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Handicapping Pitchers

Pitching rules the roost when it comes to handicapping which MLB teams are going to win each day.  When tries derive which starter has the advantage and by how much we turn to the use of statistics.  This helps guide us in finding value with the daily baseball lines.

Traditional statistics combined with some of the cutting edge metrics allow us to quantify these edges to a more exacting degree than ever before. So let us look at the key figures that will hone your skill in making your own predictions or what MLB picks our experts will bet today.  And remember, don’t go to all of this work and forget to list the starting pitcher when you back your team.


For many decades, fans quickly learned how to calculate Earned Run Average (ERA).  It was viewed as the definitive stat to measure the effectiveness of a pitcher. ERA is the number of earned runs multiplied by nine and divide all that by the amount of innings pitched. So if he gives up 3.5 runs per 9 innings pitched his ERA would be 3.50.  This gives fans an easily digestible number to measure the hurler’s effectiveness.

The lower the figure, the better the player is supposed to be. That’s pretty obvious since it tracks how many runs they allow.  What constitutes a good ERA differs by role.  Starters throw more innings so they see batters multiple times per night.  That gives them a little higher overall ERA.  Middle relievers and closers come in for short periods of time so tend to be more effective.

What constitutes a good ERA?  let’s take a look.

Under 2.00

Definitely an ace if a pitcher can stay under 2.00 with a significant number of innings.  These are the top pitchers in the league.

Under 3.00

Anything in the 2’s is excellent.  Anytime you are under this mark your manager has to think you are getting the job done.


For relievers I would say this is fairly mediocre, but starters can make a very good living for a long time if they can hover around 3.50.


This is where I think starters go from above average to below.

Over 5 

You won’t stay in the majors for long if you can’t get under 5.00.  Time to start improving or you won’t last long.  It’s possible the starter has an injury or age has finally caught up to him.


Today’s metrics have moved on from just ERA.  The Society for American Baseball Research, is responsible for many of these new nuggets.  One of their best known numbers that has gained mainstream acceptance is Walks + Plus Per Inning Pitched (WHIP). This number gives the fan an appreciation at how often the pitcher allows opposing hitters on base.

Here are the numbers to look for and how good that pitcher might be.

Under 1.00

An ace.  A real superstar who is in their prime.


This is still a pretty good pitcher.  They don’t allow many guys on base and should have plenty of success.


This is where you start looking at average to below average throwers.

1.41 & Up

These pitchers likely have control problems which lead to a lot of walks, or they are throwing meatballs and getting shelled.  These are the types of starters you are looking to fade.

In Tandem

One can see these numbers side by side and develop a feel when they do not mesh. Look at the following two situations to see what we mean.

Low ERA but High WHIP means that the pitcher excels at getting out of jams.
High Era but Low WHIP indicates the pitcher is much more likely to give up a big hit or inning.

Of course, it could also mean a pitcher has been “unlucky” in that the few baserunners allowed have been able to score.  Or “lucky” in terms of being able to strand the opposition and prevent them from scoring.

Ratios Involving Strikeouts

Of course, it’s not luck if they have a “skill” at stranding baserunners.  A great way to do that is striking people out.  My two favorite strikeout stats are K/BB and K/9.  K/BB is just how many strikeouts a pitcher gets for each walk. K/9 just takes the total number of strikeouts and divides by nine.

K/BB gives us a good indicator of how much control  pitcher possesses.  A ratio of three strikeouts per walk is normally considered to be good. Higher numbers mean stellar stuff while a lower figure means that the pitcher is either issuing too many base on balls or is not able to strikeout many batters. A handy figure to have at one’s disposal when ascertaining pitching strength.

K/9 shows us how many outs the pitcher can get while on the mound.  Remember, relievers will have slightly higher K/9 numbers because of the short and intense nature of their appearances.  However, punching out plenty of batters losses it’s appeal if the pitcher’s K/BB is merely mortal.

Style of Batter Contact

HR/9 and GB% describe the type of contact a hitter normally gets against the pitcher on the mound. HR/9 is simply a ratio of how many home runs are allowed per nine innings. The higher this figure is then the more gopher balls they allow on average.  If you get a high HR/9 thrower taking the mound when the wind is blowing hard either in or out of the park you might have an advantage.

GB% gives us the number of ground balls in play. A higher percentage in this usually indicates that the pitcher is less effected by park factors, wind, humidity, and other atmospheric conditions that would effect a fly ball.

No matter how much we attempt to quantify a pitchers performance there is the intangible quality of just being a winner. After all, we only care if the team wins or loses with our baseball betting.  Some pitchers can gut out most any situation or be on a team that overcomes all odds.  For this we look at Team Record in Games Started (TRGS). This provides a more valuable sense of a pitchers worth than just his win loss record.


Don’t forget about rest.  In the postseason managers frequently send guys back to the hill after only a couple of days off.  Our research suggests short rest isn’t good for starters.

Innings Pitched

How many innings does the starter usually go?  If he is someone like Clayton Kershaw who goes deep into games, you don’t have to worry about handicapping the bullpen like you do when a young arm who typically doesn’t make the sixth.


It’s important to remember these numbers aren’t always important.  Sometimes you are looking at small sample sizes.  Other times the pitchers won’t be trying their hardest, like during spring training.

All of these stats may sound slightly daunting at first but once one becomes familiar with these figures then handicapping pitchers becomes more streamlined. The foundation is now set in which we can figure out who has the advantage over the other when the teams meet on any day. Sometime it is razor thin while other occasions sees a gulf in the talent facing off. Of course, if you think going through all of these numbers is took much work you can always sign up with one of the expert MLB handicappers who offer their wagers for sale on our site.