AL MVP and Cy Young Odds (03/24/17)
Let's break down the 2017 MVP and Cy Young races for the American League. Odds are courtesy of Bovada.lv.
Mike Trout is the obvious favorite for AL MVP, as he is every year. He's a once-in-a-generation talent and is quickly becoming one of the best young players in the history of the game. For context, Mike Trout's worst of his first six seasons had a higher WAR than any other AL player last year.
Mookie Betts had a huge breakout in his sophomore season where he came on strong at the end of the year. Mookie's triple slash of .318/.363/.534 was accompanied by incredible defense in center field. The question for Mookie is whether the league will begin to figure him out or if he can continue his success.
Jose Altuve also had a breakout year last season. Granted, he's been a good player for some time but never quite this good. Altuve posted a 6.7 WAR and 24 home runs. That's an amazing feat for a guy who is listed at a generous 5'7”. However, Altuve probably isn't the third best player in the AL this season, and at 10/1 odds, he would need to have at least a 9% likelihood of winning the AL MVP to make it worth a wager on him.
Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson have been as good or better than Altuve for a few seasons. Machado finished 0.2 WAR behind Altuve last year and Donaldson was 0.9 WAR ahead of him, according to FanGraphs. Machado has had three seasons at 6+ WAR already; Donaldson has had four straight. You'd also expect Machado and Donaldson to hit more home runs than Altuve, which is lucrative to MVP voters. If you're looking past the chalk and want value in the MVP race, these two third basemen are your best options.
Chris Sale is no longer playing for a basement dwelling team. Thus, he's now the current favorite to win the Cy Young on potentially the best team in the AL. However, Fenway isn't the easiest park to pitch in, and many voters are still not open to using park-adjusted pitching stats. According to FanGraph's park factor analysis, Fenway rates above average in every hit factor besides home runs. Nonetheless, Sale will rack up the wins this season. If the voters still value that to the degree that it seems they do, he should clearly be the favorite.
Corey Kluber has had quite the run of season's as of late. Many have characterized his last two years as “down years” while he's spun FIPs of 2.97 and 3.26 with ERAs of 3.49 and 3.14. As long as Kluber is working 200+ innings and continues his great command of the strike zone, he'll remain at the top of the Cy Young race all year. It doesn't hurt that he plays for one of the best teams in the Majors.
Looking past the chalk, we arrive at Justin Verlander who finished second in Cy Young voting last season behind Rick Porcello. However, Verlander's resurgence may be somewhat overstated. Verlander's 3.04 ERA outperformed his 3.48 FIP, which is still quite impressive, by a decent margin. The biggest question for Verlander is if he can keep his velocity and associated uptick in strikeout rate up this season. Verlander also pitches for a team that we project to be around the .500 mark this season, which can hurt him in garnering votes at year's end.
Chris Archer is a lucrative option for Cy Young this season, too. He's held steady in his huge jump in strikeout rate from two seasons ago and keeps improving his groundball rate. Archer only showed a 4.02 ERA last year, but it was aided in an unlucky 16.2% home run to fly ball ratio, well above his career average. If Archer continues his elite strikeout rate and can find a way to work his walk rate into an elite level, he'll be in the running for Cy Young.