Last year, Robbie Ray took the baseball world by surprise en route to winning the AL Cy Young. Could another left-handed pitcher come out of nowhere to take the trophy this year?
As of now, the sportsbooks seem to think so since Shane McClanahan of the Tampa Bay Rays is the odds-on favorite to take home the prize. However, two-time winner Justin Verlander, Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, and a host of other names are still vying for the title.
Below, we’ll dig into the names to know and discuss if there are any bets that have intriguing value.
Can Shane McClanahan take home the prize?
The first question we need to tackle is whether or not Shane McClanahan makes sense as the favorite for the AL Cy Young. The short answer is simply: yes.
McClanahan is 2nd in the AL in wins, 1st in ERA, 1st in strikeout minus walk ratio (K-BB%), 1st in WHIP (0.80), 2nd in WAR (Wins Above Replacement), and 1st in swinging strike rate (SwStr%). So he’s basically laying waste to the competition in terms of ratios and dominant swing-and-miss performance.
However, unlike with Sandy Alcantara, who we covered in our NL Cy Young update, Shane McClanahan’s ERA estimators all suggest that he’s earning his tremendous results.
McClanahan’s xFIP (expected Fielding Independent Pitching), which attempts to measure a pitcher’s actual skill instead of the effects of luck or his supporting cast, says the left-hander should have a 1.99 ERA. Meanwhile, his SIERA (Skill-interactive Earned Run Average) is 2.19. Those are both the best rate in the American League. In fact, the 1.99 xFIP is almost a full run better than Gerrit Cole, who sits in second with a 2.70 rate.
In short, Shane McClanahan has been the best pitcher in the American League and it’s not through any stroke of luck but because he has just been hands down better than the other pitchers. His impressive swinging strike metrics also suggest that he isn’t getting by on weak contact or field outs but that he’s simply dominating hitters.
Given his pedigree as a prospect, there’s really no reason to think that this first-half performance should come crashing down, so placing a +210 bet on Shane McClanahan seems like one of the best bets you can make here.
Is Justin Verlander a good bet?
There has also been some betting action on Verlander lately. As we mentioned above, the veteran is a two-time AL Cy Young winner, so pitching at this level is nothing new to him.
However, he is not as close to McClanahan as the betting odds would indicate. Verlander is 1st in wins and 2nd in ERA (1.89), but he is also 5th in K-BB% (21.1%), 9th in xFIP (3.33), 5th in SIERA (3.30), 3rd in WAR, and 12th in SwStr% (11.5%).
Those numbers obviously tell the story of a pitcher who is among the best in the American League, but they are not the numbers of somebody who is so over-powering that they should be considered in such close competition to Shane McClanahan. It’s just hard to see value in Verlander at +260.
What’s more, Verlander has already thrown 109.1 innings in the first half of the season. However, he hasn’t pitched since 2019 (aside from six innings in 2020), so it’s hard to anticipate the Astros really allowing him to push for 200 innings this year. With Houston having their eyes set on a title, they will surely want Verlander rested and healthy for the playoffs, so it would be smart to expect them to limit his innings in the second half.
Given all of that, I just can’t see betting on him with those odds.
Are Gerrit Cole or Dylan Cease strong dark horse picks?
However, I can see betting on Dylan Cease. Yes, Gerrit Cole is the bigger name and has been in the AL Cy Young conversation before, so there is a narrow path for him this year. The Yankees ace is 10th in ERA (3.02), 2nd in xFIP (2.70), 2nd in SIERA (2.75), 2nd in K-BB% (26.2%), 5th in SwStr% (14.4%), and 10th in WAR.
The ERA estimators are on his side, but allowing 1.35 HR/9 has really hurt Cole this year as it drives up his ERA in a way the estimators may not be accurately reflecting. Cole should certainly be in the conversation, and the Yankees are likely to set him up for a chance at a strong win total; however, some of his early blow-up starts have put him behind the curve in terms of his ERA and WAR, which are two categories that we know AL Cy Young voters will look at.
Considering Cole has to overcome McClanahan, Verlander, Shohei Ohtani, and Dylan Cease, it might be a hurdle that’s too big to surpass.
In the end, I think Cease has the more well-rounded resume if we’re looking for a large plus-odds bet. The White Sox right-hander is tied with Cole (and others) for 3rd in the AL in wins, is 3rd in ERA (2.15), 4th in xFIP (2.93), 4th in SIERA (3.12), 4th in WAR, 3rd in K-BB% (23.4%), and 2nd in SwStr% (16.4%).
In short, Cease has been pretty elite in almost every pitching metric. In fact, if anything, Cease has been incredibly unlucky this year. His .298 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is much higher than the league average and should likely come down, which will mean fewer hits against him. Cease has also allowed ten unearned runs, which is the most of any pitcher in consideration for the AL Cy Young, and suggests that his defense hasn’t been doing him any favors thus far.
Like Gerrit Cole, he plays for a good team, and I think the White Sox offense will start performing closer to expectations in the second half, which should net Cease more wins. Given our case against Justin Verlander, Cease is really a few Shane McClanahan meltdown starts away from being at the top of the AL Cy Young race.
While I still think an AL Cy Young bet on McClanahan is a good one, Cease at +1000 also makes for an intriguing best bet as a longshot option.
For more betting articles like this AL Cy Young guide, visit amNY Sports