Smart tips for top MLB awards

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The favorites for Major League Baseball‘s top honors are household names: New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole for the American League’s Cy Young Award, Juan Soto for National League MVP, two-way star Shohei Ohtani of Angels for the AL version and so on.

However, when picking the winners – whether for fun or for money – a closer look reveals that lesser-known names have a lot of value. And with the regular season set to start this week, there are still some great value bets left on MLB’s season-ending major awards. Here are a few worth investigating. Odds will be awarded via DraftKings sportsbook starting Monday afternoon.

The balance problem in baseball is getting worse

The New York Mets appear to have two strong Cy Young candidates in Jacob deGrom (who once had odds of +300 meaning a $100 bet would win $300) and Max Scherzer (+600 on Monday) the latter still offering excellent value for weather. Scherzer is expected to lead the NL in strikeouts (probably 247 according to FanGraphs), with a strong projected ERA (3.26) and winning victories (13) for a retooled team set to fight for the division.

However, DeGrom will be out for at least four weeks after an MRI revealed a stress reaction in his right shoulder blade, while Scherzer suffers from a right hamstring strain that has kept him from a scheduled appearance with the squad on Saturday. If Scherzer misses just one or two regular season starts, he should still represent good value to bet on. Using individual extrapolations to estimate each pitcher’s Cy Young Award points — a metric developed by Tom Tango, a senior data architect at MLB — we can predict that Scherzer (a three-time winner) will be among the league leaders again in 2022, with a score of 162.5. For context, every Cy Young winner since 2006 has finished first or second in Cy Young points.

Also worth seeing is Sandy Alcantara (+1600). The Miami Marlins right-hander finished the 2021 season with 201 strikeouts and is entering this season as Miami’s ace, giving him between 30 and 35 starts if he’s healthy. His projections of 13 wins, 195 strikeouts, and a 3.69 ERA would make him a solid contender for the season-ending honors.

The San Francisco Giants’ Carlos Rodón (+2200) is also tempting but would need to remain healthy to be a viable candidate. The former Chicago White Sox star has only once pitched more than 150 innings in a season since he was drafted No. 3 overall in 2014, and that was six years ago. Since then he has completed an average of 13 starts.

Cole is a worthy favorite on paper (+425). He posted a 16-8 record last season with 243 strikeouts over 181⅓ innings and a 3.23 ERA. However, his second-half splits after baseball’s crackdown on so-called sticky stuff were underwhelming. His on-base plus slugging percentage went from .584 to .725, while his strikeout-to-walk ratio fell from 6.7 in the first half of the season to 5.1 in the second half. Maybe it was just bad luck, but for a betting favorite you want as many green lights as possible, no uncertainty.

Consider José Berríos (+2000) of the Toronto Blue Jays instead. Berríos was acquired from Toronto by the Minnesota Twins last year, and he rewarded his new club with 78 strikeouts over 70⅓ innings plus an ERA (3.58) that was 23 percent better than the league average. He is forecast to pitch nearly 200 innings this year with 201 strikeouts and an ERA of around 3.90 for a club that is among the favorites to win the World Series.

Most Valuable Player in the American League

The MVP award is contingent on wins over substitutes. The league leaders in this metric, defined here as placing in the top four, have won the last 20 MVP awards, so it makes sense to focus on players with tempting prizes who are likely to earn high WAR numbers.

Look no further than Cleveland Guardians slugger José Ramírez (+2500). The 29-year-old third baseman hit .266 last season, with 36 homers, 111 runs scored and 103 RBI, hitting runs at a rate 37 percent above the league average. FanGraphs estimates he’ll hit .271 with 36 home runs and 6.2 wins over backup in 2022. Only the favorite Ohtani (+400) and his teammate Mike Trout from the Los Angeles Angels, with +450 the second choice, should be more valuable position players in the American League.

The Braves have found a new first baseman. Replacing Freddie Freeman is getting harder.

Most Valuable Player in the National League

Soto is the logical leader (+280) but the short price is a concern. The Washington Nationals don’t have much protection for their slugger other than newly acquired designated hitter Nelson Cruz, and the team is expected to languish in the basement of the NL East.

Instead, look to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman (+1200), who has all the makings of a potential MVP candidate. Freeman is expected to hit .293 in 2022 with 33 home runs, 108 runs scored and 102 RBI, and has nearly five wins over the reserve for his efforts. That would likely be high enough to place in the top 10 in the National League, although teammates Mookie Betts and Trea Turner are expected to join Freeman there, making his chances more difficult. However, with a stacked lineup that offers plenty of protection and opportunities to drive into runs, it makes sense to take the double-digit odds with Freeman rather than take a short price tag with Soto.

American League Rookie of the Year

Much like MVP, the Rookie of the Year award is driven by wins over substitutes. In the last 10 seasons, the winner has been ranked #1 or #2 in WAR among rookies 15 times and has been in the top five 18 times out of a possible 20 times. That makes the expected race in the AL wide open. Julio Rodríguez (+500), Bobby Witt Jr. (+310), Adleyrutschman (+600), Spencer Torkelson (+450), Riley Greene (+1500) and Jeremy Peña (+1200) are all expected near by at the top of the rookie rankings at the end of the season.

Greene suffered a broken foot a week before opening day, making Peña the most lucrative game at current prices. With shortstop Carlos Correa now in Minnesota, Peña, a 2018 Houston Astros third-round pick, appears to be the heir apparent at Houston. He’s got plenty of speed — he’s stolen 29 bases in the minors in 182 games — and can hit for power with a .444 slugging percentage in three minor league seasons.

National League Rookie of the Year

The NL rookie race probably won’t be as hard fought. Seiya Suzuki (+380) and Oneil Cruz (+425) are among the best players in this field. Suzuki, a 27-year-old outfielder with the Chicago Cubs, played nine seasons in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League, where he recorded at least .300 batting with a .400 percentage on base and .500 slugging percentage for four straight seasons. He also hit 100 career steals and 38 home runs last season. Cruz, a towering 6-foot-7 shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates, had 17 home runs and 19 steals between Class AA and AAA last year and hit his first major league home run for the Pirates in October.

Don’t be fooled into placing a bet on Washington Nationals catcher Keibert Ruiz. He is listed at some sportsbooks at prices around +500 but is not eligible for the award as he has played in the major leagues for 64 days, 19 more than the threshold to remain a rookie.

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