Does it make sense to invest in MLB’s best pitchers?

With Major League Baseball underway, the ScoreMetrics Lab offers a helping hand by exploring the viability of investing in some of the game’s top pitchers.

This isn’t the first time we’re talking about investing in players instead of teams. You can read what we wrote about the Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard as an investment case here.

For this exercise, we look at the top four starting pitchers with the most wins from last season, all playing for marquee franchises of the game. 

Houston’s Justin Verlander racked up a league-leading 21 wins in 2019 during the regular season. He was followed by his former teammate Gerrit Cole (who is throwing for the New York Yankees in 2020) with 20 W’s. Boston’s Eduardo Rodríguez had 19, while Domingo Germán got 18 for the Yankees. Germán shared the 4th spot on the list with Zack Greinke and Stephen Strasburg.

All four players obviously had successful seasons, but would it have made sense to invest in their teams winning when they started? Keep on reading to find out. 

Small gains for the Astros duo

For this research, we backtracked what would have happened if we would’ve invested $100 on each pitcher’s team winning when they started. Let’s begin with Verlander’s case. 

Intuition might tell you that investing in the pitcher with the most wins in a season would provide value, but when we look at the table below, we see very small returns. 

Home TeamVisitor TeamHome ScoreVisitor ScoreEvent DateOddsResultUnits Won
Los Angeles AngelsHouston Astros3628/09/2019-423W$23,60
Houston AstrosLos Angeles Angels13522/09/2019-521W$19,20
Houston AstrosTexas Rangers4117/09/2019-326W$30,70
Houston AstrosOakland Athletics2312/09/2019-278L-$100,00
Houston AstrosSeattle Mariners2107/09/2019-381W$26,20
Toronto Blue JaysHouston Astros0201/09/2019-265W$37,70
Houston AstrosTampa Bay Rays15127/08/2019-190W$52,60
Houston AstrosDetroit Tigers1221/08/2019-518L-$100,00
Oakland AthleticsHouston Astros3216/08/2019-187L-$100,00
Baltimore OriolesHouston Astros8711/08/2019-462L-$100,00
Houston AstrosSeattle Mariners3104/08/2019-419W$23,90
Cleveland IndiansHouston Astros0230/07/2019-138W$72,50
Houston AstrosOakland Athletics4224/07/2019-206W$48,50
Houston AstrosTexas Rangers4319/07/2019-209W$47,80
Texas RangersHouston Astros41214/07/2019-205W$48,80
Houston AstrosLos Angeles Angels4505/07/2019-232L-$100,00
Houston AstrosSeattle Mariners6529/06/2019-316W$31,60
New York YankeesHouston Astros4923/06/2019-127W$78,70
Cincinnati RedsHouston Astros4318/06/2019-170L-$100,00
Houston AstrosMilwaukee Brewers3612/06/2019-135L-$100,00
Seattle MarinersHouston Astros7806/06/2019-181W$55,20
Oakland AthleticsHouston Astros1501/06/2019-135W$74,10
Houston AstrosBoston Red Sox1426/05/2019-165L-$100,00
Houston AstrosChicago White Sox5121/05/2019-329W$30,40
Detroit TigersHouston Astros1515/05/2019-362W$27,60
Houston AstrosTexas Rangers3010/05/2019-254W$39,40
Los Angeles AngelsHouston Astros41005/05/2019-215W$46,50
Minnesota TwinsHouston Astros1029/04/2019-170L-$100,00
Houston AstrosMinnesota Twins7124/04/2019-234W$42,70
Texas RangersHouston Astros2719/04/2019-214W$46,70
Seattle MarinersHouston Astros1313/04/2019-191W$52,40
Houston AstrosNew York Yankees4308/04/2019-150W$66,70
Texas RangersHouston Astros6402/04/2019-221L-$100,00
Tampa Bay RaysHouston Astros1528/03/2019-126W$79,40


Verlander’s Astros won 70.6% of the games he started, but the ROI for our investment is a measly 3% for a total of $3400 invested. Looking at the odds, you’ll see that bookmakers favored Houston in each of Verlander’s starts last season. That meant a low return for us on each of his wins, which in turn makes the investment very risky and probably not very profitable in the long run.

Gerrit Cole, Verlander’s teammate last year, had a similar looking season. The Astros were the favorite in each of his 33 starts and won 78.8% of those games. Our investment to Cole would have been $3300 and our return $392.90 (11.9% ROI). Better than Verlander, but still a very low number.

Rodríguez and Germán return more value

Moving on to Boston, let’s look at how Eduardo Rodríguez fared.

Home TeamVisitor TeamHome ScoreVisitor ScoreEvent DateOddsResultUnits Won
Boston Red SoxBaltimore Orioles5429/09/2019-292W$34,20
Texas RangersBoston Red Sox101224/09/2019-220W$45,50
Boston Red SoxSan Francisco Giants5419/09/2019-156W$64,10
Philadelphia PhilliesBoston Red Sox1214/09/2019110W$110,00
Boston Red SoxNew York Yankees0509/09/2019106L-$100,00
Boston Red SoxMinnesota Twins6204/09/2019-154W$64,90
Colorado RockiesBoston Red Sox4728/08/2019-181W$55,20
San Diego PadresBoston Red Sox01123/08/2019-118W$84,70
Boston Red SoxBaltimore Orioles4017/08/2019-314W$31,80
Cleveland IndiansBoston Red Sox6512/08/2019-120L-$100,00
New York YankeesBoston Red Sox4202/08/2019117L-$100,00
Boston Red SoxNew York Yankees9527/07/2019-140W$71,40
Tampa Bay RaysBoston Red Sox4922/07/2019-120W$83,30
Boston Red SoxToronto Blue Jays5417/07/2019-251W$39,80
Boston Red SoxLos Angeles Dodgers8112/07/2019-112W$89,30
Detroit TigersBoston Red Sox6905/07/2019-229W$43,70
Boston Red SoxNew York Yankees81230/06/2019-114L-$100,00
Boston Red SoxChicago White Sox6524/06/2019-168W$59,50
Minnesota TwinsBoston Red Sox4919/06/2019104W$104,00
Baltimore OriolesBoston Red Sox21314/06/2019-231W$43,30
Boston Red SoxTampa Bay Rays1609/06/2019119L-$100,00
Kansas City RoyalsBoston Red Sox3804/06/2019-201W$49,80
Houston AstrosBoston Red Sox1426/05/2019152W$152,00
Toronto Blue JaysBoston Red Sox10321/05/2019-141L-$100,00
Boston Red SoxColorado Rockies6515/05/2019-140W$71,40
Boston Red SoxSeattle Mariners14110/05/2019-200W$50,00
Chicago White SoxBoston Red Sox21504/05/2019-171W$58,50
Boston Red SoxOakland Athletics9429/04/2019-133W$75,20
Boston Red SoxDetroit Tigers11424/04/2019-214W$46,70
Tampa Bay RaysBoston Red Sox4619/04/2019-113W$88,50
Boston Red SoxBaltimore Orioles6412/04/2019-249W$40,20
Oakland AthleticsBoston Red Sox7304/04/2019-116L-$100,00
Seattle MarinersBoston Red Sox6530/03/2019-162L-$100,00


That’s 33 games started and Boston winning 75.8% of them. Our $3300 investment has a 26% ROI. So, Cole had a higher winning percentage, but Rodríguez would’ve still returned over twice the amount that we got for Cole in the same amount of games. The reason is easy to spot – the Red Sox were underdogs in some of the games they won, providing us with higher returns.

Finally, how about Domingo Germán? 

Home TeamVisitor TeamHome ScoreVisitor ScoreEvent DateOddsResultUnits Won
Boston Red SoxNew York Yankees6106/09/2019-126L-$100,00
New York YankeesOakland Athletics3331/08/2019-185P$0,00
Los Angeles DodgersNew York Yankees1525/08/2019141W$141,00
Oakland AthleticsNew York Yankees6220/08/2019-126L-$100,00
New York YankeesBaltimore Orioles8313/08/2019-307W$32,60
Toronto Blue JaysNew York Yankees61208/08/2019-178W$56,20
New York YankeesBoston Red Sox9203/08/2019113W$113,00
Boston Red SoxNew York Yankees6928/07/2019156W$156,00
Minnesota TwinsNew York Yankees121423/07/2019-114W$87,70
New York YankeesTampa Bay Rays6218/07/2019-161W$62,10
New York YankeesToronto Blue Jays4012/07/2019-279W$35,80
New York MetsNew York Yankees1503/07/2019-138W$72,50
Cleveland IndiansNew York Yankees5207/06/2019-111L-$100,00
New York YankeesBoston Red Sox5301/06/2019-128W$78,10
Kansas City RoyalsNew York Yankees8726/05/2019-154L-$100,00
Baltimore OriolesNew York Yankees41121/05/2019-250W$40,00
New York YankeesBaltimore Orioles3115/05/2019-239W$41,80
Tampa Bay RaysNew York Yankees3410/05/2019155W$155,00
New York YankeesMinnesota Twins4105/05/2019-131W$76,30
San Francisco GiantsNew York Yankees51128/04/2019-126W$79,40
Los Angeles AngelsNew York Yankees5723/04/2019-102W$98,00
New York YankeesKansas City Royals1618/04/2019-197L-$100,00
Baltimore OriolesNew York Yankees31507/04/2019-175W$57,10
New York YankeesDetroit Tigers3101/04/2019-215W$46,50


He started the fewest amount of games out of the pack at 24 starts, but the investment would have been by far the best at a 38.7% ROI for $2400 invested. That’s starting to look pretty decent. 

Risky returns

So, what should we make of this data? 

The investment cases for the Astros duo were clearly weak. Bad odds equaled into small gains with a high risk. 

The ones for Rodríguez and Germán looked much more enticing. But swing a couple of the close games where they were underdogs the other way and the returns take significant hits. 

In short, the ScoreMetrics Lab would not recommend these investments based on this research. But the data does point us to some potentially interesting directions and further avenues for research. 

What if we look at the pitchers with most wins from the last 10 years, would that give us solid evidence to back an investment? How about including ATS and O/U performances, is there something there? Or maybe the best gains just don’t come from the most famous of pitchers and ball clubs?

Certainly a topic to keep an eye on throughout the season!

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