MLB Betting Strategy: How to Evaluate Starting Pitchers

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Zack Wheeler #45 of the Phillies pitches during the 91st MLB All-Star Game. Dustin Bradford/Getty Images/AFP

I’m an over-team total bettor. By this I mean, I only bet on teams to score runs and worry about nothing more than that. When you’re able to find one niche in sports betting that you’re good at, stick with it. The more you branch out, the harder sports betting will get.

When I’m looking for a team’s total over the spot in the first five innings, I’m looking at the starting pitcher and how they match up against the opposition.

Here’s my process:

When I’m looking for a wager, I want to look at the last 30 days for a pitcher and the last 30 days for a lineup. I want to know how a starting pitcher has fared as of late.

Think about it, if a pitcher dominated in the first half but has struggled in the second half, looking at a full season of stats would be useless. I need to know what the pitcher is struggling with or excelling at in the last month or so.

To do this, I will check the last 30 days of a pitcher’s xFIP, strikeout rate, walk rate, ground ball rate, line drive rate, and hard contact rate.

Here are the numbers I’m looking for per category:

1. xFIP – A good xFIP for a pitcher is 4 or lower while a bad xFIP is 4.01 or worse.
2. K% – A good strikeout rate for a pitcher is 20% or higher. A poor strikeout rate is 19.99% or worse.
3. BB% – A good walk rate is 7.4% or better while a bad walk rate is 7.5% or higher.
4. Ground Ball % – A solid ground ball rate is 45 percent or higher while a poor ground ball rate is 44.99% or lower.
5. Line Drive % & Hard Contact % – A low line drive rate is 20 percent or less while a high line drive rate is 20.01 percent or higher. A high hard contact rate is 35% or higher while a low hard contact rate is 34.99% or lower.

As an over-backer, I’m looking for a pitcher to struggle in these categories. I want a pitcher with a high xFIP, low strikeout rate, high walk rate, low ground ball rate, and high line drive rate along with a high hard contact rate.

Once I find a pitcher that has struggled in these areas, I want to know how well or poorly they’ve performed against lefties and righties. I will look for a high wOBA and high ISO from a specific side against a pitcher in the last 30 days.

1. wOBA – A wOBA of .315 or higher is considered bad. A wOBA of .314 or less is considered solid.
2. ISO – An ISO of .175 or higher is considered bad while an ISO of .175 or lower is considered above average for a pitcher.

For a specific pitcher, I want to know if they’ve been really bad against lefties or righties using their wOBA and ISO numbers. If a pitcher struggles with high wOBA and ISO numbers to righties and will be facing eight righties in the lineup, there’s a good chance the lineup does damage. Take it into consideration for your MLB odds.

Of course, once you look at all the pitcher’s stats, match it up to the lineup that they’ll face. You will look to see if that specific lineup has done well against the arm of the opposition.

So when a pitcher has really bad xFIP, strikeout rate, walk rate, ground ball rate, line drive rate, high wOBA, and high ISO and they’re facing a lineup that has above average numbers in all these categories against the opposition’s arm, the bet against the pitcher on the over for the team total looks like a very good play.