One of the biggest topics of conversation in the VSiN universe this baseball season has been the player awards market.
These futures bets provide an alternative to the extreme grind that handicapping MLB over the course of the season can be when dealing with variables such as travel, starting pitchers, umpires and recent statistical output.
Of course, those awards bets are best made early in the season when higher numbers are available. But even at this late juncture, they deserve attention.
The focus now should be to identify any remaining value, determine whether your existing bets are still alive and see if you can find hedging opportunities.
Let’s examine the overall player awards futures to determine whether any late-season value can still be wrung from the market. But before we do, here is my mantra when it comes to handicapping awards futures: Don’t bet on the player you think should win the award based on your personal set of benchmarks. You must bet on the player the media members will vote for.
First, no reason to discuss the AL MVP or NL Rookie of the Year. Regardless if Shohei Ohtani can hold off the charging Salvador Perez for the home run title, the Angels’ two-way star has the MVP award wrapped up. The -5000 at DraftKings eliminates any doubt about who will win.
With far less fanfare, Cincinnati’s Jonathan India (-1000 at DraftKings) is all but assured of winning the NL ROY. Around mid-July, Miami’s Trevor Rogers (currently + 550 at DraftKings) was the favorite, but the lefty missed a month because of family health issues. At the same time, India was getting a lot of praise for helping to bring the Reds into wild-card contention.
NL Cy Young
When we addressed the player awards market at the midpoint of the season, we said the field was still in play because of lingering health problems surrounding prohibitive favorite Jacob deGrom. Fast-forward to early September, deGrom has not been heard from and the field is still noticeably in play.
It has narrowed to the new favorite, Los Angeles’ Walker Buehler (+ 140 DraftKings, + 150 BetMGM, + 135 BetRivers), and three other viable candidates: L.A.’s Max Scherzer (+ 280 DraftKings, + 280 BetMGM, + 275 BetRivers), Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes (+ 350 DraftKings, + 350 BetMGM, + 375 BetRivers) and Philadelphia’s Zack Wheeler (+ 700 DraftKings, + 800 BetMGM, + 700 BetRivers).
Milwaukee’s Brandon Woodruff is also still lurking (+ 700 BetMGM).
The odds for this pitching award have become extremely volatile. One bad start can alter the lines. And with a little less than a month to go, starters have only four or five chances to get back on the mound.
As it relates to one start changing the market, Scherzer began Monday evening + 700, then dominated the Cardinals and joined teammate Buehler near the top of the board. On the other side, Woodruff was in the first tier until he got hit around by the Phillies, and now that + 700 is his.
Buehler also had a rough outing Sunday night in San Francisco, and this is part of the reason he is still available for plus odds. Just last week he was around -150 across most of the national books.
All this price movement is a positive for bettors since it makes it possible to still enter the NL Cy Young Award market or to add on.
By doing some media scanning, Scherzer for Cy Young has become a hot topic, and bettors need to take note. A Google News search of “Max Scherzer Cy Young” over the last week generated 6,810 results. A recent MLB.com headline was “Scherzer fuels Cy Young talk with 13-k start.”
Buehler still has the Cy Young label from CBS Sports and the Athletic, but his Google News search was a fraction of Scherzer’s at 1,250 results. Similar searches of Burnes produced 142 results, Wheeler with 200 and Woodruff with 186 over the last week.
This data indicates an important variable used to handicap player awards — media traction.
Scherzer for Cy Young is a fast-moving narrative. Expect plenty of stories and conversations that link Scherzer to Rick Sutcliffe’s 1984 accomplishment of going from being traded to winning the award in the same season. For those betting on Scherzer, those are the stories you desire.
Since this closely contested race could easily change based on the results of individual starts, here is a look the remaining schedules for the Dodgers, Brewers and Phillies:
Dodgers — St. Louis, San Diego, Arizona, Cincinnati, Colorado, San Diego, Milwaukee.
Brewers — Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis, New York Mets.
Phillies — Milwaukee, Colorado, Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Atlanta.
It appears that Buehler and Scherzer will likely make multiple starts against the Padres and at Colorado before the end of the season. The Brewers and Phillies face weaker-hitting opponents.
Based on examining the media coverage and the remaining schedule, here are some options for the NL Cy Young.
If you are looking to make your first bet for this award, do it immediately on Scherzer, who still has value. With less than a month left in the season, it won’t tie up your bankroll for long. Also, allocating a unit or two on the three-time winner instead of taking a -200 favorite on a daily wager, which is so common at this point of the season, provides a better return.
This is the last week to make a Scherzer play. The 2-1 number won’t get any better, and if it does that means he did poorly against the Padres and Rockies, in which case you don’t want him. If you wait, that number starts creeping down to minus territory, but it doesn’t necessarily mean Buheler, Burnes and Wheeler are out of contention.
If you already have a Scherzer or Buehler bet and are inclined to hedge, don’t do it. Taking Burnes isn’t a foolproof move because of Wheeler. Hold tight to the Scherzer or Buehler ticket and become a big Dodgers fan in September.
Taking Burnes straight up at this point has no value since the Brewers are up by double digits in the NL Central and his numbers moving forward could be limited.
A Wheeler bet at this point provides the biggest return. However, the Phillies have played poorly the last few seasons during the final portion of the schedule. That makes it very difficult to back Wheeler. His team’s performance will play a role in his chances for the award, while Buehler, Scherzer and Burnes are almost guaranteed of being on playoff squads.
AL Cy Young
This is down to the favored Gerrit Cole and the surging Robbie Ray. It’s a unique race to handicap since Cole has factors like playing in New York, being tabbed as the favorite from the start and plenty of media attention in his favor. However, he also played a major role in the Spider Tack controversy and stumbled through a Richard Nixon-like press conference that had people questioning his guilt even more.
So handicapping this award is trying to determine whether the voters will hold that against him. Based on the odds, the bookmakers don’t think that will happen.
That still doesn’t mean Cole has secured the award. In fact, the Ray candidacy is gaining steam in the media. A Google News search of “Robbie Ray Cy Young” generated 483 results over the last week, compared with 353 for “Gerrit Cole Cy Young.”
The takeaway is that more people are starting to make a case in support of Ray. His performance and the lingering integrity issues surrounding Cole create a scenario for an underdog winner. This is great news for those who nabbed Ray when his odds were north of 40-1. It is not, unfortunately, a sign that you should make a play on him now. The value is long gone, and Cole is still in command.
Instead of making a play on Ray, use him as a lesson moving forward when making awards futures. The market can change dramatically over a long season. Those holding deGrom MVP tickets can attest to that.
Never stop scouring the board for value, even when you hear experts in June or July declare someone is already the winner.
Even with basically just two viable choices, hedging for those on either side isn’t really an option. Those with long-odds Ray tickets must play it out and hope for the best because of the heavy juice for Cole. And since Cole was the favorite for most of the season, except for Lance Lynn’s brief stay at the top of the board, his short odds don’t accommodate hedging.
This award has not suffered from a shortage of viable candidates. At various times,
Mookie Betts, Juan Soto, Ronald Acuna Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr. and deGrom reached favorite status. Then add Bryce Harper, Max Muncy, Freddie Freeman, Trea Turner, Austin Riley and Joey Votto, who also became popular options along the way.
After all the shifting and movements, Tatis (-300 DraftKings) has settled in as the heavy favorite. He obviously can’t be played at this price.
A case could easily be made for 11 players to win this award, including Buster Posey at + 1000 DraftKings. But once again, your criteria isn’t what determines the winner — the voting media members have that sole power.
The media is now recognizably behind Tatis. Recent articles on ESPN and Sports Illustrated with feedback from their baseball writers concluded it’s the San Diego star’s award, with some lingering support for Harper (+ 650 DraftKings). In Google News mentions over the last week, Tatis has 709 compared to 684 for Harper.
Some analysts have recently championed the case for Soto. Even though Washington will likely finish in the NL East basement, Soto is putting up impressive advanced metric numbers worthy of the MVP. In just two weeks, his odds on BetMGM have fallen from + 10000 to + 5000.
But these conversations between those searching for a long-play futures bomb and statheads isn’t translating into the same media coverage for Soto like that for Tatis and Harper. “Juan Soto MVP” appeared in only 562 Google News mentions over the last week.
The 100-1 play on Soto was definitely worth a speculative investment, but as the odds now stand at just half that, it’s time to tap the brakes until the media narrative for a player on a last-place squad winning the MVP picks up.
Even with the Braves and Dodgers players looking solid, this feels like a two-man race between Tatis and Harper. Good news for those with Tatis tickets, since those can easily be paired with a Harper hedge at + 650.
A conservative Harper standalone ticket also has value, especially for those slowing down on their daily MLB plays because of the discrepancy between the favorites and dogs. Harper has the star power and ability to rack up numbers on a daily basis, compared to Wheeler’s every-fifth-day appearance. Harper’s odds just happen to be identical to the 6-1 number Jose Abreu for AL MVP stood at this time last year.
Don’t be distracted by the -143 (DraftKings) next to Randy Arozarena’s name — this race is still wide open. A recent poll conducted by MLB.com had Texas outfielder Adolis Garcia (+ 350 DraftKings) as its favorite to win the award, while Baseball America countered with Houston’s Luis Garcia (+ 800 DraftKings) as its top choice.
Baltimore’s Ryan Mountcastle (+ 2000 DraftKings), Tampa Bay’s Wander Franco (+ 400 DraftKings) and Chicago’s Andrew Vaughn (+ 2000 DraftKings) are also deep in the mix.
Working in favor of the top three candidates:
— Arozarena had success last year in the playoffs and is playing for a first-place team.
— Adolis Garcia is hot of late and leads all rookies in home runs and RBIs.
— Luis Garcia has excelled in the WAR category and other peripheral statistics.
Working against the top three candidates are Arozarena’s slow start, Adolis Garcia’s playing for a last-place team and Luis Garcia’s late addition to the conversation.
As for Google News mentions over the last week, Adolis Garcia leads with 421, Arozarena has 301 and Luis Garcia has 134.
I think the books might have made a mistake with Arozarena as the favorite. It should be Adolis Garcia, and that + 350 is worthy of a play. Garcia should benefit from being a daily fixture in the Texas lineup and an impressive body of work for the entire season.
Arozarena may lose some votes to teammate Franco.
Luis Garcia is making a late surge for this award, as numerous news articles can attest. But he needs to leapfrog three other candidates and has only about four more starts to do it. The Astros are also limiting his pitch count, as he has reached seven innings only once this season.
If you have only enough room for one Garcia for AL Rookie of the Year bet, make it Adolis.