Evaluating rookie or new pitchers in Major League Baseball (MLB) can be a complicated chore. Some come out guns blazing and look ready to set the world on fire. Others struggle to find themselves against the better competition. Here is how to evaluate the rookie pitchers in order to improve your MLB handicapping.
These guys are somewhat of an unknown. I like having lots of data on hand to make confident baseball picks. With rookies you don’t know as much of what you are getting into. You have to speculate quite a bit. That means start slow with these guys.
Success in the Minors
Most pitchers, except in cases of sudden injuries, are not brought up to the “show” without demonstrating some degree of success in the minor leagues. Just remember, the game played in the minors is not the same as MLB. The jump from A to AA to AAA is significant at each step, but it’s nothing compared to the leap to the big leagues.
I do like to look at his stats though. Specifically did he have control of the strike zone. A pitcher is going to need a good WHIP, K/BB rate, and show consistency from start to start. How fast does the guy throw? Typically young starters don’t have the experience to pitch their way out of jams or trick opposing batters. They rely on straight gas.
First Time Through
Rookie pitchers typically have the edge the first time they face a team. Once the pitcher sees the same team a second or third time the batters start picking up on his release point, tendencies, and speed. Before you thinking one of these rookies is the next Cy Young winner, see how he does when he starts facing teams again.
Plus, if you think a team has improved greatly from last year then they might offer value as a whole. Oddsmakers and other bettors are typically slow to catch on to which teams are going to be better this season.
A pitcher needs to be consistent night in and night out if he is going to help his team pick up wins. A lot of young guys come up and pitch lights out one night and get shelled the next. They get over-confident after a good start. You want to make sure you are taking or fading the ones that you have a pretty good idea of what they will do that night.
Most of the time rookies will pitch better in their home park. The crowd is on their side. Their surroundings are a little more familiar and comfortable. We have stressed using split stats to handicap starters in the past, and rookies are no different. The problem you run into is just that there are small sample sizes due to their limited experience.
Who is He Replacing
If a rookie is good enough to supplant a veteran who has performing above-average, you know the organization thinks his stuff is good. However, if the big league squad has had a rash of injuries and needs someone to make a spot start, that’s not as promising of a sign.
Total Innings Pitched
MLB front offices obsess over innings and total pitches thrown like never before. As a longtime follower of the sport, it used to be heartbreaking to see one of the young prospects get over-used early and then flame out. Now though, you don’t even see veterans throwing complete games as the managers try to manage their pitch counts.
And remember, the MLB season is longer than the minors. A pitcher new to the majors will throw the most innings he has ever pitched. The question becomes can he hold up through the end of regular season? I like looking at the baseball odds in September when the young arms might be fatigued.
Some statistics are more important to follow than others. W-L records don’t do much for me. It all starts with ERA (here’s how to calculate). This gives you an idea of how many runs are scored against him over the course of nine innings.
But, ERA doesn’t tell the whole story. How many base runners is he allowing? You don’t want the rookie to be walking a lot of batters, or getting hit hard. For that I like Walks and Hits Per Inning Pitched (WHIP). The lower this number is, the better. If runners don’t get on, they can’t score. Any WHIP that is lower than 1.0 is excellent. A WHIP of 1.5 is pretty terrible. A high WHIP and a low ERA is a rookie I would be looking to fade.
You want to go over the game logs to see who the pitcher has faced. Is he facing solid lineups or been going against terrible hitters? Most people lose with their MLB betting because they don’t go an extra step like this and see just how the stats have been achieved.