7 MLB Starting Pitcher Handicapping Techniques

Jacob Degrom Of MLB Mets Pitching

If your goal is to learn how to become a winning Major League Baseball gambler, you have to figure out how to properly evaluating starting pitchers. You start with the popular stats like ERA and WHIP, but effective pitcher handicapping goes much deeper than these statistics.

I’ve put a list of seven techniques I use that aren’t used by most baseball handicappers.

You can use these in addition to the popular statistics to give you an advantage over other sports bettors, and hopefully over the online sportsbooks as well.

1 – Groundball Rate and Tendencies

Most baseball gamblers don’t consider groundball rates and tendencies, but I find it to be one of the most valuable things you can use when evaluating starting pitchers. I don’t know exactly why more people don’t use this information, but if you’re not using it now you’re not doing everything you can to beat the MLB sportsbooks.

Groundballs aren’t as exciting to most fans as strikeouts, but they’re a good indication of how effective starting pitchers are.

Jose Iglesias Of Detroit Tigers Catching Ground Ball

Groundballs are often outs, and sometimes they turn into two outs when the team turns a double play. Groundballs that go for hits are usually singles, so a high rate of groundballs makes it harder for the opposing team to score runs.

The best groundball pitchers also tend to throw fewer pitches per inning than power pitchers, because they can get a groundball out on the first or second pitch of an at bat. A strikeout requires at least three pitches, and usually quite a few more.

When a pitcher gets a groundball he gives his defense an opportunity to get an out.

When a runner is on first base, a groundball can produce two outs. A double play is one of the most powerful things a defense can produce. Just like a home run can crush the opposing team, a double play can end a scoring opportunity.

It’s also helpful to identify the starting pitchers that do a better job of getting a double play when they need it. Some pitchers are able to get a groundball when they need one, even if they don’t have a high groundball rate normally. You won’t be able to learn this from the stats, but if you watch a lot of games it’s something you can see.

Start building a database that includes all of the groundball rates for pitchers in the league. Use it for every game you’re evaluating to help you get a true picture of what you can expect from the starting pitchers.

2 – Wins Still Matter

I constantly see supposed experts claim that wins and losses are a bad way to judge a pitcher’s performance.

While I understand why many people say this, the fact is that they’re wrong when it comes to handicapping MLB starting pitchers.

The people who say that wins aren’t important say that there are too many things out of the starting pitcher’s control when it comes to wins and losses. The offense has to score runs and the bullpen has to hold a lead.

But starting pitchers do have a great deal of control over wins and losses.

  • A starting pitcher who hands the game over to the bullpen with a lead is going to win more games than one who doesn’t.
  • A starting pitcher that battles even when he doesn’t have his best stuff and keeps his team in the game gives his team a better chance to win.

You simply can’t ignore these things when you’re handicapping games. I always look at all of the other stats that are available, but I still want to know which starting pitcher wins more games. Wins and losses still matter, and if you ignore them as a handicapper you’re costing yourself money.

3 – Slugging Percentage Against

One of the popular stats for hitter is slugging percentage. Many handicappers use slugging percentage when they evaluate games.

So why doesn’t anyone use slugging percentage against for pitchers?

Slugging percentage is simply a calculation of total bases divided by at bats. It’s a great way to compare two or more players that shows how much power they have in their game.

Miguel Cabrera Hitting Ball With Solid Contact

When you look at slugging percentage against for pitchers it shows which pitchers give up a higher percentage of extra base hits.

This is valuable because extra base hits are more likely to result in runs scored than singles.

Start tracking slugging percentage against for every pitcher in the league and you’re going to improve your handicapping skills.

4 – Park Factors and Performance

If you’re not tracking how different parks influence starting pitchers in MLB you’re missing a big key to effective handicapping. Some parks help hitters more and some help pitchers more.

But you need to dig even deeper than overall park factors. You have to look at the performance for specific pitchers in specific parks. The easiest ones to evaluate are pitchers in their home park. But you also need to look at home and road splits for every pitcher.

Please Note:
Some starting pitchers only make one or two starts a year in individual road parks each year, so you have to do your best to predict how they’re going to perform.

One way to do this is to look at how they pitched in the park over the last two or three years. Another way is to see how they performed in parks with a similar overall park factor.

Some parks are known as hitter’s parks and others are known as pitcher’s parks. But never make the mistake of believing these things just because everyone says them. Take a look at the actual numbers each season to make accurate evaluations.

You also have to consider the pitching staff strength when doing this. The best way to get a true picture of park factors is to look at home and road stats for each park.

5 – Strikes and Balls

I like pitchers that throw a lot of strikes. Defenses tend to play better behind pitchers that throw a high percentage of strikes, and the higher the strike to ball ratio, the lower number of walks the pitcher tends to give up.

Oakland Athletics Striking Out

You should track the strike to ball ratio or percentage for every pitcher in the league. Pitchers that throw more strikes usually work deeper into games because they keep their pitch count low and work through innings faster.

6 – Bullpen Stress

When you’re evaluating MLB games for betting purposes you can’t just look at starting pitchers. The bullpens have as much to do with winning and losing games as the starters in many games. This means you need to learn how to evaluate how much stress the starting pitcher puts on the bullpen.

A starter that only goes five innings puts more stress on the bullpen than a guy who throws seven innings.

In general, a starting pitcher who regularly works deeper into games has more success.

When the starter works deeper into games he helps his team by letting them skip using their weakest relievers.

The weakest pitchers on the team are usually the long relievers. The strongest pitchers in the bullpen usually work the end of games. When a starter hands the game over to the back of the bullpen he gives his team a good chance to win.

7 – Average Velocity by Start

One of the best ways to evaluate pitchers for upcoming starts is to track their velocity in their previous starts. Some pitchers get stronger as the season progresses and others wear down. It’s valuable to know which way each starting pitcher is trending.

Velocity isn’t the only thing that influences how effective a starting pitcher is, but it’s usually a bad sign when the average velocity starts to drop.

San Diego Padres Pitching Velocity

Most pitchers have a hard time adjusting when their velocity goes down, because instead of getting soft contact they start getting more hard contact.

It’s also helpful to see how each starting pitcher’s velocity changes over the course of games.

Are they throwing as hard in the fifth and sixth innings as they were in the first two?

This can help you predict how deep they’re going to pitch in upcoming games.

Conclusion

Don’t make the mistake that most bettors make when betting on MLB and just look at the popular pitching stats. Spend a few extra minutes evaluating starting pitchers for each game on the schedule and you’re going to find more value, which leads to more winning wagers.

When you evaluate groundball rates, slugging percentage against, and average velocity you have a more complete picture of what to expect in the next game. Use every advantage you can find to beat the sportsbooks.

Sub Categories:
All Tags:
mlb betting
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.