Why parlaying the moneyline and Under is tough with MLB's best power pitchers

May 18, 2017 |
Why parlaying the moneyline and Under is tough with MLB's best power pitchers
Chris Sale is the best power pitcher in baseball and has cashed in for moneyline/Under bettors in four of his eight starts. It would have been more if not for an inconsistent Boston offense.
Photo By - USA Today Images
Chris Sale is the best power pitcher in baseball and has cashed in for moneyline/Under bettors in four of his eight starts. It would have been more if not for an inconsistent Boston offense.
Photo By - USA Today Images

It has always been a generally accepted principle that power pitchers, characterized by Baseball Reference as players ranked in the top third of the league in strikeouts, allow fewer runs than finesse pitchers, or players who rank in the league's bottom third in whiffs.

But so far in 2017, that trend has been more prevalent than ever before. Batters are slashing a historically poor .224/.306/.372 against power pitchers entering Friday's action. At a sample size of more than 11,000 plate appearances, it appears this trend might just continue well into the season. And if that's the case, then identifying the top power pitchers taking advantage of plus matchups could mean a great deal of success at hitting on win/Under parlays.

The premise is simple: Great power pitchers generally win more games than their softer-throwing brethren, while allowing fewer runs in the process. But has that really been the case so far this season? Let's examine the performances of each pitcher ranked in the Top 5 in strikeouts in 2017, and see how they have fared in both moneylines and Under bets:

1. LHP Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox
SU: 6-2 (+3.21 units)
O/U: 2-6
Win/Under parlays: 4

Sale has been far and away the best strikeout pitcher in baseball, racking up 10 or more Ks in seven consecutive starts while leading the majors with 85 strikeouts - 15 more than runner-up Max Scherzer. That, combined with a sparkling 2.15 ERA in eight outings, has made Sale a terrific parlay choice in half his starts so far.

So why hasn't Sale been an even better parlay play? Blame the Red Sox offense, which has run extremely hot and cold for Sale. It has scored a combined 23 runs in Sale's last two starts, marking his only Overs of the season. That same offense was a major letdown in Sale's two under losses, scoring a combined one run in those outings.

2. RHP Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
SU: 5-3 (+0.06 units)
O/U: 5-3
Win/Under parlays: 2

Scherzer has not only piled up 70 strikeouts, he has also remained one of the best pitchers in the National League at overall run protection, sporting a 2.80 ERA through his eight starts. He has been a reliable option for the NL East-leading Nationals, going at least six innings in every start this season while going eight innings twice.

So why the low win/Under parlay total? The Washington offense has been a wrecking ball for the majority of the season, averaging better than 5.5 runs in Scherzer's five overs. And with totals of 7.5 or lower in four of those games, Scherzer's margin for error has been razor-thin. This is a case where it's probably better to avoid going Under on the Nationals, at least for now.

3. RHP Jacob DeGrom, New York Mets
SU: 4-4 (-1.31 units)
O/U: 4-3-1
Win/under parlays: 1

DeGrom single-handedly propped up the team's threadbare rotation in the early part of the season but has struggled of late. The strikeout total is impressive, but that's about all the hard-throwing right-hander has going for him so far. He has allowed three or more runs in each of his last five starts, walking 16 batters and allowing five homers over that span.

DeGrom has gone 3-0-1 O/U in his last four starts, thanks to a combination of poor pitching on his part and the Mets' bats waking up to the tune of 36 runs in that stretch. Even a totals jump hasn't made a difference, with two of those starts coming in at 8.5. At this point, there probably isn't a number below 10 that would make DeGrom a trustworthy Under play on his own.

4. RHP Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks
SU: 6-3 (+2.65 units)
O/U: 5-3-1
Win/under parlays: 2

The O/U is a concern, for sure, but there's a significant caveat here: Greinke opened the season with Overs in five of his first six starts, but has gone 0-2-1 O/U over his previous three. And were it not for an early offensive outburst in an April 29 no-decision against Colorado and a seventh-inning bullpen meltdown in an April 24 win over San Diego, he would be 0-4-1 O/U over his last five.

The point here is that the O/U figure as of May 20 simply doesn't tell the entire story. Greinke appears to have rediscovered his 2015 form — shaky May 16 outing against the Mets aside — and should be a much stronger Under play moving forward if you believe this version of Greinke is likely to stick around. At the very least, he should continue to see totals north of 8.

5. RHP Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
SU: 5-4 (+0.35 units)
O/U: 7-2
Win/under parlays: 1

Like DeGrom, Archer's strikeout proficiency is really all he has going for himself at the moment. The enigmatic 29 year old has been all over the place this season, allowing four or more runs in three of his last six starts. That, combined with Tampa Bay's surprisingly potent early-season offense, has resulted in a paucity of under plays through nine outings.

You simply can't trust an Archer start to go under. He's prone to blow-up innings, and even in games where he has everything under control, that Rays offense continues to be a force. As long as he continues to pitch to totals of 7.5 — as he has in seven of his nine starts — you're better off playing the Win/Over parlay, which has already paid off four times.

Judging by the above examples, the win/Under parlay is far from the safest choice even among the top strikeout pitchers in the game. It is, however, worth noting that pitchers ranked No. 6-10 on the K list entering Friday - Jeff Samardzija, Clayton Kershaw, Danny Salazar, Yu Darvish and Lance McCullers Jr. — have hit the win/Under combo 16 times, compared to just 10 by the group above.

The lesson here? Factor in more than just whether a starting pitcher strikes out a lot of batters. Consider fading power pitchers backed by prolific offenses, particularly when those lineups are facing finesse pitchers. Weigh in a power pitcher's consistency level: is he prone to allowing big innings? Does a lack of control result in shorter outings? Power pitchers still produce the most win/Under parlays, but you have to make sure you're choosing the right power pitchers in the right situations.

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