From a young age, awards are what we strive to obtain. Remember that second-grade spelling bee you won? What about your little league championship when you were nine years old? What comes out of it, and what motivates us to push through? That would be the final prize- the award we receive.
By this point, the final fantasy baseball drafts are taking place. Now, it’s time to turn our attention to a slightly different focus- betting. In terms of sports betting, MLB continues to grow its popularity, and it’s become a major source of entertainment in today’s game. It is always your choice to bet and you should do so responsibly, but it’s easy to see the extra boost in excitement that can come from this; it’s only going to continue to grow in popularity.
With that in mind, today, we’ll focus on player futures bets. Specifically, the odds for the main awards: Most Valuable Player (MVP) and Cy Young. To help us with this, we’ll be using THE BAT X projections for hitters and ATC projections from pitchers. Add in the help of my own personal award forecasting metric, and we’ll be able to identify value bets as we look to predict the future! So, who’ll come home with the coveted hardware at the end of the year? Let us dive right into it!
Betting Odds via Draft Kings
Spreadsheet of all award values HERE.
Introducing The Award Index
In sports betting, when it comes to player award analysis, we are not focused on who SHOULD win each award. Rather, we are looking to project who WILL win each award.
Every voter has their own process. Some tend to rely more on “old-school” statistics, such as your traditional slash line numbers and home runs. On the other hand, some tend to focus more on one specific statistic – Wins Above Replacement (WAR)- and other peripheral metrics.
Personally, I lean towards the latter approach. However, once again, we’re focused on who will win the award, not what voting process is most optimal. Thus, we will likely end up in the middle. It all starts with analyzing previous voter tendencies; by looking at what variables have influenced award voting, we can better project who will get future award votes.
That led me to create the award index. A full breakdown of the metric can be found here, but it all starts with historical voting tendencies. Here is a summary of recent MVP voting results:
“Since 2015, voters have started to become more statistically-inclined when it comes to their voting, leading to true patterns emerging. Among the most correlated statistics with first-place votes for Most Valuable Player (MVP), Fangraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) and offensive runs above average (Off) rise to the top as the two statistics with a medium correlation (r=.55) with voting share.
Further down, batting average, home runs, runs batted in, and baseball reference WAR (bWAR) have some correlation to votes, yet around three times less than fWAR and Off. While we now have far more nuanced metrics than the traditional statistics, when it comes to measuring a player’s value, there is still a community that leans on box score stats, and, thus, need to also be incorporated into the MVP index.
Also, there was essentially zero correlation between winning percentage of the team and first-place votes. I hopefully speak for all of us when I say this is a very welcome development!”
As for the Cy Young award:
“Ironically, when it comes to the Cy Young, the main statistic correlated with Cy Young votes is bWAR. Since it values runs allowed, as opposed to FIP, this intuitively makes sense; voters place greater importance on the overall output than the runs a pitcher seemingly SHOULD have allowed.
Following bWAR, voters definitely place an emphasis on innings pitched, likely based on the narrative that they sacrificed themselves and were constantly available for their teams. As expected, gaudy strikeout totals are also preferred, while fWAR remains part of the formula.”
In the end, this leads to us needing to create “tier one” and tier two” variables for the weighting system:
- Tier 1: fWAR, Off
- Tier 2: bWAR, AVG, HR, RBI
- Tier 1: bWAR
- Tier 2: IP, SO, fWAR
From there, the weighting system was created. Prior to last season, there was a correlation coefficient of 0.7 with each variable, indicating strong effectiveness with the index. I mean, if that wasn’t the case, then why go through this process? Hopefully, we have cracked the code to find a predictive measure for award voting, even though human behavior remains as unpredictable as it gets.
Investigating Last Year’s Award Races
Before we can look toward the future, it would behoove us to take a step back and analyze what happened last year.
Remember, we are not worried about who was the most qualified player for each major award. Rather, with the index, we are looking at who was the most likely player to win each award based on previous voting tendencies. The index is scored on a 20-80 scale grade to resemble a normal distribution; a player who has an MVP index grade above 50 would be considered an above-average MVP candidate compared to previous MVP candidates, for instance.
Let us start with the American League:
Now, onto the National League, where we don’t have to worry about two-way players:
Talk about a close MVP race! As you can see, there was not a standout NL MVP candidate this year, especially after the injuries to Fernando Tatis Jr. and Ronald Acuña Jr.. Both Bryce Harper and Juan Soto had the same Wins Above Replacement, per Fangraphs, but Harper provided slightly more offensive value. Harper only received 17 of the 30 first-place votes, so he definitely wasn’t the consensus clear-cut pick. Truly, this was as close of an MVP race as you could have expected.
Now, onto the Cy Young awards! In the American League, where we saw a two-man race between two pitchers with completely different preseason expectations:
Yes, that is the same Robbie Ray who posted a 6.62 ERA and was a below-replacement level during the 2020 season; what a turnaround for the new ace of the Mariners! This AL Cy Young race is a very fascinating distinction between the two different calculations of Wins Above Replacement. Based on Fangraphs, the top-most valuable pitchers of these three would be Nathan Eovaldi (5.6), Gerrit Cole (5.3), and Ray (3.9). However, per Baseball Reference, Ray jumps to the top (6.7), followed by Cole (5.7), and Eovaldi (4.6). Since Baseball Reference’s version of WAR is based on ERA, it tends to be what voters look at more than Fangraphs‘ version of WAR, which is based on fielding independent pitching (FIP), since the latter is simply an ERA estimator.
The actual results should continue to weigh more over what SHOULD have taken place, which drove Ray to a Cy Young award.
Meanwhile, the National League was full of heated debates and controversy:
Based on previous voting trends, voters have cared deeply about innings pitched. That would make you think Zack Wheeler and his 213.1 innings would have come out on top, especially since he was worth two runs more above replacement, per Baseball Reference. Now, based on Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement, Burnes, by virtue of his 1.63 FIP, came slightly ahead. With a split in first-place votes, we clearly saw a clear debate in terms of voter preferences taking place. Burnes’ victory may signal a change in how analysts vote for the Cy Young award, or a one-year blip. I guess we’ll have to see how this season goes!
Who Will Be the AL MVP?
Now, back to the future! Utilizing the index, we can get a feel of what the awards races could like this year, based on projections from THE BAT X for hitters and ATC for pitchers. Will Ohtani repeat this year? Let us dive into it!
AMERICAN LEAGUE MVP PROJECTION
Since projections are naturally conservative, the real MVP indexes were awfully low. Thus, I decided to adjust the index to compare to the average “candidate” in this year’s projections. That’s why you see Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Mike Trout, and Shohei Ohtani with MVP index grades above 70.
Considering what we know about the index’s tendency to underrated Ohtani, I’d definitely consider him to favorite to win this award. In fact, how close it is between Guerrero Jr., Trout, and him, despite the shortcomings of the index, is very encouraging for his prospects.
TOP AL MVP VALUE BETS
This is based on sheer calculated value, with the “implied odds” coming based on their adjusted MVP index. This is different than my personal picks based on this data, which, hey, why don’t we get straight to those picks?
MY TOP AL MVP BET(S)
In 2020, José Ramírez was the clear top choice for the AL MVP based on his 3.5 Fangraphs WAR (fWAR), which would have put him on pace for a 9.5-win season. Meanwhile, he’s had an eight-win season in 2018, and was impressive once again with a 6.3 fWAR in 2021.
In other words? Ramírezclearly has the capabilities to put together a high-end season to win the MVP. He posted a career-high barrel rate (11.1%) last year, optimizes his power by pulling the ball at an extreme frequency (54.2%) while keeping the ball in the air (only a 36.2% ground-ball rate), and walks nearly as much as he strikes out. Add in the value he adds on the bases to his plus defense at third base, and there is no weakness here.
Right now, Ramírez is tied for the seventh-best odds to win the AL MVP. However, based on THE BAT X projections (6.1 fWAR, 141 weighted-runs-created-plus/wRC+), he’s the top candidate outside of the “big three” of Ohtani, Guerrero Jr., and Trout. Since none of them offer value anyways, Ramírez becomes the most likely player to win, with surplus-value evident based on the low odds placed on him. We’ve seen him put together elite seasons before, and I wouldn’t say “no way Jose” to that happening again this year!
Who Be Will the NL MVP?
Ronald Acuña Jr. will miss the first month of the season most likely while he recovers from his torn ACL while Fernando Tatis Jr. is out for at least three months after undergoing surgery for his fractured wrist. Thus, once again, the NL MVP pool is wide open this year.
NL MVP PROJECTION
Holy Dodgers! In fact, if we kept going down, they contain five of the top ten players in the award index for the NL MVP award and six of the top 11. That is absolute madness, and, as we’ll get to, they aren’t doing too shabby on the pitching side. Right now, Juan Soto appears to be the clear favorite, with the top two in opposite order of last year. There’s a reason the Nationals’ star player has the lowest odds (+280) of any player in either league to win MVP!
TOP 2022 NL MVP VALUE BETS
Did you know that Trea Turner led the NL in fWAR (6.9) last season? That’s what happens when you add defensive value at shortstop, are one of the top base-runners, and, of course, post a 142 wRC+ on top of it. He’ll appeal to old-school voters with his batting average (Yes, I know…), and has a strong chance to be the best player on the best team in baseball. That will play, for sure; he’s my personal pick to win NL MVP, especially as he enters a contract year.
Manny Machado, a former Dodger (though it was short-lived), knows all about performing in a contract year- he had a tremendous season (6.3 fWAR) in 2018, right before he hit free agency and signed a $300 million deal with the Padres. His 13.3% barrel rate was a career-high, and he was one of the clear underachievers of his expected home-run/fly ball rate last season. Heck, he’s even one of the main beneficiaries of every team adding a humidor this season, according to the work done by Eno Sarris of The Athletic. The upside of an offensive explosion is through the roof, and that could come with plus defense at third base. Right now, he has the 15th-best odds for NL MVP, but the seventh-best NL MVP index. At (+3500), his talent is certainly worth betting on.
Who Be Will the AL Cy Young?
The American League hasn’t had the same productivity of pitchers than the National League has had, regardless of the general run-scoring environments of the two leagues. Will that change this season? Let’s take a look:
2022 AL CY YOUNG PROJECTIONS
Who Be Will the NL Cy Young?
With the universal designated hitter, we may see more runs scored in the National League this year, which could hurt the pitcher pool, especially with Jacob deGrom already injured. That being said, there is still a conservable amount of talent here that could easily take home the trophy.
2022 NL CY YOUNG PROJECTION
Especially with Zack Wheeler seeing his innings projection hurt as he is behind schedule and DeGrom injured, it looks like this could potentially be a battle of the Brewers this year. There is a reason they were able to overcome a lackluster offense to win the NL Central, and the same is likely to be true this season as well. As you can see, this is a much deeper group than the American League starting pitcher pool.
TOP 2022 NL CY YOUNG VALUE BETS
MY TOP 2022 NL CY YOUNG BETS
Remember to please bet responsibly. With that, I wish you the best of luck and as enjoyable of an MLB season as possible!
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)
Great stuff! Curios how Olson scored. Park, Lineup and Publicity upgrades. I was surprised not to see his name.