Sports Betting

If you’re looking at a pitcher’s ERA when betting on baseball, you’re doing it wrong

Last weekend we talked about the best ways for sports bettors to evaluate Major League Baseball offenses (look at team on-base percentage!). Today, we’re going focus on starting pitching.

Most bettors place a lot of weight on who’s starting on the mound for each team. But, they do so with a statistic that’s outdated and often very misleading. If you’re going to bet baseball through the summer, DON’T use earned run average!

There are better options. And, real handicappers don’t take shortcuts. Sharps (professional bettors) aim to develop a deep sense of skill sets to evaluate how well starting pitchers are equipped to perform in given situations.

First, what’s wrong with ERA?

It can be easily polluted to give a bad read. Imagine a pitcher who throws well in three starts (six innings, two earned runs allowed each time), but then gets knocked around hard in his fourth start (six earned runs allowed in two innings). That’s 20 innings pitched, and 12 earned runs allowed for an ERA of 5.40.

Would you bet on a starting pitcher with an ERA of 5.40? That’s a lousy ERA! You’d avoid him. Would you bet on a starting pitcher that throws well three out of four times? You probably should. You’ll lose the bad outing but be strongly positioned to win the other three.

Same guy. You let the high ERA scare you off a pitcher who usually gets the job done.

On the other end of the spectrum, mediocre hurlers can have misleadingly good ERA’s if they throw their home games in pitchers’ parks, if the majority of their starts have come in difficult hitting weather (cool temperatures or winds blowing in), or if the majority of their starts have come against bad offenses.

You won’t make money betting on “mediocre,” particularly when those arms are matched up against elite offenses or challenged by friendly hitting conditions.

What do sharps do? It’s been very clear for YEARS that informed money places a lot of weight on the ability to get strikeouts…and the ability to go deep into games. You may have noticed yourself that the most expensive pitchers have high k-rates (strikeouts per nine innings) and often last into the seventh inning. The pitchers who can control their own destiny in the dominating fashion.

If a pitcher you’re not familiar with has been called up from the minor leagues, and is getting surprising market respect, you can be certain he’s a flamethrower rather than a nibbler.

There are a variety of baseball statistical websites in cyberspace. Here are the key stats you should be studying to evaluate skill sets…

Innings pitcher per start (total innings divided by number of starts, the higher the better).

Strikeouts per nine innings (low K pitchers are at the mercy of opposing bats, while high K pitchers avoid contact with opposing bats!)

WHIP (walks and hits allowed per innings pitched, the lower the better, because opposing offenses can’t score if they’re not getting runners on base)

Home runs allowed per nine innings (the lower the better because dinger-prone pitchers are in big trouble with the aerodynamic 2019 baseballs).

VSiN will provide handicapping tips for Major League Baseball throughout the season.

Other Notes

Fireworks lately in the NL Central division, with both the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs heating up. They face each other at Wrigley Field this weekend in a rivalry series that will be prominent on national television (Saturday, FS1, 3:05 p.m.; Sunday, ESPN, 6:05 p.m.).

Other TV attractions for bettors: Oakland at Pittsburgh (Saturday, FS1, 6:05 p.m.); and Houston at the Los Angeles Angels (Sunday, ESPN, 3:10 p.m.).

The Astros are current global favorites to win the World Series at 5/1. If you’re wondering about the Cards and Cubs, division-leading St. Louis centers around 14/1, Chicago around 16/1.

A basketball follow-up…Golden State and Houston resume their second-round Western Conference series Saturday night after a long layoff (ABC, 7:30 p.m.). The Warriors won the first two games at Oracle. Houston should close around -3.5 in a must-win spot in its home opener. Oddsmakers often shade point spreads to defend against public bettors lining up to bet must-win hosts. The Game Four line is expected to be a bit lower.

Also in the Western Conference, Denver will visit Portland Sunday night for Game Four of that series (TNT, 6 p.m.).

Jeff Fogle writes the daily VSiN newsletter. Sign up at