2024 Sleeper Pitchers For Cy Young Award Futures

Michael Salfino
Updated: December 29, 2023 11:10 AM

The hot-stove season is the perfect time to identify the most attractive long-shot candidates for a Cy Young Award.

Once the football season is over, pitchers get examined microscopically by the fantasy community (guilty!) and sleepers start zooming up the charts.

We have early prices. NFBC leagues have been drafting for 2024 since October and we have 165 or so that are included in the site’s ADP data.

That sets the market, along with the Best Odds for the respective Awards (as of Thursday).

This way, we can also compare the fantasy market to the prices at the sportsbooks and see how they correlate.

I calculate the expected value with 2023 expected pitching stats via Statcast/Baseball Savant that are based on the amount of contact and quality of contact they allowed (also factoring in trajectory), as well as walks.

I use expected ERA minus actual ERA.

We’re trained in fantasy baseball to ignore ERA and focus more on WHIP and walks and strikeouts.

Runs of course tend to be fluky.

But expected ERA is the gold standard because it is genuinely earned by the pitcher.

Expected ERA is the bucket that puts all advanced component stats into one easily digestible number.

All the pitchers I highlighted are being drafted in the fifth round or later and have Cy Young Award “best odds” ranging from +1800 to +10100.

Two of the pitchers noted have fantasy ADPs as high as 299 (these averages are rounded so there can be ties), in other words outside of even being drafted in many leagues.

One of them, Kutter Crawford (Red Sox), is such a sleeper that he doesn’t yet even have Cy Young odds.

Ditto for the average 262nd pick I believe has a chance, Emmet Sheehan (Dodgers).

Here’s the list, noting the player, their 2023 plate appearances, their expected and actual ERAs, and the difference.

We also note their NFBC ADP and current Best Odds (the sort column).

Namepaeraxeraera – xERANFBC ADPCY Young Odds
Skubal, Tarik3102.802.300.50155+1800
Eflin, Zach7033.503.020.47591+3100
Peralta, Freddy6803.863.350.50759+3100
Musgrove, Joe3993.053.11-0.059109+3600
Miller, Bobby5053.763.400.36486+3600
Greene, Hunter4984.823.821.001130+4100
Darvish, Yu5734.553.820.735219+4100
Sale, Chris4254.293.610.685181+5100
Woo, Bryan3714.213.450.759189+10100
Cortes, Nestor2664.973.661.314299+10100
Crawford, Kutter5274.043.250.786299Not listed
Sheehan, Emmet2484.923.501.423262Not listed

Skubal Looks To Build On Fantastic Finish

I’m a little surprised that the market is sharp enough to make Skubal the 55th pick on average and that he’s only +1800 to win the Award.

I figured he was screened by injury most of the season and being on the Tigers.

But he was so dominant in his last six starts, going 4-1 with a 1.25 ERA and 0.67 WHIP.

He whiffed 52 with just six walks in these final 36 frames.

He finished the season as basically the best pitcher; so you are getting a discount if he picks up where he left off.

His award odds are the same as George Kirby (Mariners).

I think Skubal has a higher ceiling.

Kirby is essentially a two-pitch guy (fastball, slider). Skubal has four quality offerings including a changeup with a 50% whiff rate.

At his price, I like Zach Eflin.

He’s on a Tampa Bay team that consistently gets good pitching results.

He came into his own. Having a 3.02 expected ERA is insanely good.

The only pitcher with more than 311 batters faced to have one lower was Pablo Lopez (3.00), and Lopez is +1200.

So you’re getting a massive discount with Eflin, who was just as good in 2023.

Freddy Peralta has had so many injuries.

If you could tell me he wouldn’t get hurt, I’d bet those odds in a second but injury history is why his odds are out of alignment with his fantastic pitching, especially in the second half of 2023 (2.81 ERA, .184 average allowed).

Joe Musgrove is very good and has a super high floor if he returns to health as expected.

But the Padres are rebuilding now, which likely suppresses wins.

He could get lucky and have an actual ERA 0.50 below expected, which would make him a candidate.

However, I feel he’s priced too high.

Is It Miller’s Time?

Musgrove has the same odds as Bobby Miller, who I like more.

Miller could pile up wins for the loaded Dodgers.

It’s interesting that the early drafters like him better than Eflin but Eflin has lower odds than Miller, +3100 vs. +3600.

So the fantasy market now is saying to bet Miller over Eflin at the current prices.

The two veteran pitchers on this list are Yu Darvish and Chris Sale.

Darvish has had success more recently but the fantasy market likes Sale better and he has better odds at +5100 vs. +4100 for Darvish.

The oddsmakers seem to be pricing in the likelihood that Darvish will probably end up on a contender via trade.

The fantasy market seems to be hedging and more concerned that Darvish’s elbow will be an ongoing concern.

But Darvish is technically expected to be healthy enough from his bone spurs to pitch at the start of spring training.

Sale is also coming off injury (scapula, but the bone is now reportedly fully healed).

I’m inclined to put a very small bet on two pitchers who seem to have their best days ahead of them and who pitched much better in 2023 than their actual ERA indicated – Crawford and Bryan Woo.

Again, we don’t have odds yet on Crawford, at least that I can find.

Woo is +10100. Woo’s K rate was just a little better than average, but he had more success in that department in the minors and throws hard (95.1 mph average fastball).

His swinging strike rate of 13.2% of pitches also suggests he has a 30% K% upside.

Beyond Crawford’s expected ERA of 3.25, which is the 75th percentile for a starter, he had a K% minus BB% of 18.8%, which is good.

Crawford gets max RPMs on his fastball and can throw it up in the zone. He generates whiffs with the pitch far more than the average hurler.

That can lay a foundation for an excellent season.

About the author

Michael Salfino writes about sports and the sport industry. His numbers-driven analysis began with a nationally syndicated newspaper column in 2004. H...

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