Seeking Value in Non Strikeout Pitchers

It is the top of the 9th, and Kenley Jansen is one out away from closing out a 2-1 game. There are men on the corners. The fans are sweating, the batter is sweating, Kenley is sweating. You are sweating a -290 bet on the Dodgers moneyline, which you only took because Clayton Kershaw was on the mound to start. Jansen gets the final out, and you can all finally relax.

Was it worth it?

Well a win is a win. I guess. It is definitely better than being the sucker who took the runline because he did not want to lose value. Was it really worth it though?

Considering what you could have lost on one swing of the bat, it was hardly worth it…and certainly not a smart way to bet. That $100 win could have just as easily been a $290 loss, if the grace of the baseball betting gods were not with you this evening.

So if you aren’t going to take heavy favorite Elite pitchers, then how else do we get an edge in a matchup?

One way is to look at where you can get a handicapping advantage with non-elite Starting Pitchers. How does one’s selection of pitchers allow him or her to profit in the long run?


Based on my number crunching, there is a strong suggestion that Vegas oddsmakers often put high emphasis on strikeouts.

It should come to nobody’s surprise that high velocity pitches with strikeout potential are the bread and butter for many Elite pitchers. The media is always concerned about how many Ks are recorded, and often times it is just as much a focus as how many runs are actually allowed.  After all, a fast pitch is by far the best rebound weapon when all else fails.

However, this does not mean that a pitcher needs strikeouts to be successful.

At the end of the day, winning and losing is what matters. Some pitchers bring in so much more money in their wins than others. These would be the pitchers who are not particularly Aces, but are successful without high strikeout rates.

Let us look at some numbers from the 2018 MLB season. We will begin with the top end pitchers that everybody knows and believes in. The type of guys that you generally feel like it would be a bad idea to bet against. The type of guys who win Cy Youngs, and compile elite pitching stats.

The most obvious example would be the perennial poster boy of pitching Aces, Clayton Kershaw. 

In all fairness, Kershaw was not the strikeout beast last season that he was in previous seasons. His normal number of over 10Ks per 9 innings dropped to 8.65 last year, but his ability to limit runs was not lost. At the end of the day, he is still Clayton Kershaw, and will likely receive immaculate favor as long as he maintains a respectable ERA and his team remains at the top.

Kershaw finished with a team record of 18-13, including Postseason appearances in 2018. Most of his moneylines closed between the high -100s and low -200s in favor, and the Dodgers were only an underdog one time all season long when he pitched. Safe to say, this man receives extremely high praise, and is also largely responsible for his team’s success. Sounds like a profitable plan right?

Well because of the respect he gets, the average moneyline when he pitches is so high in juice that you actually would have lost $376 in the long run if you had put $100 on each and every one of Clayton Kershaw’s starts in 2018. So as much as you may win more bets than you lose when betting Kershaw, you would not have profited off the moneyline itself.

Let’s look at the next two examples. Corey Kluber and Justin Verlander, like Kershaw, are both established pitchers who are still seen to be at their peaks. On top of that, both of them represent World Series contenders of the past three seasons.

Corey Kluber, who has two Cy Youngs on his resume, saw his Cleveland Indians team encompass the 20 win mark with a 21-13 team record with him on the mound in 2018. With a 9.29 K/9 rate and a fantastic 2.89 ERA, Kluber is seen to be with very fine company in 2018. Sounds like a moneymaker.


Kluber would have lost you $306 if you had put $100 on every Kluber start this season, despite the Cleveland Indians being 8 games above .500 in his starts in 2018.

The next example is probably the best example of 2018 as to why Elite Pitchers with high strikeout potentials are not a formula for long term baseball betting success. Justin Verlander was not only an arguable Cy Young winner of 2018 with a lot of factors in his favor, but he also may have had a career season at age 35. Not only did Verlander record the second lowest ERA of his career at 2.52, but he also saw a significant spike in his fastball by nearly one mph, allowing him to finish with a jaw dropping 12.20 K/9..which was nearly 3.5 above his career average. Needless to say, he was a large spark for the Houston Astros and their success, and the team saw a 23-14 record with Verlander on the mound.

This is where a fine line is drawn between winning on the field and winning against the books.

The profits off $100 per start with Verlander?  -$111.

Don’t get me wrong, there are Elite pitchers that are indeed profitable. As well, there is always the runline option to attain value while decreasing winning likelihood, but backing Elite pitchers solely for the fact that they have the matchup advantage is not a smart way to bet in the long run.  Pick your spots with the runlines and the bets of value, but don’t let the aura of a superstar pitcher dictate your angles and turn you into a lazy handicapper. If anyone is watching these guys closer than you are, it would be the oddsmakers.

Better yet, how about we forget about picking spots with runlines, and start picking actual value spots…after all, nobody should feel the need to force value to get value. Let the oddsmakers do the handicapping for you!


Let us take a look at the pitchers who are actually profitable.

Anyone wanna take a guess at who the most profitable pitcher was in 2018? Without googling, you probably will never guess.

2016 was Chris Tillman, 2017 was Parker Bridwell, 2018 is along the same lines. Completely unexpected. Mike Fiers, from the Oakland Athletics.

With a 3.56 ERA and a 21-9 team record, Fiers would have profited +17.19 units, or $1719 had you put $100 on each of his starts. Why? because of value. With a 7.27 K/9 rate and a solid but not mindblowing ERA, Fiers was seen just to be another slightly above average pitcher that would not crack the number one or two spots in almost any pitching rotation. Therefore, seeing Fiers as an underdog or a very slight favorite was quite normal and more often than not the case, despite him pitching on two different playoff bound teams in 2018. 

Likewise, Seattle Mariners Mike Leake ranked 6th in moneyline profits out of any pitcher in 2018. He did so with a 20-11 team win record, a 5.7 K/9, and a 4.36 ERA. These numbers apart from the team wins, resemble a very sub par pitcher, but the profits of $1,111 do not.

Now although the gold mining advantages in the less elite pool of pitchers are evident, you might ask: How exactly do we know that the team is going to win that many games with so and so on the mound?

The truth is, we don’t. It can be a phenomena as to how teams come to bat for certain pitchers and not for others. However, the main focus here is to look at 3rd and 4th pitchers and study them closely, rather than the Aces that are already being thrown at our faces on a daily basis.

Below are examples of pitchers whose teams’ didn’t quite show up the same way they did for the two above, but were still able to generate higher profits than the Aces mentioned earlier.

Matt Boyd, from the Detroit Tigers saw his team record a 16-15 record with him on the mound in 2018, and profits would have been +$674. Likewise, Trevor Williams from the Pittsburgh Pirates held a 6.64 K/9 rate with the same record as Boyd, and profits were $458 off every $100 bet on him in 2018.

Granted, these two were on non playoff teams, but that also helps to reinforce that it is advantageous to seek outside of the hype.

All in all, the main point of this article is to highlight value, and the amount that oddsmakers rob the general public in their square bets. The way around that would be to stay away from the lost value, and start finding patterns that lead you towards the bounty wealth of value. We are never going to know which players the team decides to show up for, but we can definitely focus on which under the radar pitchers are gaining momentum rather than which overvalued Aces are going to remain Aces.


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