It’s the start of the MLB season and already some pitchers have come to the forefront. Who looks good and has the support to win a slew of games? You may want to wager on these guys all season long. However, before you decide to drop some money on any pitcher, you’ll need to consider some variables other than that particular hurler’s stats.
In putting together this list of four pitchers who have a strong chance of winning every time they take the mound, consideration has been given to each hurler’s earned run average, his club’s ability to generate runs and the team’s bullpen situation. Additionally, the age of the player, physical condition and health and past history have been weighed.
For our purposes, we are only interested in betting the money line. The reason for this is that the money line is a straight bet which does not take into consideration the +/- 1 and1/2 run game spread that the run line does. Betting the run line complicates the attempt to determine a pitcher’s worth in a game, since topnotch mound dwellers are capable of winning many one run games over the course of a season. This is especially true when the team has a great closer.
Pitchers backed by top closers may not beat the spread, which makes wagering on the run line extremely risky. Since our point is to determine what pitchers have the best chance of winning whenever they go to the mound and since strong pitching tends to defeat great hitting, we want to bet the game in its purest form – the money line.
Jose Contreras (Chicago White Sox)
Contreras starts his fourth Major League season and is coming off his best year ever, where he went 15-7 with a 3.61 ERA for the world champion White Sox. This season the thirty-four year-old right-hander is off to the best start of his career, going 3-0 with a 1.55 ERA. Batters from the left side of the plate are hitting .229 against him, while those from the right are hitting .167. In 4 starts, he’s given up only 19 hits, which makes him one of the toughest pitcher’s in the league.
He has three strong pitches – 91- 95 mph fastball, a slider/cut fastball, and an elusive forkball. Contreras had always been seen as having great potential but his mental make-up seemed to get in the way. That particular problem disappeared last year when, after the All Star break, he became unbeatable. In September he went 6-0 with a 1.99 ERA, and during the entire second-half, he was 11-2 notching a 2.96 ERA. He also had a great post season.
The question for this year was would the post-All Star break Contreras show up or the pre-All Star break pitcher (4-5, 4.26 ERA) from last season take the mound? It looks like the new, confident Contreras is present, as the righty continues from where he left off in the World Series.
The White Sox are scoring 5.9 runs per game and closer Bobby Jenks, who has given up 2 homers in 9 innings, is 6 for 6 in save opportunities. The home runs might be worrisome, except for the fact that they did not affect a save opportunity and Jenks has a 90-100 mph fastball that more times than not simply mows down hitters.
On many other teams, Contreras would be a number one starter. With such an all-around tough starting pitching staff surrounding him, plenty of offense, and a great bullpen, Contreras appears to be in a comfort zone that will simply give him more and more confidence. He’s a great bet.
Greg Maddux (Chicago Cubs)
Maddux has started his twenty-first MLB season in amazing fashion with a 4-0 record and a 0.99 ERA. Coming into this year, there was concern over the aging pitcher due to the fact that he had a losing record in 2005 (13-15, 4.24 ERA). The last time Maddux had lost more games than he won was in 1987.
Last season, Maddux seemed to lose some of his great stuff. He’s always had fantastic location and movement, while ably working both sides of the plate. His 82-87 mph fastball has late movement that handcuffs hitters. His three other pitches include a tight curve at 73-75 mph, a tricky slider ranging from 80-84 mph, and a circle change. He usually walks an average of 1 man or less per game.
Backing up Maddux is closer Ryan Dempster, who last season saved 33 games in 35 opportunities. It’s now been two years since Dempster, a former starter who the Cubs converted to a closer in 2004, had elbow surgery. Last season’s strong performance gave credence to his recovery. This season he’s sporting a 1.50 ERA while being a perfect 6 for 6 in saves.
The Cubs offense has scored an average of 5.05 runs per game, which is plenty the way that Maddux and Dempster have been pitching. However, to continue in the impressive manner in which he’s started, Maddux must have pinpoint control.
Despite his losing season in 2005, Maddux started 35 games and pitched 225 innings. His health is not a concern. Although entering his third decade as a major league pitcher, he’s still a workhorse who wins with finesse and intelligence. Those two attributes make him a good bet.
Curt Schilling (Boston Red Sox)
In 2004, Curt Schilling came to Boston and helped the Red Sox do something they had not done since 1918 – win the World Series. Schilling, perhaps baseball’s ultimate competitor, did something during the famous playoff series with the Yankees that no one else had ever done before; he had a tendon that was interrupting his delivery sewn in place.
That operation could have ended his career, and in 2005 it did look like he might be done with baseball. Now, in 2006, he is back – stronger, dominant, in total command and as competitive as ever.
The veteran pitcher is 4-0 with a 2.60 ERA and 31 SO in 34.2 innings. This is the best start of his 20-year career.
In the role of closer, John Papelbon has been stellar, going 9 for 9 with an ERA of 0.00. In 12.1 innings, he’s struck out 10, while walking two, hitting one batsman and allowing 6 hits. In this young season, Papelbon, a rookie, is the best closer in the majors.
Boston is in the bottom third of hitting in the majors, which is certainly not good news for Schilling or the rest of the pitching staff. But they are expected to do better.
In a way, a competitor like Schilling who has the support of a young closer like Papelbon doesn’t need a whole lot of run support. The starter is meticulous in his record keeping on hitters and teams, and his game prep is flawless. He’s one of the most disciplined players in the game and when he goes out to pitch, he takes the mound prepared to carry the team on that particular day.
In 2004, Schilling won 21 games while losing 6. If he can stay healthy, he should easily match that mark. Roy Oswalt (Houston Astros)
In four of his first five seasons with the Astros, right-handed pitcher Roy Oswalt has proven to be one of the best in the league. In both 2004 and 2005, he had 20 wins while throwing more than 230 innings in each year. During his career, he’s given up an average of only16 homeruns per season.
After missing part of the season in 2003 due to injury, he came back strong in 2004, recording 206 strikeouts and a 20-10 mark. In five games this year, he’s 4-0 with a 2.48 ERA and 23 strikeouts.
Oswalt works fast and commands his 92-96 mph fastball with aplomb. His curve, which tumbles in at around 70 mph, has a big arc with tight downward spin. Hitters have a tough time reading it and when they finally do, it’s usually too late. For variety, he also has a straight changeup.
The Astros are third in the league in RBI and second in batting average, which means this consistent and reliable pitcher should enjoy good run support.
During his fairly short career, fastball throwing closer Brad Lidge has been very good. Last season he earned 42 saves in 46 opportunities and the year before he was 29 for 33.
However, there is some concern with Lidge this season. He is 7 for 9 in save opportunities, giving up nine runs and 3 homeruns over 11.2 innings. His two blown saves were opportunities 8 and 9. It was during the last two save attempts that he gave up the majority of his runs, while having trouble with his control.
Oswalt has had a tendency over the years to win twice as many games as he loses, making him a very good bet. This even occurred during his injury-shortened season. He’s one of the best in the majors. Despite Lidge’s uneven performance in the closing role, Oswalt’s consistency and command make him a sound bet.
The four starters we’ve examined all have the potential to win 20 games this year. Before placing your wagers, you should review current stats on these starting pitchers, the bullpen staff, and the team’s recent offensive output. Also take a close look at the team’s opponent, gauging how they are hitting, their starter, and the ability of the club to score runs, mount comebacks, and win close games.
The best pitchers will usually get a decision in 25-30 of their starts, winning from 18-23 of those starts and losing about 8 to 14. However, remember that you are betting on a particular team and as long as the listed starters begin the game, there will be action. It doesn’t matter if that starter wins; it matters if the team wins.
Out of a top pitcher’s approximately 35 starts, he will win somewhere around 20. That leaves them and you with 15 losses; if you’re a little lucky and able to analyze the situation, you’ll end up +5 in terms of wins vs. losses. If you can finish at +5 on these four pitchers by the end of the 162-game season, you’ll be sitting pretty. But remember, there are no guarantees in sports or sports betting.