Major League Baseball futures can be tough bets to make because only one team can win its division or win the World Series. An alternative way to look at the MLB futures market is to evaluate player props. Most books offer these player prop bets, but we will focus on BetOnline just to keep things simple. Make sure to shop around for the best odds and the best prices.
In our preseason MLB coverage, we will separate the player props by hitting and pitching. This look at the MLB player props for pitchers won’t cover all of the betting options available, but it will be a good starting point for some of the highest value plays on the board. The hitting prop bets article can be found here.
Without further adieu, let’s look at the MLB pitcher prop bets courtesy of BetOnline:
American League Cy Young
Reigning American League Cy Young winner Corey Kluber is the second favorite at +400 behind King Felix Hernandez at +230. Chris Sale, who has been dealing with an avulsion fracture during Spring Training, is +450. David Price, reportedly in contract extension talks with the Detroit Tigers is next at +600. The rest of the pack is at +1400 or higher.
It’s incredibly hard to find value in this group. There are certain benchmarks that pitchers absolutely have to hit for consideration. Two of them are 200+ innings pitched and 200+ strikeouts. A guy like Alex Cobb (+3300) is a great darkhorse, but he’s never thrown over 200 innings in a season and has already had forearm tightness this Spring. Hisashi Iwakuma (+3300) would have a shot, but he’s overshadowed by Hernandez.
Those looking to gamble can take a chance on these choices, but one of the top four is likely to win this award.
Masahiro Tanaka (+1400) – Masahiro Tanaka opted for rehab instead of Tommy John, which makes him an enormous injury risk entering the 2015 season. If Tanaka stays together, 200 innings with 200 strikeouts and a sparkling K/BB ratio should be enough to have him in contention for this award. As the electorate has gotten younger and more informed, wins and losses don’t seem to carry as much weight as they used to, so Tanaka can win this even if his team misses the playoffs and he wins only 15 or 16 games.
Jeff Samardzija (+2500) – This one might be the top darkhorse candidate. Samardzija will be working for highly-respected pitching coach Don Cooper with the Chicago White Sox and his strikeout totals should be enough to get him in the mix. Samardzija reached the 200+ inning threshold in each of the last two seasons and the White Sox bullpen is vastly improved from last season. In three seasons as a starter, Samardzija has never reached double-digit wins. If bad luck keeps following him, it will make his chances very small.
National League Cy Young
According to the oddsmakers, you can go ahead and give Clayton Kershaw this award right now. Kershaw is -175 to win the Cy Young for the third straight season and for the fourth time in five years. Kershaw only pitched 197 innings last season, but he was so dominant that it didn’t matter. In 38 less innings than the previous season, Kershaw struck out seven more batters. With that in mind, everybody not named Kershaw has some value if you think he, or his team, falters.
Max Scherzer (+700) – You have to love this price. Max Scherzer goes to an easier league in a very good division to pitch in. The only well above average hitter’s park in the NL East is in Philadelphia and the Phillies will be awful. The Braves have a bad lineup and the Marlins and Mets are still building with a lot of young players. Scherzer should throw well over 200 innings with 250+ strikeouts and has a real shot to notch at least 20 wins. If anybody’s going to knock off Kershaw, Scherzer is the best bet.
Jordan Zimmermann (+2000) – You can certainly do worse than these odds on Jordan Zimmermann. Zimmermann won’t run up the strikeouts like others in the field, but he set career highs in K% and BB% last season for the Nationals. If those improvements are totally legit, Zimmermann has excellent value at 20/1 on the same team as Scherzer. Zimmermann is in a contract year, which may or may not help his performance, but it should help him maintain his focus. One area where the contract year may help is that the Nationals have very little chance at re-signing him, so Matt Williams won’t worry about his arm for his new team. That could elevate his innings and, by association, elevate his strikeout totals.
Jon Lester (+2000) – As mentioned in yesterday’s look at the hitters, if the Chicago Cubs are good, Anthony Rizzo has a chance at the MVP. Similarly, if the Cubs shock everybody and make a legitimate run in the NL Central, Jon Lester will likely be the driving factor on the pitching side. The “dead arm” in Spring Training is a mild concern, but it’s a condition that is less ominous than it sounds. Lester in the Senior Circuit for the first time, which is an easier league to pitch in and he crossed the 200-strikeout plateau for the first time since 2010 last season.
MLB Saves Leader
This is an interesting prop bet offered by BetOnline. We know that there is a lot of volatility when it comes to Major League bullpens. There’s a high attrition rate with the position and injuries are inevitable. If you decide to look at some of these players, bankroll management is very important.
Mark Melancon of the Pittsburgh Pirates is the favorite at +850, so, as you can see, there are a lot of juicy prices here. Fernando Rodney (SEA), Drew Storen (WAS), David Robertson (CWS), and Zach Britton (BAL) are next in line at 10/1. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you absolutely have to pick a closer from a good team. Theoretically they should have more save opportunities by being on a team more likely to win, but players like Craig Kimbrel and Francisco Rodriguez were part of the top five last season. Steve Cisehek tied for eighth with Jonathan Papelbon. While there are more save opportunities on good teams, good teams are tend to win by bigger margins. Bad teams will win close games.
A lot of the names on this list at BetOnline are already damaged goods. Koji Uehara is expected to start the season on the disabled list. Kenley Jansen is out for the first month of the season. Sean Doolittle had shoulder surgery and has not resumed throwing. Jake McGee had arthroscopic elbow surgery in December and is out for the first month of the season. Greg Holland has reportedly looked fatigued in Spring Training and Trevor Rosenthal nearly lost the job last season. It’s a position with a lot of question marks.
Cody Allen (+1200) – The list opens with a player on a team that everybody expects to be good. Pitching guru Paul Sporer advocated this in his bold predictions article on Fangraphs and it makes a lot of sense. The Indians have a high upside starting rotation and a deep bullpen that will turn leads over to Allen.
Steve Cishek (+1600) – The Marlins have gotten quite a bit of steam in the lead-up to the season and Cishek is the anchor of an above average bullpen. There were some losses like Dan Jennings, but the Fish win a lot of close games and that gives Cishek some value.
Aroldis Chapman (+1400) – Chapman was limited to 54 appearances last season, but he saved 36 games. He’s obviously one of the elites at the position and he struck out 52.5 percent of the batters he faced. The problem for the Reds is that the starting rotation is lacking and they’re in a tough division, so the opportunities may not be there for Chapman.
Andrew Cashner Under 10.5 Wins (+105)
Most of the overs are juiced on the player prop pitcher win totals, including this one. Cashner is a major injury risk and that’s the reason for the under here. Cashner has managed only 45 starts over the last two seasons and went 5-7 over 123.1 innings last season. The Padres are expected to be a lot better than last season, but the season win total analysis from earlier this season painted a darker picture than most seem to believe. Cashner is good, but he’ll need to pitch at least 150 innings to hit this and probably more.
Jered Weaver Under 13.5 Wins (+105)
Here’s another pitcher that has a lot of injury concerns. More importantly, Weaver’s stuff is declining in a big way. He won 18 games last season, but that came with a 4.19 FIP. Weaver got the third-best run support of any qualified starting pitcher at 5.86 runs per nine innings. The Angels should take some steps backwards overall as a team this season and Weaver would be the most vulnerable in that regard. The stuff is declining early in his age-32 season and the picture isn’t pretty.
Hisashi Iwakuma Over 13.5 Wins (-115)
Hisashi Iwakuma doesn’t get the love that he deserves because he is overshadowed by Felix Hernandez, but he is an excellent starting pitcher. One of the benefits that Iwakuma has is that pitching behind Felix often gives him a fresher bullpen because of Felix’s ability to work deep into the game. Kuma went over this number last season in just 28 starts with an elite K/BB ratio and should be a solid bet to go over once again.
Lance Lynn Over 13.5 Wins (-105)
This number is criminally low and the fact that the under is juiced at -125 is mind-blowing. Lynn has won 18, 15, and 15 games in his three full seasons as a starting pitcher and he made some huge strides last season against left-handed batters. Lynn used to have a brutal platoon split and increased two-seam usage has somewhat negated that split. Lynn has had a hip flexor problem in the Spring, but that shouldn’t be a major issue. With one of the best outfield defenses in MLB behind him, Lynn should reach this comfortably.
Stay tuned to BangTheBook.com for more baseball analysis to get you ready for the MLB season and for our coverage through the 2015 campaign.