Crazy things can happen in baseball and nothing is guaranteed.
The Cy Young races in recent years have thrown us a few curveballs – pun intended – and it looks like the same could very well happen again here in the 2019 campaign.
While it appears Justin Verlander is running away with the award in the AL as per his +125 odds at BetOnline, the National League side has an unfamiliar face atop the odds list while some of the big boys from years past have seen their odds slip.
Let’s have a look at some of the movement in the odds to win the National League Cy Young Award.
*Odds courtesy of BetOnline
**Stats courtesy of FanGraphs and as of 6/5/19
Hyun Jin Ryu (+275)
After dealing with a plethora if injuries earlier in his big league career, Ryu has caught fire of the last calendar year and is very much in the lead in the NL Cy Young race at the moment.
Ryu currently leads the big leagues with a ridiculous 1.35 ERA on the season. The funny part about that is it may not even be his most impressive stat as he’s also sporting an unheard of 0.56 BB/9 rate. In other words, it’s taking him about 18 innings to walk a batter this season. Simply unbelievable.
It’s not just this season that Ryu has been dealing as he produced an eye-popping 1.97 ERA across 15 starts last season and he posted a 1.88 ERA across 52.2 innings after coming back from injury in August. Pitchers simply don’t return from a three-month absence to dominate this league very often but Ryu’s done it in spades.
If injuries hadn’t limited him to just 108 starts since appearing in Los Angeles in the 2013 season – and making 30 starts – he would be looked upon as one of the very best pitchers in baseball.
Here are his MLB ranks since making his North American debut in that 2013 campaign.
|Ryu MLB Ranks Since 2013 Debut|
The only pitchers with a better ERA than Ryu since the 2013 are Clayton Kershaw, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke. He has a better ERA than Chris Sale, Madison Bumgarner and Corey Kluber in that time. He’s firmly entrenched as one of the best pitchers in baseball since his debut.
The one kicker is his 637.2 innings pitched in that time is roughly half of the other pitchers in his ERA range.
Still, give it up for Ryu who is dominating even more than Jacob deGrom in 2018 when he won the Cy Young with a 1.70 ERA. It will be interesting and fascinating to see if he can keep up the eye-popping ERA figure into the summer months.
Luis Castillo (+750)
What a difference a year can make.
This time last year, Castillo was one of the worst pitchers in all of baseball – by the numbers – as his first half 5.49 ERA was the third-worst mark of all qualified MLB starters, ahead of only Lucas Giolito – very much an AL Cy Young candidate this season – and Jason Hammel.
Skip ahead to the second half of the 2018 season and Castillo crafted a 2.44 ERA to rank eighth among all qualified starters and sixth on the NL side of things.
He was better across the board. The strikeouts picked up to 9.36 per nine innings, the walks dropped to a stout 1.90 per nine and 3.17 xFIP more or less supported his fine work down the stretch last season.
If you thought the now 26-year-old Castillo was fortunate to get such a lofty ERA figure, think again.
He’s developed into the full-blown ace the Reds were praying for when they acquired him from the Marlins in exchange for right-hander Dan Straily in 2017. Straily is now relegated to bullpen duty with the Orioles thanks to an unsightly 8.42 ERA and 8.19 FIP just two years after that trade took place.
It’s probably time to see how he’s matchup up against the rest of the NL in a surprise big for the Cy Young.
|Luis Castillo vs. the NL|
Sure, there’s a call for regression here with Castillo, but there also is with Ryu, the only pitcher ahead of him on NL odds list at the moment.
One area where he needs to improve closer to his second half of 2018 is walks as he’s issued free passes at a 4.28 BB/9 clip, ranking him 43rd of 47 NL qualified starters this season. He’s been fortunate to keep many of those walks off the board thanks to an 84.2% strand rate, however he’s been able to keep the ball in the yard at that 0.71 HR/9 clip despite a little bit of an elevated 14.3% HR/FB rate. Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati will do that you.
At the end of the day, no one thought Castillo was a legitimate Cy Young contender this season despite a second half breakout in 2018. He’s certainly trending in the right direction.
Zach Davies (+750)
Another one of the more underrated arms in the senior circuit over the last handful of seasons, Davies has always been a reliable, if unsexy arm for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Look no further than his career 3.79 ERA across 92 starts and 524.1 innings as proof. The reason he doesn’t get much fanfare is in part due to his injury issues and subpar 4.77 ERA in 2018, and part due to his uninspiring 6.47 K/9 in his career, a number that’s interestingly dropped even further to a 5.81 mark this season, ranking him 46h among 47 NL qualified starters this season.
The one thing eating at Davies is the inevitable regression coming his way.
Ryu and Castillo also have some in their future considering their respective ERA estimators, but Davies could be in trouble, and soon.
Check out the difference in his NL ranks between his actual ERA and the peripherals.
|Davies Regression En Route?|
There should be some serious concern here. If xFIP had its way, Davies’ work this season would rank 42nd of 47 NL qualified starters. His small 8.2% HR/FB rate should go up and he’s stranded 82.7% of baserunners this season as well, a real tough figure to maintain, especially with warmer climates set to hit the remainder of the league in the ensuing months.
His lack of strikeout ability will have that strand rate increasing. More sac flies, RBI ground-outs etc. should be on their way moving forward.
Nonetheless, absolutely no one thought of Davies as a Cy Young contender regardless of the time of year, so give the guy credit for keeping runs off the board with the best of em’ to this point, but keep an eye on the scary peripherals moving forward.
Max Scherzer (+800)
The odds-on favorite to win the Cy Young prior to the season, Scherzer has seemed a little more hittable than his three-time Cy Young winning self, although it wouldn’t surprise me to see these odds revert back to being one of the top two favorites to win this award come summertime.
In other words, Scherzer’s fate appears to be the complete opposite of Davies given his peripheral numbers.
Let’s see how he matches up in the NL.
|Max Scherzer 2019 NL Ranks|
So, who has truly been the best pitcher in the National League this season? Given the above information it would be hard to rule against the two-time NL Cy Young winner. His 3.4 WAR is miles ahead of the second-place 2.6 marks posted by Ryu and teammate Stephen Strasburg. It may seem minimal, but he’s been worth almost one more win than two elite pitchers and it’s only the first week of June.
He may be in the fallers category due to his odds regression since the start of the year, but Mad Max Scherzer holds some unbelievable value at these odds considering he’s leading the National League in just about everything save for ERA, for now.
Jacob deGrom (+1200)
After winning the award with a dominant 1.70 ERA and 1.99 FIP in 2018, there’s little doubt that deGrom has slipped back to the pack in the race for the 2019 version of the Cy Young.
His 3.49 ERA and 3.37 FIP along with a 10.85 K/9 are all well and good, however, keep in mind this a guy that’s pitched to a 2.73 ERA, 2.85 FIP, and 3.05 xFIP in his career. Not only is he underperforming his 2018 season but he’s underperforming his career marks by a notable margin so far this season.
The Mets have just a 4-8 record when deGrom starts a game this season, a year after he struggled mightily to get run support after going just 10-9 with that 1.70 ERA thanks to just 3.53 runs of support per game while the Mets somehow went 14-18 with deGrom starting a game in 2018.
The Mets are scuffling again here in 2019 despite some win-now offseason moves, something that won’t aid his cause even if he picks up his ERA and peripherals figures moving forward.
Has been the regression on the home run ball. He posted an eye-popping 0.41 HR/9 last season, thanks in large part to a tiny 6.3% HR/FB rate that was the lowest mark of any qualified pitcher in the NL in 2018.
His 2.60 xFIP from last season expected some home run regression, however it took until this year to arrive as his 14.5% HR/FB rate is more than double last year’s mark and well above his 10.5% career mark for the second time in three years after he dealt with a 16.1% rate in the 2017 campaign.
The result has been a 1.16 HR/9 clip this season, well above the nice 0.79 clip he’s worked to for his career.
He hasn’t been bad, but it appears there will be no repeat in the NL Cy Young race in 2019.
Aaron Nola (+2000)
If you think deGrom is dealing with home run regression, let me introduce you to Aaron Nola.
Nola was actually deGrom’s main competitor for the award in 2018 when he threw together a 2.37 ERA and 3.01 FIP to go along with a 3.21 xFIP.
The xFIP didn’t point to a massive amount of regression as his HR/FB rate was a relatively normal 10.6% last season and his 0.72 HR/9 clip was more of a reflection of his emphasis on inducing ground-balls at a 50.6% clip.
However, that HR/FB rate has ballooned to 20.8% this season as the ground-ball rate has fallen to 46.7%. However, the main reason behind his increase in home runs is his 37.6% hard-hit rate against after producing an elite 25.1% hard-hit rate against in 2018. His line drive rate has also spiked from 19.1% in each of the last two seasons to 26.2% this year.
While his ground-ball rate has dropped, his fly-ball rate has as well. He’s allowing just 27.2% fly-balls this season, but having your hard-hit rate spike by 11.5% and your line drive rate spike by another 7.1% is no recipe for success.
Walks are another issue. Nola has always displayed fine command with a 2.62 BB/9 rate for his career and a 2.46 mark in 2018, however, he’s issuing free passes at a big 3.99 BB/9 clip this season and combined with the spike in home runs, you get the ugly 4.63 ERA he’s produced to this point.
His 3.80 xFIP suggests his ERA will improve notably when that elevated HR/FB rate comes down, however, for now, Nola’s not helping himself with the walks and hard-hit rates against.
As it stands right now, Scherzer is likely to be joined by two new competitors in the Cy Young race from the two he dealt with, and lost to, in the 2018 season.