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NY Post
New York Post
1 Jul 2023

NextImg:MLB picks: How expected stats can mislead bettors

When bettors are looking to put together a list of pitchers worth fading, the first thing they’ll do is go look at his expected stats according to Statcast.

These numbers are based off hit probabilities, so in theory you can see which hurlers are simply getting lucky and, in turn, which will regress.

It’s not always that simple, however.

In fact, there’s a lot of money to be made by backing some of these so-called “lucky” pitchers.

When you have a team behind you that can routinely steal away outs on batted balls with a high hit probability, your expected stats aren’t going to matter quite as much.

This is still an exploitable area in the market as handicappers have been scratching their heads all season long at the success of several pitchers.

Let’s talk about the Texas Rangers for a moment.

They’ve assembled an incredible defense, ranking first in defensive runs saved and third in outs above average.

Their outfield ranks third in defensive runs saved, and their infield ranks first in estimated success rate according to Statcast.

Dane Dunning

Dane Dunning
Getty Images

They’ve got two starters with awful peripherals; Jon Gray owns a 4.19 expected ERA and a high .253 expected batting average while Dane Dunning’s xERA checks in at 4.58 and his xBA at a poor .269.

Both men have kept their ERA at 2.89 or better through roughly 80 innings.

Why? Well, they’re taking full advantage of the team behind them.

Gray has become a fly-ball pitcher in 2023 with a career-high 27.9 percent fly-ball rate entering the weekend while Dunning has kept 49 percent of batted balls on the ground.

Gray’s strikeout rate is down nearly four points from last season while Dunning’s 15.9 percent strikeout rate puts him in the bottom 9 percent of all pitchers.

Sonny Gray

Sonny Gray
Getty Images

Pitching with a great defense, it makes perfect sense that these two would stop trying to strike so many out and opt to allow more contact.

It’s led to more success this season, and while the expected stats would point to the pair regressing their defense is the real reason behind these stellar results.

Had both of these men been pitching for the Boston Red Sox, for example, their ERA would likely be north of four runs.

It’s always important to know which numbers will influence bettors, because if you can comprehend them you can exploit market inefficiencies.

Gray and Dunning aren’t lucky.

They may be lucky to wear a Rangers uniform this season, but given what we’ve seen there’s certainly no reason why these two should regress.

With that, a smart strategy in the second half of the season may be to find more defenses like the Rangers’ and more pitchers like Dunning.

The Blue Jays and Padres both have top-five outfield defenses judging by defensive runs saved which makes previously fade-able pitchers like Yusei Kikuchi and Michael Wacha a bit more attractive than they’ve been in years past.

On the flip side, the Cardinals’ defense ranks fifth-worst in the game, making it hard for a guy like Miles Mikolas to successfully pitch to contact as he’s done for many years.

The next time you wonder why the numbers indicate a pitcher’s been incredibly lucky, take a look at their defense before shorting them.