The National League Cy Young Award has been dominated by a few familiar names over the past decade. Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, and Jacob deGrom have each won the award twice since 2013. All three are still very much in the race to win it again in 2021, as well. In fact, the only pitchers since ’13 other than those three to have won it are Trevor Bauer (2020) and Jake Arrieta (2015).
Nobody would reasonably suggest that Scherzer, Kershaw, or deGrom are Cy Young sleepers heading into 2021. The betting odds tell you the same story. DeGrom is actually the favorite at +450, while Scherzer (+900) and Kershaw (+1600) aren’t far behind. Bauer (+600) is very much in the running to win it for the second straight year, especially after signing with the reigning World Series champs this winter.
However, the baseball season is a long one. An awful lot can happen over the course of 162 games. A pitcher that may look like good Cy Young bets now may look like a terrible one in two months. On the flip side, there are plenty of unheralded arms out there primed for a breakout campaign. The National League is certainly not short on viable candidates, which means there is plenty of MLB betting value to be had if you know where to look.
Here are five NL Cy Young sleeper bets to consider as we prepare for the new season.
Stephen Strasburg (+2000)
Nobody doubts the talent of Stephen Strasburg. He was one of the most-hyped pitching prospects in recent memory when he debuted for the Nationals back in 2010. Injuries have largely prevented Strasburg from cementing himself as an annual Cy Young contender, but there are few better pitchers in the game when healthy.
Scherzer attracts most of the headlines for the Nats, but Strasburg may be the better pitcher at this stage of their respective careers. Unfortunately, he was bitten by the pesky injury bug again in 2020. The right-hander made just two starts before being shut down for the remainder of the year with numbness in his hand.
Pitchers with 1,000+ career strikeouts, sorted by highest K%:
Billy Wagner • 33.2 K%
Chris Sale • 30.7%
Yu Darvish • 29.9%
Jacob deGrom • 29.2%
Max Scherzer • 29.1%
Stephen Strasburg • 29.0%
— #BillyWagnerHOF (@BillyWagner4HOF) November 26, 2020
Strasburg is reportedly back to full strength, so he should be good to go when the Nats open the season on April 1. Let’s not forget that this guy won the World Series MVP Award when the Nationals upset the Astros to win it all less than two years ago. For his career, the San Diego State product has a strikeout rate of 29 percent with a 2.97 FIP. This is one of the best pitchers in baseball. The key is staying healthy for long enough to warrant some Cy Young consideration.
I’m skeptical of the Nationals’ chances to compete in the loaded NL East, but a healthy Strasburg should still be good enough to earn some Cy buzz. Strasburg has never won a Cy Young Award, which could help his cause if he’s able to put together a quality 2021 campaign. You can do a lot worse than throwing a few bucks down on Strasburg at +2000.
Sixto Sanchez (+2000)
The JT Realmuto trade seems to be working out for both sides. The Phillies have the game’s best catcher locked up for the foreseeable future, while the Marlins have a young ace to spearhead their promising rotation. Sixto Sanchez made his big league debut last summer, and he quickly proved why he’s one of the best pitching prospects in the game.
Sanchez’s velocity is his primary asset. The right-hander regularly clocks-in north of 100 miles-an-hour with his fastball, and the secondary stuff works. His strikeout numbers (20.9 percent K-rate) don’t quite match his stuff, but we often see young pitchers improve their strikeouts as they figure things out. I’d only expect Sixto’s K-rate to climb from here. Jacob deGrom was the only pitcher in baseball to have a higher average velocity on his pitches than Sanchez last season.
Sanchez was able to generate plenty of buzz after a series of dazzling starts last season, and spending a full year atop the Marlins’ rotation should help his development. Miami is pretty unlikely to make a Cinderella run into the postseason again, but there is a lot to like about this young roster. Sanchez is the real deal.
Strasburg is admittedly a better bet at the same +2000 odds, but it’s likely only a matter of time until Sanchez gets himself into the conversation on an annual basis. Who’s to say he can’t make the leap in his first full big-league campaign?
Brandon Woodruff (+2200)
Brandon Woodruff is one of the most underrated pitchers in all of baseball. He doesn’t get a lot of attention plying his craft in Milwaukee, but here’s hoping people begin to notice. He got lost in the shuffle with the Brewers losing in the Wild Card round to the Dodgers last fall, but Woodruff went toe-to-toe with Clayton Kershaw against one of baseball’s best lineups in his lone outing of the 2020 postseason.
On the season, the Brewers’ right-hander went 3-5 with a 3.05 ERA across 13 outings. He struck out over 31 percent of hitters he faced while walking just 6.1 percent. Woodruff’s strikeout rate was among the highest marks in the league for a starter, and he really improved as the season went on. Woodruff has improved his K/9 numbers in each of his first four years in the majors.
Brandon Woodruff is the first player in the #BrewersZoomRoom in 2021. I don’t know about you but I’m going to read this as Counsell breaking his tradition of torture and giving us an early tip on the Opening Day starter. pic.twitter.com/LBma5TWLI5
— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) February 18, 2021
Woodruff’s Cy Young chances may hinge on the Brew Crew’s ability to challenge for a division title. The NL Central has plenty of depth, but there’s no clear-cut favorite here. The Cardinals have emerged as an attractive betting option since trading for Nolan Arenado, but you can argue that the Brewers still have a better all-around roster.
If Woodruff can help pitch Milwaukee into contention, his Cy Young odds will improve from here. You’re getting good betting value at +2200 on one of the more under-appreciated arms in the game in what could be a breakout season.
Sonny Gray (+3300)
Trevor Bauer earned most of the recognition as the Reds’ ace last season, but don’t sleep on Sonny Gray. Gray crashed-and-burned during his brief stint with the Yankees a few years ago, but he has pitched his way back to prominence since arriving in Cincinnati. As is the case with Strasburg, the only thing preventing Gray from being recognized as a yearly Cy Young contender is his health.
Two years ago, Gray went 11-8 with a 2.87 ERA in 31 starts for the Reds. His numbers weren’t quite as impressive last season (5-3, 3.70 ERA), but it was only an 11-start sample. Gray has been one of the best pitchers in the league in terms of limiting power. The righty yielded just 17 home runs during the homer-happy 2019 season before being taken deep only four times in 2020. That’s doubly impressive when you remember that he pitches his home games in one of the most homer-friendly parks in all of baseball.
Now that Bauer is in LA, Gray and Luis Castillo will battle for the honor of becoming the Reds’ SP1. Gray has been involved in a number of trade rumors, as well. If he finds his way to a real contender, that could only help his chances of earning some hardware at the season’s end. Gray posted a 30.6 percent strikeout rate alongside a 51.1 percent ground ball rate a season ago.
The Reds are a sneaky postseason contender this season after qualifying a year ago. The loss of Bauer won’t help, but we know Gray is perfectly capable of filling that void himself. He’s a more talented pitcher than the +3300 Cy Young odds may lead you to believe, which makes Gray a worthwhile flier option.
Zac Gallen (+4000)
The Arizona Diamondbacks aren’t really on anybody’s radar this season, and with good reason. The NL West is going to be an all-out brawl between the Dodgers and Padres, which means the D-Backs, Giants, and Rockies are likely battling it out for third place.
Zac Gallen is far from a household name, but that could change this season. The 25-year-old was impressive in a short stint with the Marlins in 2019 before Miami’s surprising decision to trade him to Arizona that summer. In 12 starts last year, Gallen went 3-2 with a 2.75 ERA. The bespectacled right-hander finished with a 28.2 percent strikeout rate, an 8.6 percent walk rate, and a 3.66 FIP.
Some call him The Milkman, many call him the most underrated pitcher in baseball.
— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) February 23, 2021
Gallen needs to rein those walk numbers in if he wants to take the next step, but he has already shown improvement on that front. He walked over 10 percent of hitters he faced in 2019. The D-Backs likely won’t be doing much winning this season, which means Gallen’s continued development will probably be one of the more compelling storylines to follow with this team.
Is this the most likely bet to cash?
No, but that’s why they’re called “sleepers.” Gallen has shown plenty of upside in the past, so a Cy Young Award could certainly be in his future if he keeps trending in the right direction.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu …