We shouldn’t always view odds as emblematic of Vegas’ thoughts, especially as it relates to futures bets. They stand to make the most profit by setting lines that get people to bet, rather than reflecting reality. Identifying these lines can help us narrow down viable candidates and make our general process better. In the case of the 2023 American League Cy Young race, one inflated line is Chicago White Sox starter Dylan Cease.
The case against Cease
Currently, FanDuel and Caesars are offering +900 odds on Cease to bring home the hardware. BetMGM is offering a market-lowest +800, meaning a $100 bet would win $800. Virtually everywhere, he’s positioned with the third-best odds.
Don’t get me wrong, Cease is a good pitcher, perhaps the best on his White Sox team. However, his line is banking on another year of incredible results, and I’m not confident his 2022 production was sustainable.
Last season, he posted a 14-8 record with a 2.20 ERA in 184 innings. He struck out more than 11 per nine innings and accumulated 4.4 fWAR, the 11th most amongst pitchers. We can discuss how (un)important some of those stats can be another time, but the fact of the matter is that voters will pay attention to all of those marks.
Unfortunately for Cease, his 2022 was very similar to his 2021 campaign. It was another solid season, but far from Cy Young worthy. Expect 2023 to play out in a fashion closer to 2021.
The regression monster can be fickle and ruthless, and while it’s important to not put too much stock into mathematical fear mongering, there’s reason to believe it’s coming for Cease. His ERA estimators, which attempt to portray what a pitcher’s ERA should look like, are significantly worse than that 2.20 mark. Cease’s xERA finished at 2.70, with his FIP and xFIP at 3.10 and 3.50, respectively. Solid numbers, for sure–but not elite.
Part of why these statistics present themselves the way they do is because of how luck is quantified. Pitcher’s don’t have control of the play after the ball leaves their hand; the hitter does. He can choose to take or swing, and his contact and power numbers are generally consistent regardless of pitcher. Further, a ball put in play is at the mercy of defensive shifts, skills, and weather conditions, too.
Cease allowed a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .260 last season, about 25 points better than his career average. He also saw a career-best HR/FB% of 8.4%, 10th in Major League Baseball. In all likelihood a few more balls are going to fall between fielders, and a couple more shots are bound to fly over the wall.
Additional men on base can be mitigated if a pitcher makes life easy for himself elsewhere. Cease’s 10th percentile BB% does the opposite.
It’s not all going to fall apart, but these factors should concern you, especially at the price of the line.
Moreover, the projections (relying on similar logic) agree. None of ZiPS, Steamer, or THE BAT have him putting up an ERA below 3.40. He’s not projected to hit that 4-WAR mark either. Back to normal gives Chicago a legitimately good pitcher, but the evidence points to him not being elite without a fundamental change to his control.
Don’t take the bait on Cease just because the books gave him a favorable line and he put up good numbers a season ago. Consider names like Cristian Javier (+2500) or Carlos Rodón (+1000) instead. If you decide to place a better bet on this year’s Cy Young award, be sure to use BetMGM’s promotion to best set yourself up for success: UP TO $1,000 IN BONUS BETS.