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2017 National League Cy Young Award Long Shots

By Paul Wilson
Published on May 9, 2017

Most people betting on the National League Cy Young Award only look in two directions: Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer.

It’s not hard to understand why. Kershaw won the award in 2011, 2013 and 2014, finished third in voting in 2015 and might have won the honor last year had he not been injured. Scherzer is the defending champ, is one of just six hurlers to claim the Cy Young in both titles (he won the American League award in 2013 with the Tigers) and is a candidate to throw a no-hitter pretty much any time he takes the mound.

But if you’re betting on Kershaw or Scherzer to win the Cy Young, you’re not going to cash in big. In fact, to take Kershaw to win the Cy Young this year, you’d actually have to lay -130 at BetOnline. Scherzer at least pays plus money, listed second on BetOnline’s most recent NL Cy Young odds at +450, but that’s not great return against a field of many capable arms in the senior circuit.

So, let’s expand our horizons a bit and look at a few of the sleepers on the Cy Young odds. Not Stephen Strasburg (+650) or Jacob deGrom (+800), either. We’re talking serious sleepers that pay 20:1 or better, but still have a legitimate shot at the award.

Zack Greinke +2000

After a disappointing debut season in Arizona last year, Greinke is showing signs of being back to the dominant pitcher he was during the previous five seasons, when he posted a combined record of 82-26.

Through seven starts, Greinke’s ERA sits at a tidy 3.09, with his FIP and xFIP also in the low 3s. Those numbers are down nearly 1.5 runs from last year, but it’s obviously a small sample size and difficult to suggest Greinke is back simply due to a lower ERA. The greater reason for optimism is in his peripheral statistics, and they are excellent. Greinke is striking out nearly 10 batters per 9 innings (his career average is 8.1) and his walks per 9 innings are also down significantly (1.65, down from his career average of 2.3).

Other than a bad outing against his former Dodgers teammates in LA, Greinke has provided a quality start in all of his other appearances. Arizona’s not known as the best place to pitch, which could hurt Greinke’s ERA this year, but the Diamondbacks look much better this season and he could have a legitimate shot at 20 wins. There’s also been speculation that Greinke may get dealt, and if he does, it’ll be to a contender – only helping the 2009 AL Cy Young winner’s chances of earning similar honors in the NL.

Jon Lester +2000

The Cubs lefty went through the entire month of April without a victory, but it wasn’t really his fault. Lester worked into the sixth inning in all but one of his first five starts, and allowed just two earned runs in his first three appearances (18 innings).

Lester finally got off the schneid in his first start of May, allowing two earned runs in a victory over the Phillies. That squared his record at 1-1 with a 3.67 ERA, so he’s obviously got his work cut out to come close to his 2016 numbers (19-5, 2.44) that earned him a second-place finish in the Cy Young voting.

On the bright side, a cold start is nothing really new to Lester. April is by far the worst month in his career (it’s the only month when he’s got a lifetime losing record), and he’s known to catch fire in the second half of the season. In fact, last September, Lester posted a 0.48 in his five trips to the mound. But if you want to buy in on Lester at +2000 odds, don’t wait around. His career numbers in May are also pretty damn good (29-14, 3.70) and you won’t find this value on his Cy Young odds for much longer.

Carlos Martinez +2800

Martinez was awesome in his season-opening start, throwing 7.1 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts and zero walks versus the Chicago Cubs on Sunday Night Baseball. But he got jobbed out of a victory as the Cubs erased a 3-0 deficit with a 3-run homer in the top of the ninth, and it took until Martinez’s first start of May for him to earn a victory.

The good news is that his hair extensions are gone. Martinez put them in before his second start of the season and allowed 17 runs (15 earned) over 21.1 innings with the longer mane. He trashed them before his May 2 start against the Brewers and then dealt 7.1 innings of four-hit, one-run ball (zero earned runs) to earn his first victory of the season, improving to 1-3 with a 3.75 ERA. As long as Martinez stays out of the beauty salon, he should be alright.

A better reason to consider betting Martinez on the Cy Young odds is the ridiculous value his poor opening month has opened up. This is a 25-year-old stud who has gone 30-16 in his last two seasons and earned the Opening Day assignment on a staff that also includes Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha. “He could be the No. 1 pitcher in the league,” Cards manager Mike Matheny said before the season began. “I think he has Cy Young ability.”

Gerrit Cole +3300

Cole is yet another example of how win-loss records can be deceiving. The Pirates ace carries a 1-3 record into this week’s action, but he’s got a 3.14 ERA, is striking out nearly a batter per inning and is allowing less than two walks per nine frames.

Coming off a 7-10 campaign in 2016 when he again pitched better than his record suggests (a 3.88 ERA was tremendously inflated by a .345 batting average on balls in play against), there was concern about Cole’s health coming into this year. Part of last year’s struggles were due to elbow tendinitis in the final two months of the season, and he didn’t put those concerns to rest with a couple of tough outings to start 2017.

But since allowing eight runs and three homers in his first 11 innings of the year, Cole has bounced back to allow just seven runs in his last five starts, working 6+ innings in each of them. That includes a pair of outings against the tough Cubs lineup. Better yet, Cole’s velocity is up (his average of 96.3 mph on his fastball ranks first among NL starting pitchers), suggesting his health issues are behind him.

There’s great value on Cole at these odds, but be warned – there’s already been talk about the Pirates dealing Cole to the Yankees at some point this season. Switching leagues in the middle of the year isn’t really good for Cy Young hopes (in fact, it basically kills them), so you’ll want to keep that in mind.

Jake Arrieta +3300

Arrieta’s an anomaly among these National League Cy Young sleepers. His win total looks great (he currently ranks tied for second in the NL with four victories), but he’s a bit behind the eight ball when it comes to his other stats – most notably his ERA, which sits at an unsightly 4.63 ERA through his first six starts of the year.

The thing about Arrieta, though, is that he can make up some serious ground on that ERA in a hurry. After all, we’re talking about a guy who posted a 0.75 ERA over his final 15 starts in 2015, en route to a 22-6 season and the NL Cy Young Award. If his ERA is even triple that for the rest of the year, he could still finish the year with an earned run average in the low 2s. And if that happens, you know he’s going to rack up more wins with the Cubs (he’s won 40 games for them over the past two years).

It’d be hard for voters to ignore a former Cy Young winner with 20-something wins, a low-2 ERA and high strikeout numbers (he’s currently averaging 10.54 strikeouts per 9 innings) who pitches for baseball’s most lovable team.