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NL MVP & Cy Young Best Bets



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With only a few weeks left in the MLB regular season, all those futures tickets for season-long awards start to become thought about again, as adding or shifting positions on a few names can happen too now that the field has thinned.

There really are only 6-8 guys that are really worth strong consideration for the awards like NL MVP and the NL Cy Young. Cases aren't hard to make for those select few names that are left, and a strong close to the season could sway the minds of some too.

But if you go back and look through the Wild Card era in MLB (2012), the NL MVP and NY Cy Young winners have one big thing in common and it relates to the simple WAR (wins above replacement stat). So while strong cases can be made for a handful of guys, history suggests we can probably narrow it down much further than that.

NL MVP Winners and WAR

Eight of the Nine NL MVP winners since 2012 finished 1 st in WAR for NL Players

Starting with Buster Posey's 2012 MVP win, all the way through Freddie Freeman's win in the shortened 2020 season, all of the winners but Christian Yelich in 2018 finished the year with the highest WAR of NL players.

Yelich trailed only Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, two pitchers for an award that is hard for pitchers to win. Now I don't know if that's an indictment on how predictable voters for these awards can be, but it seems that at least referencing this stat has to be involved in the voting process for some.

And with three pitchers currently atop the list for NL players in the category this year and not really a legitimate part of the MVP conversation right now, you land on the guy that ends up atop the WAR list for position players in the NL and a MVP award could likely follow.

Corbin Burns (6.7) leads the way in the WAR category, with Zack Wheeler (6.5) and Jacob deGrom (5.4) as those three pitchers already mentioned. I don't think any of them have the best shot at the MVP, especially for deGrom and all the time he's missed.

Which means the NL MVP race is likely down to Bryce Harper (5.3), Trea Turner (5.3), Fernando Tatis Jr (5.1), Juan Soto (4.8), and Max Muncy (4.7). Put those names in order of their market prices and you get Tatis (-250), Harper (+500), Muncy (+900), Turner (+3000) and Soto (+5000).

Right off the bat you can see a few things that don't completely line up as the chalky price on Tatis Jr sitting in 3 rd place there is tough to eat. Trea Turner putting up those numbers as a member of two different teams and being a part of a long list of superstars in his current colors likely hurts his chances despite his tied-1 st WAR numbers currently.

His +3000 price is something that is probably deserved in that situation, as a strong final few weeks to the season from Turner isn't likely to move the needle enough either should he finish 1 st in WAR. It's Bryce Harper (+500) and Juan Soto (+5000) that stand out as the betting plays to be comfortable making at this point in the season though, even if Soto is really working uphill with the fact that only two of the nine MVP's in that same span came from non-playoff teams.

Harper and the Phillies are no sure bet to be playing October baseball either, but neither is Tatis and the Padres, and with the price disparity, Harper being the one already ahead in WAR, and Philly still being alive in the Wildcard and Division as opposed to San Diego only able to get a Wildcard berth, Harper at +500 has to be the selection now.

The two non-playoff NL MVP's (Bryce Harper in 2015 and Giancarlo Stanton in 2017) were the NL leaders in HR's in those years, which would give a nod to Tatis, who is still multiple HR's clear of anyone else in the National League, but even with that nod he's not worth the price, especially if the Padres are watching the playoffs and the Phillies aren't.

Muncy probably gets swallowed up by a similar sentiment to Turner, being just “another” superstar on that Dodgers team that makes it tough to completely break away for the MVP award without a big disparity in WAR. Not enough time left in the year for Muncy to create that kind of separation.

Washington battling Miami for the basement in the NL East dampens Soto's chances to the degree where he probably doesn't end up with the award, but continuing on with the trend of being a top WAR guy in the National League does make the +5000 price worth a flyer.

NL Cy Young Award and WAR

Eight of Nine NL Cy Young winners since 2012 ranked in the Top 10 in WAR for all NL Players

Five of the Nine Cy Young winners since 2012 were the top ranked NL Pitcher in WAR

This is an award that's been owned by Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Jacob deGrom (6 combined wins) in this span since 2012, and it's been on the backs of their performances that this trend has held up. The WAR numbers those guys have churned out in their winning seasons along with the other winners come out to an average of 7.21 WAR overall for guys (not including last year's shortened season).

Only two pitchers are really near that number this year – Corbin Burnes and Zack Wheeler – and I think that's where you've got to start with this award a well.

The other pitching names that are ranked in the Top 10 in WAR for all NL players as of this writing are Jacob deGrom (3 rd in NL, 3 rd pitcher), and Walker Buehler and Kevin Gausman (tied 9 th in NL, tied 4 th pitcher). The time on the shelf has likely spurned any chance deGrom has at this award this year, as he's also been so dominant in this category in recent years that voter fatigue can be an issue with him being picked as well.

Gausman (+2500) is an interesting case given how great of a story he's been for the greatest story in baseball this year – San Francisco – but I'm not sure he's got the name recognition to move the needle enough to get past all the other names in front of him, especially with the big gap in WAR between himself and the Top 3.

Buehler is likely fighting a similar battle in being a ways back in WAR, and as yet another Dodger considered for a season long award, Dodger fatigue could come for him and Max Scherzer as well. Scherzer for his part is tied 16 th in WAR in NL (4.1) which is likely far to far back as well.

Buehler (+140) and Scherzer (+260) are currently the two favorites in the betting market which makes the price another point of reference that makes them easy enough to pass on with this history as well.

Which leaves the two guys who are running away with the WAR race in the NL as the best betting selections, as Corbin Burnes (+350) and Zack Wheeler (+700) are really free and clear of any real challengers in WAR at 6.7 and 6.5 respectively.

Burnes has to be the easy front runner of the two and not just because the prices suggests it either. He's been one of the best pitchers on a team – Milwaukee – that's dominated their division the most.

There are no worries about whether or not being on a playoff team will hurt Burnes' chances or be something voters take into consideration – it hasn't shown significance either way in the past – and a guy who's currently in that “top pitcher” spot in WAR that has won this award five of the past eight years, a +350 price is a nice price all things considered.

Wheeler is the NL pitcher with the best odds to win the NL MVP award (+10000) if you want to take that for what it's worth, and should Wheeler have a dominant September and be one of the main reasons Philadelphia finds it's way into the postseason, the votes will be there for him as well.

No teammates have swept the NL MVP and Cy Young awards since 2012 either though, which probably hurts Wheeler's Cy Young chances more than Bryce Harper's MVP chances off a Philadelphia playoff berth.

Clayton Kershaw managed to sweep the awards with his dominant 2014 season, meaning that Wheeler could go that route, but the 2014 Dodgers were also a dominant division winner with the 2 nd best record in the National League. They weren't a team on the fringe of two playoff races like the Phillies currently are.

Can't fault the idea for backing both of those guys leading the way in WAR though, as history suggests these pitchers that are NL WAR leaders are going to garner votes on that number alone. With prices of +350 and +700 respectively, having both in the portfolio should bring profit if this trend holds true.

Best Bets

  • Bryce Haper MVP (+500)
  • Juan Soto MVP (+5000)
  • Corbin Burnes Cy Young (+350)
  • Zack Wheeler Cy Young (+750)

  
 
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