Voters have been a little more forgiving in the National League Cy Young Award process than those in the American League. In the AL, you either need 200 strikeouts or 20+ wins. In the National League, each of the last three winners have hit the 200+ strikeout plateau, but Jacob deGrom is a two-time Cy Young Award winner with just 21 wins to his name and Max Scherzer only won 16 games in 2017.
By and large, however, you need 200 strikeouts and/or 20 wins. The last NL Cy Young Award winner with less than 200 strikeouts was Brandon Webb in 2006. Given that Trevor Hoffman finished second and only Carlos Zambrano and John Smoltz had over 200 strikeouts among those that got votes, it was clearly an outlier type of season.
That means that we have our baseline. You need 200 strikeouts, a lot of wins, or a low ERA. That really does limit the field quite a bit. It always does. I won’t say that Cy Young voters always get it right, but in just about every case, the player is very much deserving of the award.
Here are the NL Cy Young Award odds per 5Dimes Sportsbook as of February 20, 2020:
Man, a lot of these guys have no business being listed. That being said, I have a couple more long shots of interest here than I did in the American League. The AL actually looks really, really chalky if I’m being honest. There are not many big prices that I would have any interest in at all.
In looking at the National League, I really do like Walker Buehler, but he is +600, so there really isn’t a ton of reason to take him. With something like a pitching award, there are so many things that can go wrong health-wise. If a favorite or a short price wins, you tip your cap and move on. The best thing to do is take some mid-range prices or some bombs and hope for the best.
That’s what I’ll look to do with three guys to consider:
Clayton Kershaw (+2000) – This is my co-favorite pick on the list. Clayton Kershaw has the reputation and already has a few of these things. While everybody was busy celebrating so many other things about the Dodgers, it seemed to pass a lot of people by that Kershaw’s second half was absurd. Kershaw had a 2.95 ERA in 79.1 innings of work. He did still give up 15 homers and people obsess over that way too much.
You know what else Kershaw did? He pulled his strikeout rate up from 23.1% to 31.1%. Kershaw is going to have a ton of chances to get wins. As long as his back is healthy, he’s going to go back to being a workhorse and he’s probably going to cut back that second half BB% of 7.9% while not sacrificing strikeouts. I’m guessing he found something in the second half of last season to get himself back on track.
That is scary. Maybe the command isn’t good enough anymore to carry the low ERA, but I think he’s very close to being back to elite and it is going to get a lot of run if he is.
Luis Castillo (+2000) – Now let’s get serious. This is my co-favorite Cy Young Award bet of them all. To be honest, I’m using 5Dimes numbers because they list more players, but there are better prices out there on Castillo, like 25/1 at BetOnline.
Did Luis Castillo have 200 strikeouts? Yes. He struck out 226 batters in 190.2 innings. Did Castillo have the ERA? Close enough at 3.40. Did he have the wins? Well, he had 15 of the 75 that the Reds had, so that seems good enough for me.
Here’s why I love Castillo: his ERA jumped from 2.29 in the first half to 4.78 in the second half. You know what else happened? His BB% fell from 12.3% to 7.4%. His K% went up from 28.8% to 29.1%. Castillo fell victim to a 68.4% LOB%. His xFIP was actually 3.07 in the second half compared to 3.81 in the first half.
That is why ERA is such a misleading stat. His BABIP went up from .224 to .305, so he experienced an overcorrection in that department and it happened to coincide with a command hiccup in terms of his HR/FB%.
With another offseason with pitching coach Derek Johnson and a new-look changeup, Castillo is going to shine. Find the best price (it’s not at 5Dimes) and fire away.
Trevor Bauer (+5000) – Let’s add another Red to the list here. This price is way too high on Trevor Bauer. Bauer was a finalist in 2018 and may have been trending that way in the first half with the Indians last season. Bauer has the strikeouts. We know that. He’s also extremely durable, so we know we are going to get the innings that we need in order to run up that strikeout rate.
Sure, Bauer ran an ERA of almost 5 in the second half, but his K% also jumped from 26.8% to 29.4%. That’s what I’m worried about. Things happen with a change to a new team and a new ballpark and whatever. Bauer had the entire offseason to communicate with Johnson. The Reds hired Kyle Boddy of Driveline Baseball. A lot of things are trending in the right direction for Bauer. The home run issue in a small park is the only thing that worries me, but Justin Verlander gave up like 80 home runs last year and won it.
If we get a 200-inning season from Bauer, he has a legitimate chance at 250 strikeouts again and that would be enough if he also has the wins and posts a good ERA.
We haven’t seen may of those good ERAs, but this feels like the right kind of situation and the price is attractive at 50/1.
Zac Gallen (+30000) – What the hell. How about one more?! Zac Gallen is 300/1. Admittedly, this is risky, as the Diamondbacks said right away in Spring Training that he is not a lock to make the starting rotation. I don’t know why not, but I guess it isn’t my call.
Gallen worked 171.1 innings across Triple-A and the Major Leagues last season. He struck out 208 batters. That’s a good start. In particular, he had over a strikeout per inning pace in the Majors over his 80 innings. He had a 2.81 ERA in his 15 starts, so he looks like a guy that could have the right ERA and strikeout numbers.
Gallen also has the support of one of the best defensive teams in baseball behind him to help keep that ERA low. Gallen’s K% went up slightly with the Diamondbacks and his BB% decreased slightly. Both good developments.
Look, the kid is 300/1. I’m not expecting him to win the award, but he has the most upside of anybody in the long shot crowd and it really isn’t close. I actually don’t mind his teammate Robbie Ray at 100/1, assuming that the baseball plays a little bit differently this season.
I’ve made worse bets than Zac Gallen at 300/1 to win the Cy Young Award.