MLB Futures: Assessing the MVP and Cy Young Betting Markets
Pictured: Wander Franco. (Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images)
We are now past the one-third mark and marching toward the halfway point. We've built up some solid portfolios in the awards market, know which markets we can leverage and shouldn’t be chasing at this point in the season.
As a brief reminder, here’s the criteria we will be using when looking over the MVP and Cy Young markets:
– We’re looking for someone typically in that peak range of 24-30 years old.
– Winning matters
– A previous strong finish in the MVP race is needed
– WAR is by far the most important statistic
– ERA is king. All other factors can be pushed away to bow at the altar of a top-two ERA.
With that in mind, let’s dig in. As a reminder, you can shop odds at multiple books for all MLB awards by visiting our futures betting odds page.
We’ve talked in past editions about how this is our best leveraged market. If you’ve been tailing, your portfolio has each of the top three candidates — all at better numbers than present.
So should we be content with our current spot? Of the names contending, only three present any real threat (shorter than 50:1): Keller, Webb and Wheeler.
While Wheeler has a 2.85 FIP, his ERA is 4.33, and even if we project him closer to his combined peripherals for the rest of the season, it’s hard to get him into a top-two ERA spot. Pass.
To be perfectly honest, if this article had been written two weeks ago, Keller likely would’ve been added to the portfolio. However, his past three starts have been his worst of the season, so this is a hold for now, to see if this is a blip or something bigger. His ERA is 3.60, so there’s plenty of time to pounce if need be.
Webb is the most intriguing. He has the track record and he’s also the inverse of Keller — started slow, but coming on strong. There is obviously a long season ahead, but he’s also one of the highest floor pitchers as he doesn’t tend to have those massive blow ups that wreck an ERA. The peripherals are mostly aligned with last season, when he finished with a 2.90 ERA — that’s enough to get him in the conversation for me.
Two quick names to keep an eye on: Bryce Elder and Marcus Stroman. They aren’t listed above because the market is showing absolutely no belief that they will maintain their current success, but they are the top two names in the NL ERA race right now. I'm also skeptical, so both are a hold for me right now. But, if this continues into July or August, I’m fine getting a slightly lower number on either or both.
Best Bet: Webb +1800 (Numerous)
If the NL Cy Young is where we have the best coverage, the AL Cy Young is where we have the least. Injuries struck two big bets, but I actually think there’s some actionable steps to take here, mostly because there are some flaws in the favorite.
McClanahan is leading all of baseball with a 2.02 ERA, but similar to Elder and Stroman in the NL, the peripherals just don’t match. However, unlike those two, he’s somehow the favorite. Part of it is the track record and pedigree as he posted a 2.54 ERA last season, but his peripherals were also much stronger last season. His walk rate is up, and his ground-ball rate is down this season. I think there’s a belief that Tampa Bay can conjure amazing stats, but the Rays are also an absolute hot bed for pitcher injuries. Of all the odds in the awards market, McClanahan is the worst current value, in my opinion.
So if we’re out on the favorite, it goes to reason that this is a market to bet into.
Ironically, the second favorite, Cole, has many of the same red flags and is headed into a summer at Yankee Stadium, which is typically a scary place for starting pitchers.
Thankfully, there’s a deep pool of potentials just below those two. And of that cluster of pitchers, two names catch my eye: Valdez and Gausman.
We already have a bit on Gausman, but if you don’t, I would definitely hop on now. If I was making these odds, I’d have him at the top. He has, by far, the league lead in strikeouts and fWAR. Remember, he was second in fWAR last season, too. We aren’t tracking units in these portfolios (a possible oversight), but I would be comfortable adding to my Gausman bet.
As for Valdez, his ERA sits at 2.16 and most projections have him just a bit over 3.00 for the rest of the season — meaning he has a very good shot to finish the year with a sub-3.00 ERA. He excels at maintaining a lower ERA than xERA (has done so, with decent margins, for five of his six seasons), so I look to his FIP (2.87) and xFIP (2.70), even though he has proven an ability to also post lower numbers than those (3.55 career FIP; 3.22 ERA).
Finally, Luis Castillo is the name I want to most keep an eye on, partly because I feel that if he’s in the conversation, he’s well-respected enough to get a tiebreaker over the actual ERA champ. However, I'm good with holding on Castillo for now.
Best Bets: Gausman +800 (Numerous), Valdez +800 (Caesars)
The approach here was to avoid the preseason favorite, Ohtani, as I saw him as a high injury risk because of the pitch clock and the two-way play. That, clearly, hasn't played out so far, which is great for baseball. (Even to win a bet, I’d never root for injury). Still, we’re not in a terrible spot should Ohtani miss time. Judge is technically the second favorite, but he's about to miss time, and with Semien (who is top five at most books) and Alvarez, we’re in decent shape.
The only name I want to sprinkle in is the player leading baseball in both rWAR and fWAR — and doing so on the best team in baseball: Wander Franco.
The 22-year-old has absolutely arrived, and with a .309/.374/.500 slash line to go along with 21 steals and the best defensive rWAR in the AL, he has the profile of an MVP. At 30:1, there’s still plenty of value here, even in a league with Ohtani.
Best Bet: Franco +3000 (Numerous)
We began with our best market and are ending with our worst.
That’s right, we don't have a single position on any of the top eight candidates right now!
I’m not much for chasing, so the only play I’m going to sprinkle is Arraez at 50:1. Michael Baumann wrote about Arraez’s chances to hit .400 recently for FanGraphs, and while the odds aren’t great — and batting average is notoriously a dead stat — he’s going to be getting all sorts of attention if he’s even in the ballpark of making a run. Add in the fact that the Marlins are making a surprise push for the playoffs (again: it’s early, I know) and I can see the path to an upset in this race. At +5000, I’ll nibble.
Best Bet (small): Arraez +5000 (Numerous)
Best Bets from this article:
NL Cy Young: Logan Webb +1800 (Numerous)
AL Cy Young: Gausman +800 (Numerous)
AL Cy Young: Framber Valdez +800 (Caesars)
AL MVP: Wander Franco +3000 (Numerous)
NL MVP: Luis Arraez +5000 (Numerous)