Baseball's Hidden Edge

When analyzing pitchers to wager on or against, strikeouts are overvalued. It’s fun to see which pitchers can blow away the opposition, or which ones can punch out the most hitters, but from a wagering standpoint it’s not very important. For instance, the same night Justin Verlander threw his no-hitter this week, the Angels Kelvim Escobar fanned 14 Reds.

There were two drawbacks, though. He was only able to go 6 innings because high strikeout numbers usually mean high number of pitches. Also, the Angels lost the game, 5-3. Here are the top 5 strikeout pitchers in baseball: Cole Hamels, Erik Bedard, A.J. Burnett, Johan Santana and Jake Peavy.

Baltimore lefty Bedard is having a strong season, but his ERA is not lights out at 3.72. And he plays for a team that is not great in the field or at the plate, and real bad in the pen. Baltimore has lost 5 of the last 6 starts by Bedard. Toronto has lost 4 in a row in games started by Burnett and 6 of 9.

In addition, big-name strikeout pitchers usually mean having to lay a big price. From a betting standpoint, this is not the way to grind out a profit over the long haul. Pitching stats that are more important than individual strikeouts are bullpen numbers.

There are only two major league bullpens with ERAs under 3.00, the Padres and the Red Sox. Boston has been a surprise, as their pen has been weak ever since winning the 2004 World Series. Closer Jonathan Papelbon has been as good as expected, recording 14 saves in 15 opportunities.

But newcomer lefty Hideki Okajima has been a huge surprise. He who was an unknown quantity coming over from Japan and expected to be a situational lefty, but thanks to an outstanding changeup, Okajima has morphed into a magnificent long man, middle man and even closer at times. Newcomer Brandon Donnelly solidified his status as a reliable seventh-inning pitcher, while Javier Lopez has blossomed into a reliable situational reliever.

This might surprise you, but the Seattle Mariners are 5th overall in bullpen ERA, a terrific 3.35. They’ve also been the hottest teams in baseball of late. Sure, the offense has gotten all the news for its strong play, but don’t overlook the improved bullpen. That was evident again this week when they went to Wrigley Field and won 5-3 in 13 innings.

The bases were loaded with two out in the 13th inning when a flu-ridden closer J.J. Putz reared back, fired and got the game-ending ground out he needed. It was Seattle's fifth consecutive win, and they were an underdog in EVERY game. The Mariners moved nine games over .500 and three games behind the division-leading Los Angeles Angels.

Since so many baseball games are close, a huge ingredient these days is not so much starting pitching but bullpen strength, depth and flexibility. Take a look at the worst bullpens in baseball: White Sox, Devil Rays, Tigers, Pirates, Reds, Orioles, Phillies and Royals. 5 of those 7 teams are bad, with the White Sox being the biggest disappointment in baseball thus far, less than two years removed from a championship. Chicago has lost 14 of 17 games and was a favorite in 9 of them! The only way to grind out a profit has been to wager against them, and their awful bullpen is a big reason why.

by: Staci Richards - - Email Us

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