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What Is More Important for Handicapping Starting Pitchers: ERA or WHIP?

Ryan Feltner Colorado Rockies Colorado

Beyond ERA, WHIP offers deeper insights into a pitcher’s performance, especially in baseball betting. While ERA measures effectiveness, WHIP, combining hits and walks per inning pitched, sheds light on a pitcher’s control and ability to prevent baserunners, crucial for wagering success.

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For decades, a pitcher’s earned run average was the benchmark for how they were viewed. Because baseball, more than any other sport, can be quantified by statistics, there was a shift in finding more useful ways of looking at the sport.

In 1979, Daniel Okrent, a writer who invented rotisserie league fantasy baseball, coined the term WHIP, which referred to Walks, Hits for Innings Pitched. Though it became accepted in MLB circles and later with baseball bettors as a more accurate description of skill, the ERA has stood the test of time.

For handicapping, which application is better for determining the stronger starting pitcher? Let’s search for clues and answers before heading to our top-rated sportsbooks

The Case for the ERA

The ERA has not changed and is still a very reliable tool to measure the effectiveness of a pitcher. If a starting hurler has an ERA under 3.00, one can easily assume this is a quality hurler, especially if he maintains that earned run average into August and beyond.

At the same time, once pitchers have eight to 10 starts and their ERA is over 5.00, they are showing the numbers are either consistently poor, possibly widely variable home/road splits or dialed in every other start and cannot throw a strike the next outing.

Why the ERA Has Flaws

There is a general belief that an ERA lacks a predictive nature. (There are two sides to that argument.)

Let’s say a pitcher is 7-2, yet has an ERA of 4.70 in a dozen starts. Obviously, he’s not thrown especially well and he’s more often than not been bailed out by the offense to have such a good record. If this ball-chucker is having a year where he’s a “good luck” charm for the offense and they put up five or six runs early, he’s pitching without pressure. He then loses focus and gives three or more runs back. His team won 8-5, but it was hardly a quality start.

This is where a WHIP can answer more questions.

The Value of the WHIP Explained

The advantage of the WHIP is it combines hits and walks divided by innings.

If a pitcher has a 3.50 ERA, his record is 7-3, with a WHIP of 1.60, every start is a house of cards. The scenario points out this pitcher has been exceptional in working out of jams to that point of the year. Nonetheless, it is unlikely this can continue, particularly against teams that are known for scoring and have a high on-base percentage.

Though the precise predictive nature is still unknown, you can piece the puzzle pieces together using the WHIP, both over the year or in a hurler’s last three starts.

In today’s game, a WHIP of 1.19 or lower will prevent baserunners and bigger innings. From 1.20 to 1.49, that is problematic, outing to outing for those who toe the rubber first. Once you hit 1.50 and higher, the chance of a loss and playing the OVER comes into play.

Don’t Use the WHIP as a Singular Measurement

No matter how good the WHIP is in understanding a more complete aspect of a starting pitcher, that is not the only answer. If you are betting MLB money lines, you want to be on the right side of an outcome. For betting on baseball, the bettor needs the best info on the pitching matchup but understanding the whole picture matters more.

Case in point, Jacob deGrom in 2018-19. Here are deGrom’s ERA and WHIP for those two years with the New York Mets.

  • 2018 1.70 ERA and 0.912 WHIP
  • 2019 2.34 ERA and 0.971 WHIP

These fantastic numbers were over 32 starts in each season and in 2019, deGrom won the Cy Young. Nonetheless, if you were backing deGrom and the Mets, here were their records in those seasons.

  • 2018 11-8, 14-18 (Mets record) -10.4 units
  • 2019 10-9, 14-18 (Mets record) -14.9 units

Despite deGrom’s brilliance, the Metropolitans did not score enough runs or the bullpen failed, and betting baseball with one of MLB’s best pitchers was a complete failure.

In the end, the WHIP might be better than an ERA when studying matchups, but you better know the entire picture if you want to win wagers.

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