The MLB All-Star Game has stirred up some controversy surrounding the 2022 NL Cy Young candidates. When the game takes place on Tuesday night, Los Angeles Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw will be the starter for the National League over current NL Cy Young frontrunner Sandy Alcantara.
While the decision has irked many baseball fans, we want to look beyond the All-Star game to decipher whether or not Alcantara should be considered the favorite to take home the Cy Young or if we can uncover a better bet to make at the season’s halfway point.
Should You Bet on Sandy Alcantara?
There’s no denying that Alcantara is the rightful frontrunner for the NL Cy Young as of now. His 1.76 ERA is far and away the best in the league, as are his 138.1 innings pitched. As he racks up innings, he’s also been able to volume his way to ranking 4th in the National League in strikeouts and being the only pitcher with multiple complete games this season.
However, I don’t see this as a good bet.
For starters, the odds (-130) don’t give you much opportunity for profit, so those are bets that we want to avoid when the outcome is as murky as it typically is on futures bets.
However, the main reason I wouldn’t make this bet is that I think Alcantara is due for second-half regression. Yes, he will still be an All-Star caliber pitcher, but there are simply too many signs that he can’t keep up this current level of production.
For one, his .189 batting average allowed comes with a .241 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which is a bit of an outlier. We should expect some natural regression there, and his ERA estimators would agree. His 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 Alcantara should have a 3.30 ERA. Meanwhile, his SIERA (Skill-interactive Earned Run Average) is 3.40. When you combine those metrics with the well above-average batting average against, it’s clear to see a path for ERA regression.
It’s also important to note that Alcantara is not a big strikeout pitcher. His 17.2% strikeout minus walk ratio (K-BB%) is 14th among qualified pitchers in the NL alone, and his 12.3% swinging strike rate (SwStr%) is 7th. This is important because more balls being put in play means a higher likelihood of base hits. Also, NL Cy Young voters are certainly going to look at strikeout totals at the end of the year.
Alcantara owes a lot of his high strikeout total to the volume of innings he throws. As the season wears on, it’s fair to wonder if the Marlins become more cautious about racking up his innings totals. A dip in his strikeout numbers, added to regression in his ratios, could make it harder for him to hold off the pitcher right behind him in current odds.
Is Corbin Burnes a Better Bet?
After winning last year’s NL Cy Young, I think Corbin Burnes is a sneaky option to repeat, and the betting odds right now are enticing if we want to follow that train of thought.
Let’s just take a look at Burnes’ current NL Cy Young resume: 1st in the NL in SwStr%, 1st in CSW, 1st in SIERA (2.76), 1st in xFIP (2.82), 1st in K-BB% (26%), 2nd in WHIP (0.90), and 3rd in ERA (2.14). That’s a pretty impressive resume and one that would likely make him the clear frontrunner if Alcantara wasn’t pitching at a level that seems almost unnatural.
If we believe, as I do, that Alcantara will experience some regression then Burnes that his current odds of +700 seems like a tremendous bet and one that I will be casting myself today.
Is Joe Musgrove a Worthy Darkhorse?
Lurking on the periphery of the NL Cy Young chase is Joe Musgrove, who has really taken his game to another level this year. So far, Musgrove ranks 5th in the National League in K-BB% (19.2%), 4th in ERA (2.42), 7th in xFIP (3.27), 6th in SIERA (3.39), and is on a playoff-contending team that should net him a good amount of wins in the second half.
However, even with these crazy beneficial odds, it’s hard to see a bet on Musgrove being a good one. He isn’t putting up eye-popping strikeout totals and has ratios that are right in a cluster of other pitchers like Max Fried, Tony Gonsolin, Logan Webb, and more. I just can’t see him winning the NL Cy Young unless there are multiple injuries.
Are Bets on Zach Wheeler or Max Scherzer Worth the Gamble?
Speaking of injuries, if either Zach Wheeler or Max Scherzer had pitched a fully healthy first half of the season, we might be talking about them as NL Cy Young candidates. So is there any chance either one could sneak in and steal the award?
Unfortunately, for Scherzer, I think the answer is “No.” He threw just 69 innings in the first half of the season, so it’s hard to see him pitching more than 140 on the year, which will make it hard for voters to choose him over Alcantara and Burnes (among others) if they keep pitching near this level.
It’s unfortunate because, if Scherzer qualified, he would be 1st the NL in K-BB% (29.4%), 5th in ERA (2.22), 3rd in xFIP (2.90), 1st in SIERA (2.55), and 3rd in SwStr% (15.5%).
If you want a dark horse pick, I think Wheeler may be a better bet. Now, I’m not saying Wheeler is a good bet; I’d much prefer putting money on Burnes, but at +1900, there is a case for laying a few dollars on Wheeler.
For starters, his 99.2 innings pitched are not so far behind the leaders that he should be immediately ruled out. Wheeler also tends to pitch deep into games, going at least six innings in 11 of his last 14 starts (with the three shorter starts being due to bad outings). Given that, it’s possible Wheeler can make up his innings deficit and enter a conversation he’s very much a part of from a production standpoint since he’s 4th in SIERA (3.17), 3rd in xFIP (3.09), and 4th in K-BB% (21.3%).
It’s an unlikely win, but at those odds, a small bet might be the kind of longshot it’s fun to root for.