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Andy Behrens: Mike Trout is so insanely, historically, hilariously good at baseball that there's no real money to be made betting on him vs. the field in the MVP race. He's sitting there at +200, the overwhelming favorite in the AL. Good grief.
Scrolling through the non-Trout options, two names kinda jump off the page. Randy Arozarena went supernova during the most important month of the 2020 baseball calendar, homering 10 times in 20 postseason games for the Rays while slashing .377/.442/.831(!), so he's definitely in the conversation. At +5000, I'm in. We should also acknowledge that no player in baseball can match Shohei Ohtani's potential ceiling in terms of value. He's obviously coming off a disastrous season in pretty much all aspects, but the two-way talent he flashed in 2018 is tough to forget. Joe Maddon has been (not surprisingly) full of sunshine and good vibes when discussing Ohtani's usage and apparent lack of restrictions in the year ahead.
If Shohei manages to deliver a full season in which he's simply good but not great as both a pitcher and hitter — let's say he wins 11 games with a 3.65 ERA and hits 25 homers with an .850 OPS — his total value to the Angels will be absurd. A season as unique as that would surely appeal to MVP voters. Let's have some fun here.
Behrens Bet: Shohei Ohtani, +4000
Dalton Del Don: This is a tough one, with none jumping out and Mike Trout offering little value. I’d consider Yordan Alvarez at 35/1 but you’re left worrying about his knees and the fact no DH has ever won the award. Still, his bat has triple crown upside, so Alvarez is enticing. Otherwise, I’m going to have to sadly agree with Behrens here, as Ohtani (40/1) is my favorite bet.
The noted author pointed out the main reasons why, and I fully agree that the uniqueness of Ohtani’s role (both as a pitcher and hitter) should really help with voting. Moreover, the AL West looks wide open (I have the Angels winning the division), which would also help in the voting. Finally, the Angels haven’t had a ton of players who exploit this — it’s a bit under the radar — but since Angel Stadium had its dimensions changed, it has been the best home run park in the AL (and the second-best in MLB) for left-handed batters, increasing dingers a whopping 28% over the last three years. Ohtani is about to have a special season.
DDD's Bet: Shohei Ohtani, +4000
Scott Pianowski: This becomes a fun exercise if we look past the Trout chalk. Never forget that these awards are very much narrative-driven. It's easy to imagine the White Sox becoming a trendy and popular team, and if they win the AL Central, they'll probably have several fresh stars leading the way. Mainly because he's at such a delicious price, how about Eloy Jimenez? He was on a 38-111 pace last year, with an average a shade under .300; if he can get the ball in the air a little more often, pinball numbers could follow. That Jose Quintana trade is going to haunt the Cubs for a solid decade.
Pianow's Bet: Eloy Jimenez, +3000
AL Cy Young
Andy Behrens: Look, I'd love to make a case for someone who isn't Gerrit Cole, the Cy Young favorite in the AL — and maybe we could make a case that Lucas Giolito can find another level at age 26. But Cole is the No. 1 pitcher on my board, he's finished top-5 in Cy voting in each of the past three seasons, and he's clearly the strongest candidate to reach 300 Ks. It helps his cause that MLB won't play another imbalanced regional schedule this year.
It's kinda wild that Cole hasn't yet won this award, considering his recent dominance. He finished second in 2019, despite winning 20 games and leading the league in both ERA and Ks. There's not a ton of profit potential attached to Cole, but I view him as a heavy favorite.
Behrens Bet: Gerrit Cole, +350
Dalton Del Don: I look first for bigger long shots with futures, and Dylan Bundy jumps out at 50/1. As many predicted, the No. 4 pick broke out after leaving the AL East and Baltimore’s organization last season, although the market here (and fantasy managers) doesn’t appear to be properly respecting the amount of growth he showed in 2020. Bundy finished top 15 in K-BB% and top 10 both in FIP (2.95) and CSW. This is a pitcher with a top pedigree who posted a 35:2 K:BB ratio with a 0.70 WHIP on the road last season who will greatly benefit from a defense up the middle featuring Jose Iglesias, David Fletcher, and Max Stassi. While Angel Stadium boosts homers, it’s relatively neutral to run-scoring and decreases batting average. Bundy to win the Cy is one of my favorite futures bets.
DDD's Bet: Dylan Bundy, +5000
Scott Pianowski: It's rare that the favorites in these types of things will look like appealing values, but Cole is fairly priced at +350. And if he's close to winning, the voters might decide to give him the nod over a similar candidate in the "Lifetime Achievement Award" vein. It's a shame Lucas Giolito is priced all the way down to +500; if he was anything +1000 or better, I'd go there. The AL Central has some opponents you can pick on (that was especially true last year when no one played outside region). But the market has sucked all the value out.
Pianow's Bet: Gerrit Cole, +350
Andy Behrens: When you scan the first dozen or so names in the NL MVP odds, it basically looks like the opening round of a fantasy draft. It's simply a loaded field. I'm skeptical that any single member of the Dodgers can substantially separate himself from the rest of that ridiculous lineup, so I'm probably out on Betts (+750), Bellinger (+800), Seager (+1200), and the others. It's fun to hold tickets on the game's most charismatic, quirky, and joyful stars, so I'll happily invest in Fernando Tatis Jr. (+900) and Juan Soto (+750). Tatis has 40/40 upside, plus he's a highlight machine; Soto is only 22 and coming off a season in which he led the NL in average, OBP, and slugging (.351/.490/.695).
But if we're trying to identify the player with a reasonable path to hardware who offers the best payout, then, to me, one name jumps off the page. Trea Turner somehow opened with the same MVP odds as Ian Happ, Paul DeJong, and Trent Grisham. It isn't too hard to imagine a scenario in which Turner leads the league in runs and steals while batting north of .320. He just finished seventh in the MVP race last season, so voters are comfortable with his name on their ballots. Turner has been a category leader in prior years, so it wouldn't be unusual to see him atop various statistical leaderboards. If the Nats are competitive in 2021, he'll be a big reason why.
Behrens Bet: Trea Turner, +5000
Scott Pianowski: There's no doubt in my mind that Juan Soto will win this thing someday; his three-year MLB scan, especially last year, reads like one gigantic misprint. But maybe the timing is finally right for Michael Conforto. His career-best slash (.322/.412/.515) was obscured by a partial season and a lousy Mets team. The roster has been significantly upgraded. The Mets have famously never had an MVP winner; maybe I'm spending too much time with Michael Salfino, but give me their lefty slugger.
Pianow's Bet: Michael Conforto, +4000
Dalton Del Don: This is a loaded group with many possibilities, so I won’t be rushing to bet NL MVP. Christian Yelich (12/1) and Pete Alonso (35/1) are considerations, but I’ll go with Fernando Tatis Jr. at +900. The 22-year-old is going first in many fantasy drafts for a reason, he adds plus defense at a premium position, and plays for a loaded team that should win a bunch of games (backed by pitching and without another star hitter). The recipe lines up for the young shortstop to take home the hardware in 2021.
DDD's Bet: Fernando Tatis Jr. +900
NL Cy Young
Andy Behrens: It's tempting to make a case for one of the Dodgers' various aces, but let's remember that no L.A. starter has thrown more than 182.2 innings since 2015. That team is all about getting everyone to October in good health, ready to dominate. In all likelihood, the Cy Young is gonna be claimed by someone who throws 200-plus frames. We can certainly make a convincing case for Yu Darvish (+1000) now that he's relocated to San Diego because he's been as good as anyone in baseball for the past season-and-a-half. But I'm planning to chase an even bigger payout and join the Corbin Burnes bandwagon.
Burnes couldn't keep the ball in the park in 2019, finishing with horrendous ratios despite striking out 70 batters in 49.0 innings. Last year he changed his pitch mix, relying on a mid-90s sinker-cutter combo that absolutely shamed Central hitters. Look at this nastiness:
Corbin Burnes, Beautiful 93mph Cutter. ✂️ pic.twitter.com/wCxVdelkU2
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 25, 2020
Burnes struck out 13.3 batters per nine innings last season with a 2.11 ERA (2.04 FIP) and 1.02 WHIP. Notably, he gave up just two home runs and nine barrels. He benefits from both respectable run-support and a lights-out bullpen. Burnes finished sixth in the Cy Young race in 2020, so he's not some out-of-nowhere option for voters. If he wins, it's a windfall.
Behrens Bet: Corbin Burnes, +3500
Dalton Del Don: While I picked Corbin Burnes (35/1) to win the Cy Young when Liz Loza recently asked me for a surprise baseball prediction (and I also like Joe Musgrove at 50/1), I’ll go with an even bigger long shot here to avoid repeating Behrens’ pick again. Kevin Gausman (like Dylan Bundy) is a former No. 4 pick with good stuff who started to finally flourish later in his career after getting outside of Baltimore. Gausman pitched far better than his 3.62 ERA may suggest during his first year with the Giants, and it should be noted he did so while injured, facing a DH, somehow having to throw in Coors Field for 20% of his starts, and with Oracle Park suddenly transforming from one of the game’s best pitcher’s parks into one the best hitter’s parks (something that may not entirely carryover into 2021 since the archways may be treated differently if/when fans return).
Gausman ranked top-15 in CSW last season (slightly ahead of Burnes) and top-10 in K-BB% (directly behind Gerrit Cole and Yu Darvish) and bet on himself by accepting a big one-year deal during the offseason, which is hopefully a sign he’s feeling healthy. Gausman deals, and looks really nice at 66/1.
DDD's Bet: Kevin Gausman +6600
Scott Pianowski: Do not worry yourself with the Jack Flaherty we saw last year. Focus on the star that blossomed in 2019, the guy who led the NL in WHIP and was untouchable over his last 16 starts (0.93/0.70, 130 strikeouts). The division isn’t overwhelming, and the timing is right, stepping into an age-25 season.
Pianow's Bet: Jack Flaherty, +1500