The 2021 MLB season is in its infancy as we are one month down and five to go of the 162-game campaign.
Nonetheless, there are already odds moving all over the place, not just within the 30 teams across the league but the players that take aim at a couple of the league’s most prestigious individual awards.
With that in mind, let’s buy and sell some MVP and Cy Young Futures here as we sit a little more than one full month into the season.
*Odds courtesy of BetOnline
American League MVP
Mike Trout (+200)
I said before the season Trout had value at those +225 odds, and given the start he’s off to there is very little reason to fade him at excellent +200 odds, even if he’s the clear-cut favorite.
I mean, there’s a reason why the dude is a clear-cut favorite. He remains the best player on the planet. I mean, just compare his competitors to those in the NL. Behind Trout here is the likes of Byron Buxton, Shohei Ohtani, Vladimiar Guerrero Jr., J.D, Martinez etc. All great players, but mostly not all guys that are in the MVP conversation every year.
In the NL, it’s Ronald Acuna Jr., Bryce Harper, Jacob deGrom, Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto, Mookie Betts etc. You know… guys that are in the MVP discussion nearly every single season.
So, what Trout has to do here is fend off some players that are having breakout/career-years here in 2021, and he’s done a fine job of that.
While there’s a reason the aforementioned names behind Trout are there as they’re all absolutely raking at the plate, but so is the guy who already has three of these things and the voters’ affection as a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer before the age of 30.
Before play on Monday, all Trout had done is hit .413 with seven homers, a 1.290 OPS, .531 wOBA and 257 wRC+. Yup, with park factors included, he has been 157% better than league average at the plate here in the 2021 campaign. His 2.3 fWAR in 2.3 games is tied with Buxton for tops in all of baseball, and while Buxton is raking at the plate and is very much a five-tool player, he’ll get a good chunk of his fWAR from his elite defense in center that is superior to Trout’s at this point. That will not weigh as heavily in voters’ mind given the offensive season the best player on the planet is putting together.
I mean, there’s just so little reason to fade the favorite here who is totally living up to what he needs to do in order to secure his fourth career AL MVP Award.
Shohei Ohtani (+600)
The reasoning here is very simple. In order for Ohtani to win the 2021 AL MVP Award, he needs to beat out the man above. That’s… not going to be easy to do. At least the other players on the board are carving their own season’s out on their own respective clubs, but if Trout and Ohtani both have MVP-caliber seasons, the vote is going to go to Trout, and that’s final.
There’s absolutely no disrespect to Ohtani here at all as his two-way play has once again captivated the baseball world. He is mashing at the plate to the tune of eight homers, six steals, a .917 OPS and 157 wRC+. Clearly, however, those are far inferior marks to Trout even if they’re sensational in their own right. He’s also hitting just .263 with a .311 OBP and walks just 3.8% of the time.
On the mound, Ohtani owns a 3.29 ERA/3.99 FIP across three starts and 13.2 innings. He was scratched from a scheduled start on Monday after getting hit in the throwing elbow by a pitch on Sunday, but he still accrued only 13.2 innings of work over the season’s first month.
He’s as dynamic as a ball player can be given his elite talent at the dish and on the rubber, but he’s just not going to be able to overcome his teammate and therefore is a hard sell for me.
National League MVP
Fernando Tatis Jr. (+750)
At these odds, Tatis sits behind Acuna (+260), Harper (+600), and deGrom (+600), so he’s a little bit of an underdog despite sitting with the fourth-best odds to win the award.
There’s little doubt this debate will rage on throughout the season. Acuna is leading baseball in home runs, Harper is producing at a level similar to his 2015 MVP season and deGrom is blowing hitters away with controlled gas that we have not seen in some time.
Of the three, I’m most concerned about deGrom’s case. He gets no run support and the scuffling Mets aren’t likely to give him enough wins to make enough noise in this conversation, as silly as that is. They’re also no lock to make the playoffs which surely plays in the subconscious mind of baseball writers across the country.
Nonetheless. Tatis has resumed his path as the perhaps the game’s most electric player. He’s homered eight times while nipping at the heels of Acuna while he’s also stolen five bases, posted a .926 OPS and 146 wRC+, although his defense has graded horribly this season in the league’s 2nd percentile in terms of outs above average.
As we’ve seen many times over in this discussion, however, it’s about what you do at the plate and the guy is getting it done. He will give the 40-40 plateau a try despite a stint on the IL with a shoulder ailment earlier in the year, and while he’s hitting just .240, he also owns a bad-luck .233 BABIP despite ranking in the league’s 97th percentile in both average exit velocity and hard-hit rate with a 96th percentile ranking in barrel rate to boot.
It’s a tough one in the NL, but I’m buying the electric nature of Tatis who is changing the game right in front of our eyes.
Ronald Acuna Jr. (+260)
When you’re selling the favorite, you’re selling one of the best players in baseball. That said, value is top of mind here and given the level of competition on the NL side, I don’t view Acuna as a clear-cut favorite with +260 odds well below those of the remainder of the board.
I mentioned the foremost competition above, but that’s not even mentioning the likes of Corey Seager, Freddie Freeman and Kris Bryant who all have MVP-caliber resumes. I mean, there’s 10 guys you could make a case for to win this thing.
Acuna is certainly staking his claim, however, as he’s hit an MLB-best nine home runs with three steals, a .333 average, 1.139 OPS, .469 wOBA and 194 wRC+. The guy even deserves a superior wOBA with an xwOBA of .502 on the season and absolutely lights up the Statcast leaderboard.
If the season ends today, Acuna is your NL MVP. There’s no arguing that. However, there’s five months of season left and this isn’t a Trout situation in the AL. There’s a wealth of competition that he’s going to have to fight off with everything he has where as Trout can likely have a typical Trout season and take home the honor over in the junior circuit.
As far as the senior circuit goes, sell Acuna, at least until you getter more value potential out of your investment.
American League Cy Young
Gerrit Cole (+175)
We’re back to a favorite here on the AL side of a major award, but it’s a similar situation to Trout.
Right now, there are three arms as the clear-cut front runners in Cole, Shane Bieber (+250) and Tyler Glasnow (+400). Now, there’s some difference in value at those odds, but the odds are so tight that we can simply pick the pitcher we believe wins the award and to me, that’s Cole.
I believe Cole was hosed when he was beaten by then-teammate Justin Verlander for the 2019 honor as Cole’s numbers were superior nearly across the board, but JV won that one on respect and longevity while it was only Cole’s second season being the elite of the elite.
Now, it’s Cole’s turn. While deGrom is being hailed the best pitcher on the planet — and he might be — all Cole has does is turn in a 1.43 ERA/0.48 FIP with a 14.81 K/9 against 0.72 BB/9. He’s actually done so while dealing with worse batted-ball luck with a .315 BABIP against.
Cole’s FIP, BB/9, HR/9 and fWAR are all superior to that of deGrom. He’s not up against him in this race, obviously, but the point is that if deGrom isn’t the best pitcher on the planet right now, than Cole is as it’s a two -man race this season, all due respect to Corbin Burnes and Tyler Glasnow who are both in the top four in fWAR with these two horses.
Cole is also going to get the wins required. He’s already won four decisions in six starts and the Yankees aren’t even hitting yet. New York ranks 22nd in runs per game on the season and he’s still managed to go 4-1 in six starts.
I’m still buying Cole at a short price.
Danny Duffy (+1800)
If you’re willing to venture outside the aforementioned top three in search of long-term value, I wouldn’t suggest landing on Duffy.
The 32-year-old is enjoying a major bounce-back season with an AL-best 0.60 ERA on the season, and while the peripherals are good, they’re not Cy-Young quality. Duffy also owns a 2.61 FIP, but also a 3.68 xFIP, 3.65 xERA and 3.55 SIERA. Again, you’re taking those numbers all day long when you’re not discussing Cy Young candidates, but he’s not going to end up competing with the big boys.
Keep in mind Duffy has stranded a whopping 95.4% of base runners this season, a clip more than 20% above his career rate while his .247 BABIP against is about 50 points above his career mark of .292. Additionally, Statcast is not the biggest of fans, either, with roughly league-average percentile rankings in categories such as hard-hit rate, average exit velocity (40th in both), xwOBA, xERA, xBA and more.
He’s been a pleasant surprise on a surging Royals club, but there is not a Cy Young in his future here in 2021.
National League Cy Young
Clayton Kershaw (+1800)
deGrom is the clear favorite here at -125, but that’s not enough value for me even with how dominant he’s been so far. There’s also Corbin Burnes, Trevor Bauer, Walker Buehler, Brandon Woodruff and Yu Darvish standing between Kershaw and the leader, but I like the value here nonetheless.
After deGrom, guess who leads the remaining aforementioned group in fWAR this season? Yup, your boy Clayton. The future Hall of Famer is a sweetheart in the eyes of the voters, which is always a positive here, but he’s also dealt to the tune of a 2.09 ERA/2.49 FIP on the season, numbers good enough to win the Cy Young man years in the past when someone doesn’t go bonkers as deGrom has gone twice in three years before Bauer did it in a small sample last season.
He’s generating punchouts at a solid 9.08 K/9, but his command has been elite with a 1.16 BB/9 on the season and his strand rate and BABIP rates are completely normal.
He ranks well in Statcast but not elite, but the theory of buying here is if he can maintain his numbers throughout the season and have the fellas in front of him falter. I’m not wishing injury upon anyone, but that’s always a possibility that needs to be considered as well.
If he’s even close to deGrom or anyone else at season’s end, his career resume and good-guy nature around the game could very well earn him his fourth career NL Cy Young Award.
Trevor Bauer (+1400)
If it’s even close between Bauer and teammate Kershaw at the end of the season, the voting is going to the southpaw as opposed to the reigning winner.
Bauer has been as advertised in his first season with the Dodgers with a 2.48 ERA/2.25 xERA, but he also owns a 3.59 fIP and 3.21 xFIP that has him well down the list of the elite pitchers early in the season. He’s also surrendered the long ball at a 1.58 HR/8 clip and has been a huge beneficiary of a minuscule .150 BABIP against despite yielding just south of 42% in terms of hard contact against.
Bauer ranks well in month Statcast metrics, but when he’s been hit he’s been hit hard as he ranks in the league’s 36th percentile in average exit velocity and 39th percentile in hard-hit rate against. He’s also in the middle of the pack in terms of barrel rate as well, so if he can’t avoid the barrel of the bat more moving forward the home run issues will remain and he’ll be cast aside in voting as a result.
He earned the award last season, but I don’t see the ever-rare repeat given how some other names around the league are pitching right now, including his teammate above.