Major League Baseball
Paul Skenes' electric start shifts MLB odds: 'A buzz every time he pitches'
Major League Baseball

Paul Skenes' electric start shifts MLB odds: 'A buzz every time he pitches'

Updated May. 22, 2024 6:23 p.m. ET

Just one calendar year after dominating the college baseball landscape with a 13-2 record, 1.69 ERA and 209 strikeouts over 120 innings of work at LSU, right-handed fireballer Paul Skenes is already raising eyebrows in the show.  

Skenes made his debut at a sold-out PNC Park crowd two Saturdays ago and dazzled the crowd of 34,924 fans with seven strikeouts, 102 mile-per-hour fastballs, a splitter that touched 96 and a changeup near 90.

The 21-year-old Pittsburgh Pirates phenom has arrived.

"I see hope," longtime bookmaker and diehard Pirates fan Dave Sharapan told FOX Sports from Las Vegas. "I see excitement. I see an ace. They’re gonna build this team around him and Jared Jones. The buildup wasn’t bad, either, because they didn’t keep Skenes in [Triple-A Indianapolis] long.


"His first home game against the Chicago Cubs was electric. My buddies back home were sending pictures. The place was packed. Fans were standing every time he threw a strike. Old-school baseball returned to Pittsburgh.

"Then I went to see him pitch in Chicago for his second start. And there was a buzz at Wrigley Field. He struck out the first three batters he faced. Then he struck out the next three batters. He struck out the seventh guy, too. The eighth guy grounded out, and the place booed!"

With Sharapan in attendance, Skenes tossed six no-hit innings, reached 100 pitches and struck out a whopping 11 batters with only one walk.  


"There’s going to be a buzz every time he pitches."

It’s one thing to watch Skenes hurl triple-digit heat at hitters from your living room; it’s another to see that speed up close. I remember covering Aroldis Chapman’s 2016 debut with the Cubs. The ballpark was slammed and Chapman entered the game to "Wake Up" by Rage Against The Machine.

Chapman’s heater touched 104 miles per hour that night and I may or may not have razzed the guy operating the radar gun about juicing the numbers.

Not only does speed kill, it sells.

"The downward movement on Skenes’ splitter was stupid," Sharapan continued. "He’s throwing that thing 95 [miles per hour]. And that’s after fastballs at 101. Now I know why the Pirates signed Yasmani Grandal. They needed a veteran catcher that could defend himself.

"When you see it in person, you can truly gauge how fast it is. Think about when you drive a car 90 miles an hour. Every extra mile, you feel it. You start going 93, 94, 95, 96 — it’s a lot different. You get to 100, the wheel starts shaking. Not that I’ve ever done anything like that before.

"But you feel the speed. That’s what it’s like with Skenes."

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From a wagering standpoint, American bookmakers are already tinkering with Skenes’ propositional bets. His strikeout prop the day of his Major League debut opened at [O/U] 6.5 and got juiced out to -130 on the Over.

Naturally, Skenes struck out seven.

The books dealt [O/U] 6.5 again in Skenes’ second start, and he absolutely blazed that number, striking out the aforementioned 11 Cubs hitters.

What’s the number in start No. 3?

"It’s interesting because 6.5 and 7.5 are worrisome numbers during football," Sharapan explained. "Not for strikeout props in the month of May.

"The books opened [O/U] 6.5 the first couple starts because nobody was sure how deep Skenes was going to go in these games. Then the Pirates went ahead and extended him to 100 pitches in his second start.

"You can’t make it 6.5 anymore. You can’t make the juice high enough to keep it 6.5, so you go to 7.5. It’s something they’ll have to monitor because these Skenes Day K props are going to have major handle. I would personally use 8.5 to the Under and let them bet it with 8 working for me.

"Forget about the 6.5s, though. Bye bye."   

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With the championship rounds right around the corner in the NBA and NHL, it’s about that time of the year when sportsbooks tend to get a little extra creative to stir up betting interest to keep people firing.

I was only able to make a $250 wager on Skenes’ strikeout props at a couple shops here in Massachusetts, but I can assure you there’s an appetite for people in bigger betting circles to make larger plays on Skenes.

Maybe DraftKings and FanDuel will raise the stakes soon.

"If you’re able to take bigger limits, do it," Sharapan said. "This is the time of the year you expand the menu. There’s only one basketball game and one hockey game a night this week. The Caitlin Clark games will bring in business. Just keep the customers coming back for big events and they’ll bet you.

"Maybe they’ll raise the limits on Skenes props."

We’ve also seen a massive dip in Skenes’ odds to win National League Rookie of the Year. Before his debut, he was around 25-1 [$100 wins $2,500] to bring home the hardware. Now you’re lucky to find anything higher than 5-1.

Cubs’ southpaw Shota Imanaga is a near even-money favorite at most shops, followed by Dodgers’ righty Yoshinobu Yamamoto at 4-1, then Skenes at 5-1 and his Pirates teammate Jared Jones closer to 15-2.

"These markets move exponentially," Sharapan said. "This isn’t going from 20-1 to 18-1 and slow nudging the price down. You can easily see a guy go from 20-1 to 10-1 after a couple of starts. Then it goes from 10-1 to 5-1."

Can he win it?

"It’s Imanaga’s award to win right now, but there’s always injury concerns with pitchers," Sharapan admitted. "And the first four contenders for [NL ROY] are pitchers. All four of those guys. There’s not a position player in single digits.

"Guys were asking me about Skenes’ price at 20-1 and I told them all the same thing. The number has nowhere to go but down. It’s not going up."

Assuming Skenes continues to wow bettors and bookmakers, you’ll continue to see adjustments in every market. It’s not just strikeouts and award markets, either. Sometimes the sportsbooks try to get a little too cute.

Perhaps the best indicator of just how dominant Skenes has been in a very short time is the season strikeout market at DraftKings Sportsbook. Their traders hung 109.5 before Skenes’ first start on May 11. That number is all the way up to 152.5 right now, 43 Ks higher than the opening figure.


"They got to the right number," Sharapan cracked. "But that’s a big ol’ middle!" 

Sam Panayotovich is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and NESN. He previously worked for WGN Radio, NBC Sports and VSiN. He'll probably pick against your favorite team. Follow him on Twitter @spshoot. 

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