Verlander, Ohtani lurking in AL Cy Young race

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With roughly half the MLB season in the books, the individual player award races are starting to round into form. One of the more difficult awards to project is the Cy Young race, because of its subjectivity.

The winner is determined by 30 team representatives from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Each representative will rank the pitchers first through fifth. The votes are then tallied, and the pitcher with the highest score wins the award.

In the American League, Tampa Bay’s Shane McClanahan has the shortest odds at +250, according to BetMGM. Houston’s Justin Verlander is right behind at +260.

We’ll look at how both pitchers matchup and assess whether there are any contenders down the leaderboard we should keep an eye on.

These AL Cy Young odds are provided by BetMGM Sportsbook and were accurate at time of writing.

The Favorites

Shane McClanahan +250

If you’re looking for a catch-all method to assess the best pitchers in baseball, you can’t do much worse than the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric. Simply put, a pitcher’s WAR projects how many additional wins he’s responsible for, compared to a replacement-level pitcher.

According to FanGraphs, McClanahan ranks second in WAR with a 2.9 value. But if your go-to stat is strikeouts per nine innings, McClanahan (12.17 K/9) has the highest ratio among pitchers with at least 93 innings.

But the biggest reason why McClanahan should be an even bigger favorite is his ERA which is currently at 1.74. It would be hard not to give him the award if he stays healthy and finishes with a sub-two ERA.

It’s worth noting that in 2018, Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell won the Cy Young with a 1.89 ERA despite pitching just 180 ²/₃ innings (the lowest ever mark for a 20-game winner).

Justin Verlander
Justin Verlander
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Justin Verlander +260

The 39-year-old Verlander is having another exceptional year and has yet to show any signs of slowing down. In his 17th season, Verlander is 11-3 with a 2.00 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP.

Though Verlander still has a tremendous velocity with his fastball that averages around 95 mph, his 8.54 K/9 ratio is his lowest in six years.

Moreover, his advanced metrics (3.26 FIP/3.49 xFIP) are more than an entire run higher than McClanahan’s (2.40 FIP/1.96 xFIP). I’m surprised Verlander is a close second behind McClanahan. He already has won two Cy Youngs, so he could be a victim of voter fatigue.

Nonetheless, Verlander would need an exceptional second half to outperform McClanahan and emerge as the front runner.

The Long Shot

Shohei Ohtani +900

If anyone is a live dog to win the Cy Young, it’s Shohei Ohtani. The current AL MVP is 8-4 with a 2.44 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP.

Shohei Ohtani
Shohei Ohtani
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The key thing to note about Ohtani is he hasn’t allowed an earned run in four straight starts. Yes, you read that right. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in four consecutive starts. That kind of streak can be the perfect storm for picking up steam in the Cy Young race.

Ohtani’s advanced numbers (2.42 FIP/2.54 xFIP) are right in line with his traditional ERA, and he also has a higher K/9 ratio (12.33) than McClanahan (12.17).

There’s just something magical about Ohtani. If you’re looking for someone who can pull off a surprise, the Angels right-hander has to be at the top of your list.

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