We’re getting to the point in the baseball season where the playoff races heat up, but casual fans have already shifted their focus to the upcoming football season. Rosters expand on September 1 and teams will start to get a look at players for the future, especially if it’s a lost season. Between injuries and win-loss records, teams are going to start calling up Triple-A pitchers that most bettors have not heard of. Those guys can be difficult for oddsmakers to price and also difficult for bettors to handicap.
Prized pitching prospects are going to get a bump from the oddsmakers because of the fanfare and the expectations that have already been placed on that player. A lot of times, prized prospects can struggle late in the season for any number of reasons. They could be reaching high inning thresholds for the first time in their professional careers or they could have the raw stuff, but lack the pitchability and maturity it takes to get Major League hitters out.
There are some important things to realize about these call-ups that are getting starts. Bettors should be aware of the run environment differences between the Pacific Coast League and the International League and should also be aware of the jump it takes to come from Double-A to the Major Leagues if that’s what a starting pitcher is doing. The skill sets of hitters also change from Double-A to Triple-A, as Triple-A rosters tend to be stocked with “Four-A” players that are trying to hang on to their professional dreams or get back to the Major Leagues.
As always, we’ll take a brief detour to update the Major League injury report. The big story is that Justin Verlander left his start on Monday night with shoulder discomfort and his status is unknown at this point. With Anibal Sanchez already on the disabled list, the Tigers, who made a huge splash by acquiring David Price at the Trade Deadline, are desperate for quality innings from the back-end of the patchwork rotation. Joakim Soria is also on the shelf for the Tigers. Manny Machado left Monday’s Orioles game after twisting his knee in the batter’s box. His status is also unknown at this point. The White Sox lost Adam Eaton until mid-September at best with a strained oblique. The Indians placed both David Murphy and Nick Swisher on the disabled list with various injuries. Carlos Gonzalez is back on the DL for the Rockies. Exciting Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom is on the DL with shoulder tendinitis.
Those are some key injuries and ones that could impact some playoff races. Back to the discussion at hand about pitcher call-ups. Understand that the Pacific Coast League tends to be geared towards offense. A lot of teams play in higher elevations and the ball will carry well. Not to the extent that balls carry at Coors Field, although there are some parks that are similar, so numbers for pitchers in that league are going to be on the high side. At that point, bettors should look for strikeout-to-walk ratios and slugging percentages against. There aren’t comprehensive fielding statistics available for minor league teams and that can always skew a pitcher’s ERA and hits statistics.
As for the International League, only a couple of parks, including Columbus’s Huntington Park rate among the top PCL parks in hitting. The IL tends to have some better pitching numbers because of the more neutral and sometimes even pitcher-friendly parks. A 3.50 ERA in the International League doesn’t mean the same as it does in the Pacific Coast League. Context is important and something that bettors absolutely have to be aware of with call-ups. As always, it’s best to disregard win-loss record because that is a misleading statistic for pitchers.
The thing is that prospects like Noah Syndergaard and Jameson Taillon are more on the verge of household names than guys like Robbie Ray, who is starting for the Tigers on Tuesday, Alex Meyer, the top pitching prospect in the Minnesota Twins organization, but they may be just as polished, if not more. Those under-the-radar type prospects are going to come up with a lot less buzz and will be pitching in stress-free environments.
Guys that paid their dues at the minor league level or journeymen are another group that bettors need to be aware of at this time of the season as well. Guys who are going to get a call-up for any number of reasons, but they have pitched professionally for a while and know how to pitch. Some teams may shut down their prized arms to limit their workloads and that means that late August and early September starts will be taken by Yohan Flandes and Jerome Williamses of the world. They won’t get much respect, but maybe they learned a new pitch or have a situation with a good defense or a pitcher-friendly park.
During this time of year, the focus is mostly on football and preparations for the season, but don’t miss out on some of the profitable opportunities that arise towards the end of baseball season.