World Series bettors face a Justin Verlander conundrum

It sounds like a spy novel, “The Verlander Conundrum.”

Should you bet on a pitcher who obviously has Cy Young-caliber skill sets when neither he nor his team are getting results in his starts? That’s definitely on the minds of baseball bettors heading into Tuesday night’s sixth game of the 2019 World Series featuring the Nationals and Verlander’s Astros (8:07 p.m., Fox).

Betting markets have largely ignored his recent tendency to burn money. Verlander is still priced like a stud. He closed in the -165 to -170 range at home in his first World Series start vs. Washington and one of its aces, Stephen Strasburg. He’ll get respect again Tuesday in the rematch at Minute Maid Park.

Verlander started the postseason with a gem, throwing seven innings of one-hit shutout ball in a victory over Tampa Bay. In four games since, his ERA is 5.40 with a 1.37 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) and six home runs allowed.

He’s had two “second looks” so far in the playoffs (Tampa Bay and the Yankees). In those, his ERA is 6.75 with a WHIP of 1.41 and four home runs allowed in just 10²/₃ innings. Obviously Tuesday’s huge game represents a second look for Nats hitters.

Even when Verlander is pitching well, it’s tough for backers to consistently make money because of high money-line prices and uncertain run support. He has to clear higher hurdles than almost any other pitcher. Over Verlander’s last 15 outings, Houston has a record of 8-7. But, that’s a debacle for bettors because money lines in his recent losses closed around -170, -140, -225, -285, -490, -190, and -430. That’s -19.3 in the failures, meaning a “money” record of eight wins and 19.3 losses (-11.3 units).

Keys to making a smart bet Tuesday:

  • Evaluating whether or not a third straight playoff-caliber offense can solve Verlander’s skill sets in a repeated viewing. It wouldn’t hurt to go back and study what other teams did in the regular season when seeing him twice within a short period.
  • Remembering Strasburg! As great as he’s been in the playoffs, he was also subpar in a second look vs. the Dodgers. His one-game ERA was 4.50. And, he allowed two home runs in six innings of what proved to be a 7-3 extra-inning victory at Chavez Ravine. Washington could hit Verlander, but still lose.
  • Studying bullpen usage and performance thus far to determine which staff is most likely to win the last two or three innings. Monday’s day off will help rest up key arms. But repeated looks at the same relievers could help hitters on both teams.

It’s also worth remembering that betting markets have been influenced by deep-pocketed Houston furniture magnate Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, who has bet millions on the Astros in an attempt to offset the cost of a store promotion in which he offered refunds if the team wins the World Series. Many sportsbooks are one-sided on the Astros because of his big bets alone. They must price to encourage Washington action to lessen risk.

Can you spy the winner?

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