AL Cy Young Odds: Should Sticky Stuff Suspect Gerrit Cole Be Favored?

When it comes to Cy Young futures markets, one looks completely drama-free about halfway through the season. Jacob deGrom, in prime contention for MVP, appears to have the NL award all but sewn up. Bettors can get him no better than . 2021 AL Cy Young odds are a different story altogether.

There, a clear favorite has also emerged according to the betting markets. Gerrit Cole has been atop the board for weeks, and favored over the field at most books. His best price of still indicates a strong chance of capturing the award.

However, his hold has begun to slip after some shaky starts. The race looks anything but decided. Should Cole be the clear frontrunner still?

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Where The 2021 AL Cy Young Board Sits

What Cole does have going for him: he’s fighting against a rather thin field. According to the markets as of July 7, only White Sox starters Carlos Rodon and Lance Lynn rank as credible challengers.

Nobody else has managed to get their futures number down to triple digits. Shane Bieber appears to be the closest challenger at . However, he’s currently on the shelf with an injury and seems unlikely to be a factor in the race.

Here’s a look at where the three main contenders sit in several key pitching metrics.

Player Innings Pitched Wins Strikeouts ERA FIP fWAR
Gerrit Cole 105 8 135 2.91 3.05 2.8
Carlos Rodon 89.2 7 130 2.31 2.35 3.6
Lance Lynn 84.2 8 99 2.02 3.09 2.4

On a rate basis, Rodon has put together the best season statistically. Cole does lead him by a significant margin in innings, however. Given that Rodon has not been the picture of health in his career while Cole has been a workhorse, that lead only figures to widen.

More innings also means more time for Cole to accumulate counting stats and value. Indeed, the Depth Charts projections at FanGraphs believe Cole will outpace Rodon and Lynn the rest of the way in every single one of the above stats.

Perhaps that’s why the 2021 AL Cy Young odds currently looks like this:

The Sticky Elephant In The Room

Of course, projections come from computers. Computers remain blissfully unaware that a cheating epidemic has raged through baseball and become such a problem the commissioner’s office has instituted a crackdown against foreign substances being applied to the baseball.

Cole has been one of the prime sticky stuff suspects thanks in part to former UCLA staffmate Trevor Bauer calling attention to his spike in spin when moving from Pittsburgh to Houston. Indeed, Cole spent five years as a merely very good pitcher in black and yellow.

Perhaps the computers are overly optimistic on Cole?

Those who ate the chalk and played Cole for Cy Young may have reason for concern. His June 3 start marked a line of demarcation. It became clear in the days prior that MLB would do something about foreign substances on the baseball. Take a look at how some of his stats have split since then:

Dates ERA FIP xFIP K-BB% HR/9 Barrel%
4/1-5/28 1.78 1.77 2.36 33.5 0.64 7.1
6/3-7/4 5.24 5.71 4.04 18.6 2.62 11.5

The difference is stark. Cole’s output has gone from elite as it gets to replacement level. Underlying stats are nearly as grim. Batters have struck out less, walked more and squared up the baseball much more frequently.

That’s not all. We can get even more granular and look at the spin rate on his pitches thanks to Baseball Savant. While his curveball took a dip in mid-June it returned to just a bit below his pre-June spin shortly after. The same can’t be said of his four-seamer and slider:

Dates Four-Seam Fastball Slider
4/1-5/28 2,561.8 2,713.5
6/3-7/4 2,394 2,532.5

These numbers represent a significant drop. According to the research of Eno Sarris at The Athletic, one standard deviation for a pitcher in a single season is 115 RPM. Cole fires those two pitches more than any others, more than 65% of his total offerings. They’ve lost significant spin and his results have crashed.

Is Gerrit Cole Really The Favorite?

Tom Tango and Bill James have built models that attempt to predict Cy Young voter behavior.

After spending much of the year leading these awards prediction metrics, Cole has now fallen behind both Rodon and Lynn in “Cy Young points.” Both Tango and James have Lynn atop the board in the AL now, with Rodon in second and Cole third.

All signs point to a tight race for the 2021 Cy Young, but AL Cy Young odds do not currently reflect that. Statistically, Cole has not distanced himself from his closest competitors after his recent slide. And going forward, there may be reason to believe he won’t match his projections.

Bettors looking for value in the market here should probably take their pick of Rodon, Lynn or their longshot of choice, unless they think Cole will turn things around.

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