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Picking the best 50/1 bet for the Cy Young

It's time to pick out some longshots for the Cy Young and save your friend from certain death.


It's gamblin' season. Every March, several of you will put down money on Arnstahl Tech to beat South Vermont, and it invariably makes you rich, because that's how gambling works. This is also around the time when baseball over/unders come out, which is usually when I get cocky and pretend that gambling is a good idea. And now, by way of Bovada, we have the odds for baseball's major awards.

Odds to win the 2013 NL MVP
Michael Young - 50/1

Hold on, hold on. We're not there yet. Actually we won't get there at all -- this is a post about the Cy Young odds for both leagues, so the MVPs are off-topic. When it comes to the pitchers, you get this at the top of the National League odds:

Odds to win the 2013 NL Cy Young
Stephen Strasburg - 11/2
Clayton Kershaw - 6/1
Gio Gonzalez - 10/1
Cole Hamels - 10/1
Matt Cain - 12/1
Cliff Lee - 12/1

About what you would expect. The people who set these odds are smarter than most of the talking heads on the television, which would explain Lee (rightfully) being so high. But for the purposes of this exercise, let's assume a few things.

First, let's assume you're in trouble. Financial trouble. Your friend, Skunk, borrowed $500,000 from the wrong guys, and they're going to throw him off a bridge if he doesn't pay up by November. All you have saved up is $10,000, so your only choice is to wager on something with 50/1 odds. Also, Skunk is played by Curtis Armstrong because you're apparently living in a teen comedy from the '80s, and this is probably going to end with a water-skiing competition anyway.

As tempting as those Michael Young odds are, you pass and look at the odds for the Cy Young Award. Here's what you find when you get to 50/1 for the pitchers:

Odds to win the 2013 NL Cy Young
Josh Beckett - 50/1
Chad Billingsley - 50/1
A.J. Burnett - 50/1
Jonathan (sic) Niese - 50/1
Ricky Nolasco - 50/1
Jonathan Papelbon - 50/1
J.J. Putz - 50/1
Wandy Rodriguez - 50/1
Rafael Soriano - 50/1
Edinson Volquez - 50/1

Odds to win the 2013 AL Cy Young
Mark Buehrle - 50/1
Ryan Dempster - 50/1
Joel Hanrahan - 50/1
Jeremy Hellickson - 50/1
Joe Nathan - 50/1
Mariano Rivera - 50/1
Ervin Santana - 50/1

Maybe a better question would be to ask what kind of odds would there have to be on Ricky Nolasco to win the Cy Young before you'd put a dollar down. A hundred to one? Two hundred? He's had an ERA under 4.48 in just one of his seven seasons, and he's going to pitch for a team that will score 52 runs this season, all on Giancarlo Stanton solo home runs.

And that leads to the real question to start with: What are you looking for when you predict who will win the Cy Young? A good pitcher, for starters. But you're looking for more than that. You're looking for an offense worth a damn, because one year's Cliff Lee is the next year's Cliff Lee, and the voters still look at pitcher wins, at least somewhat.

But they look at strikeouts, too -- Tim Lincecum doesn't win either of his Cy Youngs if he's a pitch-to-contact maven. Oh, and defense is important. Like, the Tigers have a miserable infield defense. You couldn't pay me to bet on any of their starting pitchers. Unless I'm missing someone, which I most certainly am not.

Of the 104 Cy Youngs handed out since 1956, nine went to relievers. So it's probably best to start somewhere else. Edinson Volquez pitches in Petco, and he's always had the strikeout stuff, but he doesn't make the short list. Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley pitch in Dodger Stadium, and they should be supported by teammates who can score a bit, but they don't make the top three.

Wandy Rodriguez and A.J. Burnett were just kicked out of the party, and the bouncer is pointing at a sign that reads "No Pirates." Ryan Dempster is likelier than Ricky Nolasco but not a good bet, even at 50/1, and Ervin Santana's homer-prone tendencies are going to be brutal now that he's out of Angel Stadium.

Three candidates from the above stand out: Mark Buehrle, Jonathon Niese, and Jeremy Hellickson.

Buehrle will never have sexy strikeout numbers, but he'll have a strong defense and lineup behind him. He could have one of those Bob Welch kind of years, which would be awesome if another pitcher had the concurrent Clemens-caliber season. It would be Cabrera/Trout all over again, and that subject was so interesting that I will read several more articles on the subject if you have any fresh links to hot takes!

But the strikeouts would make any awards a little less likely for Buehrle, so we'll move on to Niese. He fits the same control-heavy profile as Buehrle, but mixes in strikeouts in a pitcher-friendly park. He keeps the ball on the ground somewhat, so he shouldn't be hurt by the mysterious Mets outfielders (whomever they are). But he's never thrown more than 200 innings, and last year was really his first good year. Even Ricky Nolasco had one of those, so it might make sense to wait for another one before you feel comfortable dropping $10,000.

If you want a combination of stuff, youth, and an underrated pitcher's park -- and you do! -- Hellickson is probably the winner. The same innings caveat applies to him as it did to Niese, but the difference is that most of us expect the Rays to win some games. That, and Tropicana Field doesn't have the same reputation as AT&T Park or Safeco Field, yet it's every bit as stingy. Voters could be duped.

So give me $10,000 on Hellickson, my good man, and we'll settle up in November. There's no way this can fail. Hold on, Skunk. We're getting you out of this mess.

Wait, no. Mariano Rivera because of sentimentality. Yeah, gimme him. Or, wait, no, Rafael Soriano, who will save 50 for a strong Nationals team. Or, wait, no, how about using the money to flee the country instead?

Yeah, that last one. But if you just like gambling, Hellickson is your man.

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