Analysis | Sneaky smart picks for MLB’s end-of-season awards

The New York Mets seemed to have two strong Cy Young candidates in Jacob deGrom (who once had +300 odds, meaning a $100 bet would win $300) and Max Scherzer (+600 as of Monday), with the latter still offering terrific value for bettors. Scherzer is expected to lead the league in strikeouts (a projected 247, according to FanGraphs), with a strong projected ERA (3.26) and wins earned (13) for a retooled team that should contend for the division.

However, deGrom will miss at least four weeks after an MRI revealed a stress reaction in his right scapula, while Scherzer is experiencing right hamstring tightness that kept him out of a scheduled intrasquad appearance on Saturday. If Scherzer only misses a regular season start or two, he should still represent good value for a wager. Using individual projections to estimate each pitcher’s Cy Young Award points — a metric developed by Tom Tango, a senior data architect at MLB — we can forecast that Scherzer (a three-time winner) will again be among the league leaders in 2022, with a score of 162.5. For context, every Cy Young winner since 2006 finished first or second in Cy Young points.

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

San Francisco Giants addition Carlos Rodón (+2200) is tempting, too, but would need to stay healthy to be a viable candidate. The former Chicago White Sox star has pitched over 150 innings in a season just once since he was drafted No. 3 overall in 2014, and that came six years ago. He’s averaged 13 starts since.

New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole is, on paper, a worthy favorite (+425). He compiled a 16-8 record with 243 strikeouts over 181⅓ innings last season, with a 3.23 ERA. However, his second-half splits, after baseball’s crackdown on so-called sticky stuff, was underwhelming. His on-base-plus-slugging percentage-against rose from .584 to .725, while his strikeout-to-walk ratio slipped from 6.7 in the first half of the season to 5.1 in the second half. Maybe that was just bad luck, but for a betting favorite you’d want as many green lights as possible, not uncertainty.

Instead, consider José Berríos (+2000) of the Toronto Blue Jays. Berríos was acquired by Toronto from the Minnesota Twins at last year’s trade deadline, 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. This year, according to projections, he is expected to pitch close to 200 innings with 201 strikeouts and an ERA around 3.90 for a club that is among the favorites to win the World Series.

American League Most Valuable Player

The MVP award hinges on wins above replacement. League leaders in that metric, defined here as ranking in the top four, have won the past 20 MVP awards, so it makes sense to focus on players with enticing prices who are projected to earn high WAR figures.

Look no further than Cleveland Guardian slugger José Ramírez (+2500). The 29-year-old third baseman batted .266 last season, with 36 home runs, 111 runs scored and 103 RBI, creating runs at a rate 37 percent higher than the league average. FanGraphs estimates he will hit .271 with 36 home runs in 2022, earning 6.2 wins above replacement. Only the favorite, Shohei Ohtani (+400), and his Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout, the second choice at +450, are expected to be more valuable position players in the American League.

National League Most Valuable Player

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

American League rookie of the year

The rookie of the year award, much like the MVP, is driven by wins above replacement. Over the past 10 seasons, the winner has been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in WAR among rookies 15 times, and has been in the top five 18 out of a possible 20 times. That makes the expected race in the AL wide open. Julio Rodríguez (+500), Bobby Witt Jr. (+310), Adley Rutschman (+600), Spencer Torkelson (+450), Riley Greene (+1500) and Jeremy Peña (+1200) are all expected to be near the top of the leader board among rookies by season’s end.

Greene suffered a fractured foot a week before Opening Day, making Peña the most lucrative play at the current prices. With shortstop Carlos Correa now in Minnesota, Peña, a third-round pick by the Houston Astros in 2018, appears to be the heir apparent in Houston. He’s got plenty of speed — he stole 29 bases in the minors over 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 isn’t likely to be as competitive. Seiya Suzuki (+380) and Oneil Cruz (+425) are among the best plays 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 four straight seasons batting at least .300 with a .400 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage. He’s also got 100 career steals and hit 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 wager on Washington Nationals catcher Keibert Ruiz. He is listed at some sportsbooks at prices around +500, yet isn’t eligible for the award, having been on a major league roster for 64 days, 19 more than the threshold to remain a rookie.

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