Baseball Pitchers: A Different Breed

Jim at Fenway CROPPEDby Jim Feist

Baseball is very much a thinking man’s game, be it the battle between the pitcher and the hitter or managers making adjustments in the field and utilizing their bullpens, to sports bettors trying to beat the oddsmakers each day. This is an age of specialization for baseball pitchers. You have starters, closers, middle relievers, long relief, set-up men and lefty specialists. Some pitchers feel more comfortable and excel in the role of set-up man than closer, for example.

It can all seem overwhelming and even silly at times. I recall an interview with a pitcher a few years ago who was asked about what his role would be on the team. He looked strangely at the inquisitor. “A pitcher’s role,” he said, “is to get guys out.” If more hurlers simplified things like that, we might see better pitching league-wide.

Pitchers are a unique breed in the sports world. One thing to keep in mind during the baseball season, especially early on, is that pitchers can perform very differently year to year, for a variety of reasons.  images

The Red Sox paid big bucks for an ace when they signed David Price this offseason. One reason is that he had a 6-1 record and 1.95 ERA at Fenway Park. However, the big lefty has not thrown well at Fenway this season wearing his new uniform. It’s hard to believe age is a reason, as he should be in his prime, but that’s the thing: You never know how pitchers are going to perform from year to year.

Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey parlayed a dominant season back in 2012 when he went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA with the Mets into a new contract with Toronto. He’s still with the Blue Jays, but his ERA keeps climbing, currently having his worst season in years at age 41. Clearly, age is this biggest factor, though going from the NL to the AL East, where there are hitter-friendly parks, is also a reason.
Back in the 1980’s, the Houston Astros had a lefty starter named Bob Knepper. Here’s how Knepper faired from 1986-89, all with the Astros:  Knepper-Bob

Year — Wins-Losses — ERA

1986: 17-12 — 3.14

1987: 8-17 — 5.27

1988: 14-5 — 3.14

1989: 4-10 — 5.89

All those seasons were in the old Houston Astrodome, a cavernous pitcher’s park. Yet, one season he was terrific, the next year he was pitching like an old man. Former Arizona and LA Dodgers lefty Omar Daal did something similar:

Year — Wins-Losses — ERA

1999: 16-9 — 3.65

2000: 4-19 — 6.14

2001: 13-7 — 4.46

2002: 11-9 — 3.90

2003: 4-11 — 6.34

He had some good years, and some bad ones – some very bad ones. Sometimes pitcher’s simply don’t have it the next season, be it confidence or perhaps a nagging injury. Other times a player gets traded to a new team, one with poor defense or a very different ballpark.

The park partly explains what happened to Daal. From 2001-02 he was in the National League with the Phillies and Dodgers, and in 2003 he went to the AL and Baltimore. A soft thrower like he was better suited to a big park like Dodger Stadium than most AL parks.

It’s essential for sports bettors to keep up on moves, parks and injuries like this. Early in the season, betting lines on pitchers can be based largely on what happened last season, and as I’ve outlined, pitchers can vary significantly from year to year.

Injuries, too, can be significant. Detroit righty Justin Verlander is still a good strikeout pitcher, but his numbers have fluctuated wildly since his 24-5 campaign in 2011. He had a good ERA last season, but 4.54 two years ago. Betting lines are made around the starting pitcher, but be careful – starters don’t always pitch the same from season to season for a variety of reasons. That’s why it’s essential to include defense in the field in your handicapping and bullpen strength, a pair of assets the defending champion Royals have enjoyed the last two seasons. Baseball is still a thinking man’s game — just as successful sports betting has always been.

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