Knowing which starting pitchers tend to start fast and which tend to start slow is a major key to April MLB wagering success.
We are now less than a week away for MLB Opening Day for most major league teams. Yes, there were two regular season games on the MLB odds in the last few days in Japan between the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland Athletics from the American League West, but opening night here stateside is next Wednesday, April 5 when the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals visit the newly named Miami Marlins, and most of the rest of the majors begins play on Thursday.
Now many experts and novices struggle with their MLB picks during the month of April, and some even hold off on making any MLB bets until May 1. We feel that those players are missing some golden opportunities though, as the first month of the season is when the lines are at their softest, and they will only tighten up and get much tougher to beat as the season goes on.
One approach we have had success with in the early stages is to key on pitchers that have either been very good or very bad in the month of April in recent seasons. You see, starting pitchers are creatures of habit, so generally, fast starters are almost always ready from the get-go and slow starters almost always need a few starts before finding their groove. Thus, we do not feel that April statistics are as anomalous as those of other specific months.
Instead, we feel that a continued April pattern could be a solid indication of how a pitcher will begin the upcoming season. So with that in mind, here are some good and bad pitchers over the past three Aprils, including their April record, ERA and WHIP from 2009 through 2011.
Jaime Garcia (St. Louis Cardinals - 5-1, 1.60 ERA, 1.07 WHIP): Now entering his third Major League season, Garcia avoided the sophomore jinx last year after a strong rookie campaign, and one of the keys was a fast start, as he went 3-0 in April of 2011 with a sparkling 2.08 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. Garcia has had a strong spring training with 11 strikeouts in his last 9.2 innings, and while the numbers themselves are meaningless during exhibition season, the fact that Garcia has looked good and has had nice movement on his pitches is significant. He appears set for yet another fast start to this season.
Jered Weaver (Los Angles Angels - 10-1, 1.95, 0.98): Weaver is coming off of his best Major League season where he finished 18-8 with a 2.42 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP and he was just two strikeouts shy of 200 while hold opposing batters to a .212 batting average. Weaver was the starting pitcher for the American League for the All-Star Game and he received some votes for the Cy Young Award. His year began with another spectacular April where he went 5-0 with a microscopic 1.14 ERA and 0.81 WHIP, and early indications are that he is in line for another fast start this season. He should also receive added run support now that Albert Pujols is in the Angels’ lineup, not that Weaver needs much additional help.
Josh Johnson (Miami Marlins - 7-1, 2.11, 0.96): Johnson is one pitcher whose spring training has been very important, as was lost for the season in May of last year due to shoulder surgery. Well, he has made five spring starts and he has yet to allow more than two earned runs, including three scoreless outings. His stat line reads 2-1 with a 1.62 ERA, but more important than the numbers is that he has suffered no setbacks regarding his shoulder. Johnson was 3-0 last April with a scintillating 0.88 ERA and 0.71 WHIP in six starts covering 41 innings, and if he is truly fully healed, he could actually be undervalued a tad at the start of this year due to unwarranted injury concerns.
Dan Haren (Los Angeles Angels - 9-5, 2.31, 0.88): The Los Angeles Angels are considered major threats to dethrone the Texas Rangers this season, not only as West Division titlists but also as American League Champions, and a key reason for that is their pitching. Haren is the second Halo to make our “good” April list, and don’t let the 9-5 record the past three Aprils deceive you as he has pitched much better than that. He was finally rewarded for his efforts this past April as he went 4-1 with a 1.23 ERA and 0.75 WHIP. Haren has a 2.18 ERA during spring training, so he appears ready to start the year and having Pujols in the lineup could lead to more wins.
Ricky Romero (Toronto Blue Jays - 6-4, 2.44, 1.08): Speaking of deceptive records, Ricky Romero has been one of the unluckiest pitchers in baseball that last couple of years. This has also been reflected in his April records and last year was no exception, as he was only 2-3 despite a 3.00 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. Romero always gives you a quality outing so we are looking for him to finally get rewarded with some more wins this April. Best of all, Romero has been unhittable during spring training as he has yet to allow an earned run while surrendering only two hits in nine innings. He has been working on his pitching arsenal, so while it is no secret that the southpaw’s stuff has been great, look for a breakout year in the won/lost department in 2012.
Rick Porcello (Detroit Tigers - 4-7, 6.04 ERA, 1.58 WHIP): Big things are expected from the Tigers this season now that they have added Prince Fielder to the lineup, but that could make Detroit overvalued in the early stages of the season, which could make Porcello a prime April fade given his past April performances. The best past is that the Tigers should be favored in most of Porcello’s starts including all of his home starts, so some nice profit can be made by going against him early on. Last season was actually his best April of the last three years and he still went only 1-2 with an ordinary 4.25 ERA and 1.45 WHIP.
Ryan Dempster (Chicago Cubs - 4-5, 5.77, 1.41): Dempster was a disappointment for the Cubs last season as he never did fully recover from his terrible April where he went 1-3 with a bloated 9.58 ERA and 1.87 WHIP. Chicago cannot be encouraged by his last spring training start vs. minor leaguers either, as he was roughed up for six runs on eight hits in five innings. Dempster is now getting up there in age as he is 34, so don’t expect a quick return to the form that has allowed him to average 13 wins over the last four seasons.
Mat Latos (Cincinnati Reds - 1-6, 5.57, 1.40): Latos could offer the best profit potential in all of baseball this April…as a fade that is! You see, Latos actually has some of the best stuff in the league when he is on, but as you can see by his April record, he takes a while before he gets going. Last year was no different as he went 0-4 with a 4.98 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in April and later had a 2.87 ERA and 1.00 WHIP over his final 14 starts. Furthermore, this season he is moving from the most pitcher-friendly park in the National League in San Diego to the most hitter-friendly park in Cincinnati, so that could add to Latos being overvalued early in the season.
Carl Pavano (Minnesota Twins - 5-7, 5.56, 1.32): Don’t let the disconnect between Pavano’s bad April ERA the last three years and his decent WHIP fool you, because Pavano is usually around the plate and does not walk many batters. The problem is that he does not have the stuff to blow batters away and his strikeouts have steadily decreased over the last few years, so by always being around the plate, Pavano is actually very hittable. For example, he has a very good 1.20 WHIP last April, but he was roughed up to the tune of a 5.12 ERA. Pavano is now 36 years old and he has a 6.11 ERA this spring, and yet he could be the Twins’ opening day starter!
Scott Baker (Minnesota Twins - 3-7, 5.45, 1.43): The poor Twins also land a second starter to our bad April list in Baker, who is also battling some elbow inflammation this spring. Baker has pitched just 2.2 spring innings vs. Major League batters while getting lit up for seven runs, and he is next slated to pitch in a minor league game this Saturday. Baker has always been a slow starter and his preparation for the regular season this year has seemed lacking to say the least. Unfortunately from an April betting perspective (and we mean that negatively), Baker could spend some time on the Disabled List.