Welcome to the first ever update of the MLB Award Index! Every two weeks, we will be taking a close look at what the index forecasts in terms of MVP and Cy Young voting, looking to find favorable odds on the betting markets, as well as create more accurate projections.
For more information on the basis of the index, and how it goes about projecting future award voting, I recommend you read my introduction piece on the tool. There was a lot of action that took place over the past two weeks, which caused a lot of movement in the betting markets. Were these movements justified? Let’s take a closer look!
No matter where he calls home, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. continues to put together the type of season the baseball world was hoping for when he was considered the premier prospect in the sport. He currently ranks above-average for the typical MVP candidate in offensive runs above average, home runs, and runs batted in, which all are statistics voters have valued in the past. His biggest determent may be positional value, as Wins Above Replacement may value two-way player Shohei Ohtani as opposed to a first baseman; the index definitely cannot properly take into account the rarity of a player being above-average as a hitter and pitcher. Still, given that the MVP is an award in which offense is prioritized, Guerrero Jr. should be considered the favorite for the AL MVP.
This truly has been a special year for baseball’s young superstars, and that is quite evident in the National League. Since the last update, the gap between Ronald Acuna Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. has increased, with Acuna Jr. having a sizable edge in key offensive categories, as well as projected Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR). Another fast riser would be Jesse Winker, who hit three home runs in St.Louis on Saturday, and will likely finish the year with a lot of success in traditional offensive metrics that some voters still take into account. Really, though, outside of Juan Soto continuing his recent surge, this still appears to be a two-player race.
AL Cy Young
Right now, there are three pitchers that the index sees as above average for the typical Cy Young candidate. Two weeks ago, Gerrit Cole still appeared to be the likely candidate to win this award, but after a shaky outing versus the Rays, he has seen his lead over Shane Bieber and Tyler Glasnow dwindle. Bieber’s overall volume gives him an edge over Glasnow, though Glasnow’s lack of track record may also make him undervalued based on projections. I’m very confident saying this is much more of a three-player race than it has previously been given credit for, especially with Cole in the news for the wrong reasons.
NL Cy Young
Since our last update, Jacob deGrom has only continued to strengthen his Cy Young resume, in addition to a potential MVP resume. Barring injury, he’s clearly a remarkable frontrunner to win this award, though that doesn’t mean the rest of the pack isn’t qualified as well. In fact, there’s been a lot of movement with the index’s projections since then. Max Scherzer and Trevor Bauer remain in their spots, but Zack Wheeler and Kevin Gausman continue to see their odds improve. On the other end, Aaron Nola and Yu Darvish have seen their stock slip somewhat. Should deGrom fail to win, we could see one of the tightest races of recent memory for a Cy Young award. It truly has been the year of the pitcher!
Best Value Bets
By comparing the implied odds each player should have versus their current odds, let us analyze the surplus value each player’s award-winning odds provide:
The same long shot bets still show some value, but what is truly telling here is the odds of the index’s projected favorites. Yes, Ohtani has the narrative of doing something unprecedented on his side, but let’s not act like Guerrero Jr. doesn’t also have popularity in his favor as well. Whereas there is still a great degree of error that could happen with Ohtani’s season, I see little reason that Guerrero Jr. won’t continue to produce at a very high level. He is walking nearly as much as he is striking out, has increased the amount of fly balls he’s hit, and has overall adopted a much more power-oriented approach. The results have been fabulous, and considering he’s just 22-years-old, I expect that to be the case for some time. As for Acuna Jr., he and Tatis Jr. are being priced as co-favorites, yet the index strongly prefers the Braves’ star outfielder. It’s rare to find surplus value for a favorite, but recency bias has inflated Tatis Jr.’s odds to the point that one can capitalize by banking on Acuna Jr. to finish on top at the end of the year. As for my favorite long-shot bets, Aaron Judge, Juan Soto, and Jesse Winker stand out, with Soto being the one I’d be closely monitoring.
AL Cy Young
NL Cy Young
Ignoring Lucas Giolito, super long-shot bets aren’t great values for the Cy Young, but I do see some odds that intrigue me. The index sees Shane Bieber as a co-favorite with Gerrit Cole for AL Cy Young, but the market disagrees. With this being much more of a three-pitcher race and the narrative factor not playing in Cole’s favor, I’d want to capitalize on Bieber’s odds before it’s too late. Some will point to his 8.7% walk rate, which correlates with a pitching style in which he doesn’t pitch much in the zone, but he also induces a lot of chases, which negates that. Furthermore, Cleveland allows him to work very deep into games and he gets the benefit of playing in the AL Central, so there is a lot he can utilize to his advantage. In the National League, you’ll want to have some contingencies in place should deGrom somehow get injured or fail to win for another reason. The top-four players have all strong odds, but I want to focus on Zack Wheeler. By virtue of throwing more four-seam fastballs and sliders, in addition to less sinkers, he’s missing bats (13.2% swinging strike rate) and inducing called strikes (16.1%) at a career-high rate, and has a walk rate under 6%. Add in the fact he’s averaging almost seven innings per start and is projected to finish with 200 innings pitched, and I see him as mis-priced currently.
- Bets To Make: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. To Win AL MVP (+350), Ronald Acuna Jr. To Win NL MVP (+300), Shane Bieber To Win AL Cy Young (+400), Zack Wheeler To Win NL Cy Young (+2500)
- Bets To Monitor: Aaron Judge To Win AL MVP (+2000), Juan Soto To Win NL MVP (+2000), Max Scherzer To Win NL Cy Young (+1800)
Checking In On Previous Bets
Thus far, we’re two for two on getting adequate line value! Gausman still is slightly underpriced, though Wheeler is the slightly better candidate and has similar odds, which is why we shift our attention to him this week. As for Muncy, he still ranks 3rd in the NL in fWAR, so it’s still strange he hasn’t gotten more recognition as a potential MVP candidate.
With in-season award odds, taking advantage of recency bias is always an edge to gain. That is quite prevalent in the NL MVP voting, with Fernando Tatis Jr. perhaps getting too much credit compared to Ronald Acuna Jr., who is projected to finish as the much-more likely winner. Whereas the last update focused more on long-shot odds, this edition presented us with the opportunity to look at potential value with top-two candidates, which isn’t common. Given that this combines surplus value with an actual likelihood of winning the award, these are the most optimal bets. We’ll be back two weeks from now to monitor how new developments have opened up potential opportunities in the betting markets. Until then, sit back and enjoy an exciting wave of young superstars!