MLB Cy Young Odds & Betting Picks: Our Staff Drafts Its Best Bets for 2021

Getty Images. Pictured: Lucas Giolito of the White Sox, Gerrit Cole of the Yankees, Jacob deGrom of the Mets, Aaron Nola of the Phillies.

The 2021 Major League Baseball season begins this week, and with it comes an impressive group of hurlers looking to add an individual award to their mantle.

In the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Cleveland’s Shane Bieber and Cincinnati’s (now residing in Los Angeles) Trevor Bauer took home the award. This year, the favorites include a pair of New York aces in Jacob deGrom and Gerrit Cole.

Our experts pored over the field to come up with their favorite bets, and made their selections fantasy draft-style. Below are their 18 favorite bets to win the AL and NL Cy Young awards.

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1. Collin Whitchurch — Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals (+1500, DraftKings)

Between the shortened season and the Cardinals’ prolonged COVID-related pause, Flaherty never truly got going in 2020. So it’s easy to forget that just a year earlier he was one of the best pitchers in baseball. This season, fully healthy and during a hopefully full season, Flaherty should resume his dominance.

PECOTA projects Flaherty to throw 172 innings — a conservative estimate — and strike out 10.69 batters per nine. His WARP projection (3.7) is better than the likes of reigning Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Lucas Giolito and Tyler Glasnow. Jacob deGrom is the obvious favorite, and he should be. But voter fatigue is a real thing. Flaherty hasn’t won this award yet, and this could be the year. His 15/1 odds are simply too high.

2. Travis Reed — Yu Darvish, San Diego Padres (+1200, DraftKings)

It was a shortened season, but Darvish had an ERA of 2.01 and a WHIP of 0.96 in 2020 and it largely went unnoticed. He has always been a phenomenal pitcher at getting strikeouts while limiting walks. If he could limit hard contact a little bit better, he could be the best pitcher in the National League.

While voters have correctly devalued pitcher wins in their recent votes, Darvish could get up around 20 or more wins for the loaded Padres team, which could be a magic number for voters. 

3. Collin Wilson — Jesús Luzardo, Oakland Athletics (+2500, William Hill)

There are not many southpaws in MLB who average 95 mph on a fastball, but Luzardo is on the short list. The Athletics’ starting pitcher has one of the best sliders in the game and continues to develop a change up. The Luzardo hype is entering its third straight season, as 2019 was derailed by a rotator cuff straight and 2020 was filled with inconsistency.

There have been shades that this is a Cy Young candidate, but the gamble is really on innings pitched. The 23-year-old threw for 108 innings over multiple stops in 2019, while going for just 59 innings in a COVID-shortened 2020. If Luzardo goes for 150 innings this season and masters the changeup, this is an easy contender for Cy Young.

4. Matthew Trebby — Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers (+4000, DraftKings)

After breaking through in an NLCS-bound Brewers bullpen in 2018, Burnes struggled in ’19 as a starter despite nothing in his track record stating he should. He lost command and no longer pounded the top of the strike zone, instead leaving his fastball right down the middle far too often.

Well, last year, his stuff finally played. His 2.11 ERA and 1.02 WHIP are nothing to be scoffed at, and even more impressively, he struck out 88 batters over 59 2/3 innings.

Burnes’ stuff is electric enough that at +4000, he’s worth a look. The biggest thing working against him is his workload. It’s not impossible, but coming anywhere near 200 innings in his first 162-game season as a starter seems highly unlikely.

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5. Brad Cunningham — Jacob deGrom, New York Mets (+400, William Hill)

This is really chalky, but there is not a pitcher in the game today who can match deGrom’s combination of velocity and movement. His fastball/slider/changeup combination is incredibly deadly, as all three pitches produced a whiff rate of better than 35% last season, per Baseball Savant. He also posted his best xFIP of his career at 2.48 and K/9 at 13.76, both of which led the National League. 

deGrom does have a lot of competition in the NL with Trevor Bauer, Yu Darvish, Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler and others, but 4/1 for a guy who had the best underlying metrics last season and really hasn’t seen any drop off in the last four years is a good price. It also doesn’t hurt that he may actually be pitching with a lead this season given all of the offensive upgrades the Mets made over the offseason. 

I know my colleague/Mets fan Sean Zerillo really wanted deGrom with the next pick in this draft, as he has his true odds to win the Cy Young at around +300, so I think you’re getting some value at the top of the board. 

6. Sean Zerillo — Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers (+2500, William Hill)

If we were selecting based upon most likely winners, I would have gone with Gerrit Cole or Shane Bieber in this spot. But I’m here for the value, and Woodruff is my favorite Cy Young dark horse for 2021.

Among the 94 pitchers who have thrown 150+ innings over the past two seasons, Woodruff ranks eighth in FIP (3.08), 11th in xFIP (3.34), ninth in K-BB% (23.7%), and seventh in SIERA (3.49), and his team made substantial upgrades for 2021, by adding both Kolten Wong and Jackie Bradley Jr. to the middle of their defense.

If Woodruff surpasses the thresholds of 30 starts, 180+ innings, and 200+ strikeouts, he’ll garner Cy Young consideration — particularly if Milwaukee’s improved defense helps to boost his ratios. But he might still need deGrom to miss a few starts in order to have a chance of securing the award.  

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7. Sean Zerillo — Kenta Maeda, Minnesota Twins (+2500, Westgate; +2000, William Hill

Maeda made only 11 starts in Minnesota last season, but I saw enough to determine that he’s now a different pitcher than the version who served as a five-and-dive starter or swingman for five years in Los Angeles. The Twins optimized his pitch mix (fewer fastballs in exchange for sliders and changeups) and Maeda posted the best ground-ball rate (49%, 13th in MLB), swinging strike rate (17.2%, 3rd in MLB), K-BB% (28.2%, 4th in MLB), and xFIP (2.63, 3rd in MLB) of his career, en route to a second-place finish in Cy Young voting.

He averaged six innings per start, which would put him on pace for 192 innings over the course of a full season — and could be enough volume to keep his counting stats within range of top contenders. The Twins project as one of the better defensive teams in the American League, with Andrelton Simmons and Byron Buxton in the middle of the field, and if Maeda is able to post superior ratios (ERA, WHIP) to his competition, that could be enough to get him the nod.   

8. Brad Cunningham — Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets (+4000, DraftKings)

If you want to take a shot on a guy who has the talent and the stuff to win the Cy Young, Syndergaard is your guy. He missed the entire 2020 season with Tommy John surgery and isn’t set to return until early June, but if he can return to his 2017 performance, he’ll be one of the best pitchers in the NL. He posted three straight sub-3.00 xFIPs to begin his career, but in 2019 took a step backward. However, Luis Rojas said of Syndergaard in spring training that his bullpen sessions look “really good” and that he’s even ahead of schedule in his Tommy John rehab. 

Syndergaard is much like deGrom in that there are very few pitchers in the game who can match his combination of velocity and movement. His two main pitches of sinker and fastball averaged better than 97 mph in 2019 — not top out, averaged — which is one of the highest in baseball. His control was off in 2019 as both of those pitches allowed a wOBA over .330, so if he can get some better control, those two pitches at that velocity are really difficult to hit. 

If Syndergaard only misses a month to a month and half the season and returns to pitching like he did to begin his career, he’s worth a flyer at 40/1 given his level of talent. 

9. Matthew Trebby — Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees (+350, DraftKings)

Assuming he stays healthy, Gerrit Cole has proven to be an absolutely dominant workhorse. He has taken on a full workload in each of the past four seasons and delivered in the last three.

While Cole’s lowest ERA in those three years is 2.50, I’m happy taking him as the favorite for the Cy Young because I know what I’m getting from him: an elite ERA and likely league-leading strikeout numbers.

Cole’s odds are extremely low, but he’s earned that right. When he gets to 32 (probably 33 if healthy) starts this season, you know he’ll be in the top five for Cy Young voting. I’ll take that.

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10. Collin Wilson — Yusei Kikuchi, Seattle Mariners (+5000, William Hill)

If you are looking for pitchers to back through the first couple weeks of the season, look no further than Kikuchi. The southpaw has been untouchable through Mariners camp, showing plus numbers with four different pitches that include a splitter and a cutter.

In the shortened 2020 season, Kikuchi cut his HR-to-flyball percentage in half and increased his groundball percentage. His home runs per 9 dropped to just one for every 18 innings as his low xFIP suggested his ERA was misleading. Kikuchi also notched the biggest Z-Contact score of 2020, a measurement of how many bats he missed and his improvement from 2019.

Kikuchi is an excellent breakout candidate who will pitch plenty of games in Safeco T-Mobile, Globe Life and O.Co Coliseum.

11. Travis Reed — Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels (+5000, FanDuel)

The biggest question mark for Ohtani coming into this season was his velocity coming off of injury. He passed that test with flying colors as he is back around his average numbers from 2018 around 97 mph.

While he has mostly used a fastball and splitter during his time in MLB, he has been trying out a changeup, which he last used while playing in Japan. Adding a third weapon could help Ohtani take the next step and give him a shot to snag the Cy Young in the American League.

12. Collin Whitchurch — Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies (+1200, DraftKings)

Nola was one of the best pitchers in baseball a year ago, and the reason he finished only seventh in Cy Young voting had more to do with the competition he faced compared to his peers than his actual performance. While Trevor Bauer and Yu Darvish feasted on NL Central weaklings, Nola faced the gauntlet that was MLB’s East divisions. By Deserved Runs Average (DRA), he was the best starting pitcher in the National League (tied with Shane Bieber for the best mark in baseball).

This year, Nola is projected among the top-five pitchers in baseball once again. I’d put him as the second- or third-most likely winner in the NL along with deGrom and Flaherty, so at 12/1 this is great value.

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13. Collin Whitchurch — Hyun-Jin Ryu, Toronto Blue Jays (+1500, FanDuel)

All Ryu has done the last two years is finish second and third in Cy Young voting — with two different teams and in two different leagues. In 2020, Ryu sacrificed some of his trademark command for a bit more swing-and-miss, and it was a net positive.

But while Ryu still doesn’t miss as many bats as some of the other top Cy Young contenders, he’s elite in the run prevention department. It’s tough to figure why a top-three finisher in the last two years has such long odds, but he’s worth a swing here.

14. Travis Reed — Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals (+1000, FanDuel)

This pick is dependent on how much you think 2020 was an outlier. Every number for Scherzer (ERA, strikeouts, walks, xSLG) jumped in a COVID-shortened season. At 36 years old, it is fair to wonder if this is the beginning of the end for Mad Max.

I’m not ready to count him out just yet. Perhaps someone as fiery as Scherzer needs fans in the stands to be at his best. While that isn’t a numbers-driven idea, I can buy into that narrative to make a case that he gets back to his normal stellar self in 2021.

15. Collin Wilson — Brady Singer, Kansas City Royals (+5000, William Hill)

Royals general manager Dayton Moore knows that this crop of starting pitchers in the system must be complemented with hitters. Kansas City was targeted to compete in the AL Central in the 2022 season, but a pitching staff full of talent has sped up the Royals needs from an offensive perspective.

Brady Singer is the leader of that pitching staff, just a few years removed from taking the Florida Gators to the College World Series. When the 24-year old develops a third pitch to compliment his fastball and devastating slider, the Royals will have a true Cy Young candidate on their hands. 

16. Matthew Trebby — Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers (+1000, DraftKings)

In his first two seasons in the Dodgers’ rotation, Walker Buehler proved to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. His 3.44 ERA might have been a bit unlucky last season given that his WHIP was 0.96, so some positive regression is due.

Health is a slight concern for Buehler, but the stuff can beat anyone. He’s proven himself in the postseason and likely has a bit more motivation to prove he shouldn’t be the third-most-talked-about Dodgers starter. He might just be the best.

17. Brad Cunningham — Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds (+1500, DraftKings)

The Reds lost Trevor Bauer in the offseason, and now it’s time for Luis Castillo to take the top spot in the Reds’ rotation. For those who aren’t that familiar with Castillo, he has one of the sickest changeups in all of baseball. 

In the shortened season last summer, Castillo put up career-best numbers, posting a 3.21 ERA, 2.82 xFIP, and 11.67 K/9 rate. Hitters couldn’t touch his changeup, as he allowed opposing hitters to hit only .205 off it with a 40.1% whiff rate, per Baseball Savant.

The NL is loaded with talented pitchers, but one of the reasons I like Castillo at this price is because he’s in the NL Central. All of the loaded lineups in the National League are out West or out East. Facing the Pirates, Brewers, Cardinals and Cubs on a regular basis isn’t going to be as challenging as, say, Aaron Nola trying to face NL East lineups. 

Castillo has the arm talent and now the experience of pitching regularly in the big leagues for four years now, so I think he’s worth a shot at 15/1. 

18. Sean Zerillo — Shane Bieber (+400, DraftKings

Lucas Giolito (+900 at the Westgate) is a better value play at that outlier price than any number on Bieber, but the two pitchers — along with Gerrit Cole — form a clear top three in the AL this season and are each listed below +400 (20% implied) at the majority of sportsbooks.

Bieber introduced a cutter and increased his curveball usage in 2020, while dialing back both his fastball and slider usage — and he ended up pacing his league in virtually every metric, new and old. Each of his five offerings returned a positive pitch value, but I’m confident that he’s still trying to find ways to improve his arsenal. If anything, I think the 25-year-old Bieber is underrated, and offers a higher ceiling than his two AL colleagues within a similar price range.

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