MLB Betting Preview: 7 Pitchers Overvalued by the Market Ahead of Opening Day
Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday RM via Getty Images. Pictured: Justin Verlander
Most MLB teams have announced their Opening Day rosters as the calendar nears Thursday’s first day of the 162-game marathon season. On Monday, I wrote about 10 pitchers I’m looking to bet on early in 2023.
Here are seven pitchers the market could be potentially overvaluing based on overperformance in 2022 or concerning indicators from spring training in 2023.
I’ve followed Manoah since he impressed in the Cape League in 2018 and rose through the Toronto organization quickly to debut in 2021. I have him as a keeper in my main dynasty league and even had a longshot Cy Young ticket on him in 2022.
I’ve been bullish on him for years, but there are some troubling indicators for Manoah in spring training. His velocity was down multiple ticks and as a result, his Stuff+ number dropped off considerably. The Athletic’s Eno Sarris has a Stuff+ model that tracks pitch shapes and velocity. Stuff+ has been validated as an excellent predictor of future ERA.
Manoah never had overwhelming stuff to begin with. His slider is excellent, but the Toronto righty had a 99 Stuff+ in 2022, right around league average. Through March 22 in spring, his Stuff+ drops to 87. He pitched to a 2.24 ERA in 2022 and his expected indicators were closer to a 3.30 ERA. He won’t be able to replicate a 2.24 ERA again even if he kept up his 2022 stuff, given that his strikeout rate was already less than one per inning.
Further decline in stuff on his fastball from velocity loss would leave him with just one above average pitch. The projection systems seem to be picking up some red flags for Manoah given the modest 3.60 ERA consensus. He has even more downside risk than this given park changes.
I bet against Bieber plenty in 2022 and definitely didn’t come out ahead in those fades. His stuff saw a clear decline and that was evidenced by his loss of fastball velocity and lower strikeout rate. Bieber had a 14.2 K/9 in 2020, 12.5 K/9 in 2021 and dropped all the way down to 8.9 K/9 last season. The Guardians play elite defense and have optimal shifts in place to help him, but Bieber isn’t the same pitcher that he was at his peak.
The command remains elite and that gives him a very high floor. But I don’t see an ace here when only one of his three primary pitches grades as above average by Stuff+. His zone contact rate allowed was the 13th highest in all of baseball in 2022 among qualified starters -– Kyle Gibson, Jose Quintana and Marco Gonzales were the three pitchers in front of him when you sort the stat. It’s not a list you want to be on, unless you’re an elite groundball artist like Framber Valdez (9th).
Bieber has negative regression coming in his HR/FB rate and will face a tougher schedule now. The projections are too high on him and I’m ready to bet against him again this year.
Tony Gonsolin has one elite pitch — his splitter — and he rode it with some BABIP luck into an elite 2022 season when healthy. The projection systems have him pegged for a 3.75 consensus ERA, but I think Gonsolin is more likely to have his ERA begin with a four in 2023.
Gonsolin has trouble commanding the splitter to begin with and that could lead to walk issues for him. He’s never been an elite command guy and he graded out as exactly average by Location+ in 2022.
His Stuff+ in 2022 was 102. That’s slightly above league average. The question is whether or not Gonsolin can consistently beat BABIP projections. He’s beaten them through his first 227 innings in MLB and maybe he really does just consistently induce weak contact.
Odds are his BABIP allowed will regress closer to league average and Gonsolin will be a league average starter on an often-inflated Dodgers squad.
Wright took a massive step forward in 2022 and finally showcased what his past prospect status suggested he could be. He had more wins than any other starter in baseball in 2023 and that alone should be a glaring signal that we could be at the top of the market on the Braves starter.
He saw a huge jump in his K/9 in the first half of the 2023 season, but dropped off as the season progressed. Now that he has a minor injury and will miss Opening Day, there are more red flags going up about the Braves right-hander.
Wright’s improved Stuff+ in 2022 didn’t really result in more strikeouts. He just cut his walk rate considerably and Location numbers aren’t nearly as consistent year to year for pitchers. Now that he didn’t get a full ramp-up to begin the season because of injury, there are questions if Wright’s improved 2022 command will really stick.
There’s a lot of downside risk for Wright, a pitcher that has a limited track record of consistent MLB success but was priced as a solid No. 2 starter by the end of 2022.
Quantrill had the third worst K-BB% among all qualified starters in 2022. He, like Bieber, benefitted from the Guardians’ elite defense and some BABIP luck. The new shift rules could hurt Quantrill too. His spring training Stuff+ came in at 90, and he finished last season sub 90 with Stuff+ as well.
It’s not as if Quantrill has consistently plus command. His xERA was almost a full run higher than his actual ERA, and while he did a solid job of avoiding hard contact in 2022, there are major questions about how repeatable that is when you don’t miss bats in the zone.
Quantrill allowed a top-eight zone contact rate in all of baseball last season. He’s a below average MLB starter in 2023.
The last two names on this list make up the hold-your-nose section of the season. Sometimes in baseball, you have to bet against elite teams or elite starting pitchers because their prices become so inflated. Verlander is a classic example. He’s one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball and won the AL Cy Young.
He also lowered his ERA despite striking out considerably fewer batters last season. He rode some good BABIP and strand rate luck to manage his elite ERA. The projection systems have him around a 3.10 ERA, and we’ll see how the market prices him once we get to the start of the season.
He’ll have a considerable downgrade in defense this season. Houston was second in OAA as a team last year, and the Mets project to be below average defensively. At some point, his drop from 10.5 K/9 to 9.5 K/9 will catch up to him.
Verlander’s elite command will keep him good, but he’ll probably be overvalued.
The market routinely failed to keep up with Alcantara last season en route to his Cy Young campaign. He pitched a mammoth number of innings, got lit up in the WBC and could face some regression this season. He still grades out as elite by Stuff+, but his lack of strikeouts make him a potential fade candidate in same spots.
He’s a guy who routinely beat his projections and most models because he induces so much weak contact and ground balls to erase base runners. He rarely was barreled in 2022, but he did regress a bit down the stretch with a few blow ups.
There’s always going to be at least a yellow flag when someone who throws as hard as Alcantara throws 228 innings in one season. He’s not at the top of the fade list, but he’s on the potential watch list for me.
Others to Watch:
Chris Bassitt’s stuff numbers were down considerably as well in spring training, and while he’s more of a pitch mix and command guy, that could be a troubling indicator. The same is true for Nick Lodolo, who some thought would be a 2023 breakout. Patrick Corbin has one of the worst fastballs in baseball and looked quite cooked. He starts Opening Day for the Nationals. The Phillies top three guys — Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suarez — will need to be monitored for signs of fatigue after pitching a lot of innings into November.
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