managers tend to pull pitchers faster. So if you know a team has a starting pitcher and a couple of their top relievers available for a game.

Please Note:
The team might have a better chance to win based on the starting pitcher not going as deep in the game.

The other thing this might help you with is when a pitcher gets an extra day of rest during the regular season. A pitcher with an extra day of rest might be effective longer in his next start than normal.

4. Velocity and Spin Rate Considerations

When I started betting on baseball games, there wasn’t even a radar gun available in every park. You knew that Nolan Ryan threw harder than just about anyone else, but you didn’t really know how fast he was actually throwing. And spin rate wasn’t even thought of at the time.

But now, you can access velocity for every pitcher in the league and even break it down based on the type of pitch the pitcher is using. And you can also access spin rates for pitchers based on the pitch they’re using.

I’ve started using velocity and spin rate when I evaluate pitchers, and you should too. But velocity and spin rate in isolation won’t always tell you the entire story. But when you track this data and compare it by outing and time or season, you can get some excellent data for betting purposes.

For example:
A pitcher who comes out with a lower spin rate in a new season may be in trouble. A lower spin rate almost always equals a worse performance. On the other hand, if a pitcher has a new pitching coach and gets more spin rate is probably going to perform a little better.

I also track how each pitcher’s spin rate compares when they enter and leave the game. And for relief pitchers, does he have the same spin rate on the second straight day pitching, or does it fall off.

Finally:
I track spin rates and velocity throughout the season and look for pitchers who change during the season. Some pitchers maintain spin rate and velocity throughout a season, but some drop off quite a bit. Identifying a pitcher with falling spin rate and velocity can be valuable when betting on games late in the season.

It took me a few years to embrace spin rate because I’m a bit old fashioned. Don’t make the same mistake that I made. Spin rate is a valuable tool you can use to evaluate MLB pitchers.

5. ERA

I’ve seen a lot of information that claims batting average is a poor way to track hitters. But I still use it because a guy hitting .300 is better than a guy hitting .250, no matter what else he does. I’ve heard some of the same things about pitchers and ERA.

While ERA isn’t the first thing:
I consider when evaluating pitchers, I still use it for every pitcher. I also look at outliers, like bad outings, and sometimes make a small adjustment. But overall, a guy with an ERA of 2.75 is better than a guy with an ERA of 4.10.

I like to compare guys using their WHIP and ERA. A pitcher with a low WHIP and low ERA is probably a top pitcher.

But a guy with a low WHIP and high ERA is probably giving up a lot of extra base hits.

I use the other things listed in this post, but ERA and WHIP are a big part of how I evaluate pitchers in MLB.

6. Usage

I track how much each pitcher is being used throughout the season. Most pitchers perform better with a set amount of rest, and some pitchers really have their performance go down if they pitch on short rest as a starter or pitch on back-to-back days as a reliever.

But a few relief pitchers seem to be able to pitch well on the second and third day of use. Some pitchers wear down over the course of a season, and others tend to get stronger. So you need to be able to tell if a pitcher has a bad outing because of overuse or if he’s likely to bounce back after a bad outing.

The only way to make an educated guess is to be educated. However, if you track the usage for each pitcher in the league, you can quickly see how they’re performing over the season and over a recent time period. The easiest way I’ve seen to do this is using a spreadsheet.

Conclusion

If you want to win when betting on LB games, you have to learn how to evaluate pitchers. Pitching is at least as important as hitting, and many handicappers feel that pitching is the key to any winning handicapping strategy.

Please Note:
You can evaluate pitching in MLB many different ways, and no single way of evaluating pitching is good enough to win. Therefore, you have to learn several different ways to evaluate pitchers.

I always start with WHIP, but I also use velocity and spin rate when evaluating pitchers in MLB. Some of the WAR variations can help, but they’re all flawed in at least one way. Use these three things in combination with the other evaluation methods listed in this post to do a complete evaluation for every game you handicap.

PLACE YOUR BETS NOW!

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Rex Hoffman / Author

Rex Hoffman is a passionate sports writer, with over five years of experience covering sports journalism in line with the Vegas betting landscape. His favorite subjects include football, basketball, and baseball. As a Las Vegas resident, he enjoys finding an edge against the local sportsbooks and aims to share his extensive knowledge with both beginners and experienced bettors. Rex also dabbles in horse racing wagering and enjoys typical casino fare like blackjack and poker in his spare time.

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