July Update on the 2021 AL Cy Young Race

By Anthony Haage in MLB
| July 16, 2021 4:07 am PDT

The 2021 MLB season has reached the halfway mark, prompting a look at the American League contenders for the Cy Young Award.

In this post I review the top 15 current odds leaders with a breakdown of numbers, stats, and offer some recommended bets.

Gerrit Cole (-115)

Gerrit Cole is having another impressive season for the Yankees. The highest-paid pitcher in baseball has an ERA of 2.91 this season and hasn’t had an ERA above 3.00 since 2017 when he was in Pittsburgh.

Cole has the ability to throw 100+ MPH fastballs along with great off-speed pitches, highlighted by an insane changeup.

Cole is the seventh richest contracted player in MLB and is two years into his nine-year, $324 million-dollar mega deal with the Yankees.

Cole is by no surprise the front runner for Cy Young this season, but here’s something interesting. His ERA has been all over the place.

  • He pitched 31 innings in June and his ERA was an uncharacteristic 4.65.
  • In May, he pitched 33 innings to an ERA of 2.18.
  • In March and April, he pitched 37.2 innings to an ERA of 1.43.

Did the sticky stuff rule lead to an inflation of his ERA?

There is reason for caution here and I would like to see him right the ship before I feel comfortable recommending a bet on him for Cy Young. He still has an amazing pitching ability and could be going through a slump – but it comes at a very peculiar time in the 2021 MLB season.

Carlos Rodon (+200)

Carlos Rodon has the 3rd lowest ERA in baseball at 2.31 and is having a great season for the first place White Sox.

This season is by far Rodon’s best, highlighted by his no-hitter on April 14th. He almost had a perfect game but he hit Roberto Perez on the foot when he was 2 outs away.

He has an impressive K/9 this year at a whopping 13.05, which is behind the one and only, Jacob deGrom (14.40 K/9).

If Rodon can keep up this impressive pace, he could be a serious Cy Young contender at the end of the season. He could overcome Gerrit Cole as the favorite if Cole keeps scuffling.

Lance Lynn (+500)

Rodon’s not the only pitcher who is having a great season for the White Sox. Lance Lynn is right behind him in the Cy Young odds. Lynn actually has a lower ERA than Rodon at 2.02 in his 84.2 innings pitched.

Lynn is in his first year with the White Sox and they may have gotten a steal when they acquired him. The White Sox dealt Dane Dunning and Avery Weems to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Lance Lynn.

This was a great move for the White Sox because they needed a pitcher who is ready now, rather than developing pitchers like Dunning and Weems.

Lynn has been one of the most consistent starting pitchers in his career.

He has started at least 29 games (minus a shortened COVID-19 season) every year since 2012. He should be able to do that again this season, since he has already made 15 starts at the halfway point.

Lynn becomes a free agent after this season and the White Sox are hoping they make it far into the postseason behind their starting rotation. He could possibly be the most consistent pitcher on this list, which could make him a good bet for the Cy Young.

Shane Bieber (+2000)

There’s a pretty big gap between the top three favorites to win the Cy Young and the rest of the list.

Bieber is the next favorite coming in at +2000, but he’s suffered an injury and is currently on the disabled list. If he didn’t miss time this season, he would be in the running for top dog.

The 2020 Cy Young award winner has pitched a whopping 90.2 innings in his 14 starts this year. He was placed on the injured list after his start on June 13th against the Mariners with a shoulder injury.

He still hasn’t begun to throw, and that could mean he isn’t very close to a return. The All-Star break is coming up and it is possible he could pitch 160+ innings. Even with his injury, he is still top 50 in the league in innings pitched.

Bieber remains one of the best pitchers in the league when healthy. But the Indians may opt to not pitch him right after his injury, making him a risky bet.

Kyle Gibson (+3000)

Kyle Gibson is having the best season of his career. He has a dazzling ERA of 1.98 and his second year on the Texas Rangers is going very well. Gibson may find himself to be a strong trade candidate and may get a huge return for the Rangers.

The Rangers are currently last in the AL West, and 19 games behind the first place Houston Astros. Gibson has been a bright spot for them and has found himself on the Cy Young list at the 5th most favorited odds.

It may be smart to wait to bet on Gibson (if you dare) until the trade deadline has passed.

This season looks like a huge outlier in Gibson’s career. He has a career ERA of 4.37 and has been above a 5.00 ERA four times in his nine-year career.

It may be smart to trade Gibson now to someone who needs another starter, because his expected ERA is above his current ERA at 3.30.

That number would still be his career best, but it also means he is due for some regression. The Rangers may wait until the trade deadline to see what they can get for him, but it could be risky since he might join a team with a hitter friendly stadium.

The Rangers stadium is right in the middle of the pack when it comes to hitter friendly stadiums, but he could also join a team who has a pitcher friendly stadium.

His ERA looks nice, but he doesn’t strike people out (7.62 K/9) and his BABIP is very low at .243. By the time the season ends, he should have a higher ERA.

Nathan Eovaldi (+3500)

Eovaldi comes in at the next lowest odds after Gibson. He has pitched 103.1 innings to an ERA of 3.66. Eovaldi’s ERA is basically right where it should be considering that his expected ERA is at 3.65.

His BABIP is scary high at .334, but his career BABIP has always been higher than most (.311 career BABIP). Eovaldi might be a good pitcher when it comes to getting wins (nine on the season already) but that is mostly credited to his team’s offense.

Boston’s wRC+ is tied for 8th most in the league at 103 and could make Eovaldi’s record look really good by the end of the year.

If Eovaldi maintains this pace, he could reach almost 20 wins. That would put him into the Cy Young discussion and we could have another situation like the Rick Porcello Cy Young win in 2016.

Rick Porcello won a league high, 22 games in 2016 but he had the fourth lowest ERA in the American League and still won the Cy Young. He didn’t strike out his opponents nearly as much as Justin Verlander or Corey Kluber did that season either.

Porcello had 7.63 K/9 while Verlander had 10.04 K/9 and Kluber had 9.50 K/9. If you think this scenario is possible again (it shouldn’t be because pitcher wins are not accurate when analyzing a pitcher), then Eovaldi could be your guy.

Jose Berrios (+4000)

The Twins ace is having himself a solid season so far. He has pitched 101.2 innings this season to an ERA of 3.36. That is good for 28th lowest in the league, but if you sort by pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings so far this season, he jumps to 10th lowest ERA among them.

Berrios has a 7-3 record in his 17 starts this season. He has been the Twins’ prized young pitcher since making his debut in 2016 and he finds himself tied for seventh most favorited pitcher in the AL Cy Young race.

Berrios has always had the talent to be a top tier pitcher in the league, but he has been inconsistent. He hasn’t had a truly dominating year that he is capable of, but this year is his best one to date.

The Twins are unlikely to make the postseason this year, as they are 14.5 games back out of first in their division. They are even behind the Tigers this season, which is odd considering their offensive talent and Berrios.

If Berrios leads the Twins to a great second half and possible Wild Card spot (still very unlikely), that could make him a serious Cy Young contender.

Berrios is just entering his prime in the MLB at 27 years old. He is arbitration eligible next season for the last time and he becomes a free agent the following season.

The Twins also lose Nelson Cruz, J.A Happ, Michael Pineda, Andrelton Simmons, and more after this season.

That could make it interesting for Berrios because the Twins may opt to start a rebuild. Berrios would get the most return out of any of those players because he has more time left on his contract.

It may be unlikely, but if the Twins get a deal they like, Berrios may be heading to a contender, which would help out his Cy Young chances as well.

Chris Bassitt (+4000)

Bassitt had a great year in 2020. Even though it was a shortened season, he pitched to an ERA of 2.29. He has continued his success, to a lower level, but still impressive enough to be on the Cy young top 15 list.

  • Bassitt has an ERA of 3.41 so far this season in 111 innings pitched.
  • His expected ERA is at 3.27, which is 14 points lower than his actual ERA.

He is the 12th best among pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings so far this season and he could have some better-looking numbers as the season goes on.

Bassitt could be a sneaky option for the Cy Young race.

He doesn’t give up a lot of hard contact either, his barrel percentage is tied for 17th lowest in baseball at 6.6%. His hard-hit percentage is also sixth lowest in the MLB at 33.1%.

Sean Manaea (+5000)

Manaea is right behind his teammate on this list. Manaea has pitched 97.2 innings so far this season to an impressive ERA of 3.13.  He is also in the same range of barrel percentage as Bassitt, but is slightly worse than him at 6.8%.

If you want to bet on a pitcher for the A’s for the Cy Young award, I would recommend Bassitt over Manaea.

Manaea also gives up more hard-hit percentage than Bassitt at 39.8%. Manaea’s advanced statistics imply that he is due for some regression. His expected ERA is higher than his actual ERA at 3.76.

Hyun-Jin Ryu (+6000)

Ryu is having a decent season so far. In his second season with the Blue Jays, his ERA sits at 3.65, which is his highest ERA since his 2017 season with the Dodgers. The 34-year-old has struggled compared to his previous self.

In the K/9 category, he hasn’t been as good as his prior years. Ryu has never been a huge strikeout pitcher, but in the Cy Young race, that could give another pitcher the edge over him.

  • His K.9 is just 7.11.
  • He has 16 starts with a 7-5 record and his advanced statistics suggest some regression as well.
  • His BABIP is at .268, which should increase closer to his career average of .294.
  • His expected ERA is higher than his actual ERA by .30 points (3.65 versus 3.95).

Ryu has never had a season (of more than five innings pitched) that he had an ERA higher than 4.00, it is concerning seeing his expected ERA in that range.

Tyler Glasnow (+6000)

Glasnow was having an impressive season with the Rays before his injury. He is on the 60-day IL with an injury to his elbow; citing the sticky stuff rule as the reason for his injury.

Although the Rays are optimistic about a return, it may be pretty far down the road and that will significantly hurt his chances at the Cy Young award.

  • He had a great ERA of 2.66 in his 88 innings pitched.
  • He also had a 5-2 record in his 14 starts pre-injury.
  • Glasnow had a K/9 of 12.58.
  • His ERA, xERA, FIP, xFIP were all under 2.80, which is very impressive.

Lucas Giolito (+6000)

Another White Sox starter makes the top 15 odds leaders. Giolito has been impressive in the past two years after recreating his throwing form.

He threw to an ERA of 3.41 in 2019 and 3.48 in 2020. Odds makers are likely expecting a bounce back from his current stats.

He presently has an ERA this season of 4.20. His ERA was good in the month of May at 2.41, but it crept up to 4.06 in June. He has only thrown five innings so far in July, but his ERA in those five innings is 10.80.

He is in quite a rut and needs to show improvement to be in the discussion for Cy Young.

At the rate of the other pitchers, Giolito probably won’t be able to win the Cy Young with an ERA above 3.50.

Shohei Ohtani (+6000)

Ohtani is taking over the baseball world. He made the All-Star team in both of his positions that he plays.

  • He has an ERA of 3.49 in 67 innings pitched.
  • He also has a record of 4-1 in his 13 starts and has a K/9 of 11.69.

Along with being an amazing hitter, he also has a remarkable pitch ability. His splitter is his best pitch and dominates hitters.

Ohtani is the front runner for AL MVP and he could have a decent shot of winning the Cy Young. If he wins both, that would ensure that it’s Ohtani’s world and we are just living in it.

John Means (+6000)

Means has a dazzling ERA of 2.28 in his 71 innings pitched this season. He’s not a huge strikeout pitcher (K/9 of 8.75), but he is very good at pitching to contact.

His BABIP is second lowest in the league of pitchers who have pitched at least 70 innings at .192. An interesting stat as well, is his left on base percentage is 100%. That means of his 18 earned runs given up, all of them have been from his 13 home runs given up.

Means is one of the pitchers who has a no-hitter under their belt this season. He is currently injured but is beginning his rehab assignment soon.

Zack Grienke (+6500)

Grienke is having yet another impressive season in his career.

  • The 37-year-old has a 3.64 ERA in 111.1 innings with eight wins and two losses in 18 starts.
  • He has a miniscule K/9 of 6.63, which is 10th lowest in the league.

He has great pitch ability and should provide quality innings for the Astros, but if he pitches to contact, he might fall victim to BABIP luck.

Betting on the 2021 AL Cy Young Race

Best Bets

  • Gerrit Cole (-115)
  • Carlos Rodon (+200)
  • Lance Lynn (+500)

Cole is the front runner for the award and has probably the best chance to win. His ability to strike players out will serve the Yankees well. He should be able to recover from the sticky stuff rule soon.

The price for Rodon is good considering how good he has been this season. He should be able to keep up this impressive pace, but it’s tough to say if he can beat out Cole or not.

If Cole’s numbers drop significantly and we see more of a Pittsburgh Pirate Gerrit Cole, Rodon could turn into the front runner.

As for Lynn, he remains one of the most consistent pitchers in all of baseball. He is considered a safe bet for me, because if anyone is a good bet to pitch a full season, it’s Lynn.

Dark Horses

  • Shohei Ohtani (+6000)
  • John Means (+6000)

Ohtani could potentially have THE best season we have ever seen in baseball. He could have his name at the top of the leaderboards in every single category. If he works on his command as a pitcher, he could really dominate the league more than he already is.

John Means is an underrated pitcher, you’d think a no-hitter would put his name on the map, but he hasn’t been considered a top tier pitcher. He has an amazing ability to pitch to contact and the only thing he has struggled with is home runs.

If John Means improved on giving up home runs, he would be unstoppable.

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