MLB Odds and Predictions: National League Updated Player Futures
by Alan Matthews - 7/15/2013
Is catcher arguably the most important position on the diamond (not counting pitchers)? I think you can make that case. They are in essence the quarterbacks of a baseball team. Yet why do catchers so rarely win the AL or NL MVP Award? Maybe because it's such a grueling position to play, with all that wear and tear especially on a player's knees, that it's tough for catchers to put up huge offensive numbers.
Before the Giants' Buster Posey last season, the last catcher to win the NL MVP Award was future Hall of Famer Johnny Bench of the Reds in 1972. It had happened a few more times in the American League since Bench -- AL teams have the advantage of "resting" their catchers at designated hitter while keeping their bats in the lineup (I'm looking at you, Joe Mauer).
As things stand now, we might have another catcher win the NL MVP Award this season. The Cardinals' Yadier Molina, who may well be the best overall player in baseball when you consider his defense and handling of the St. Louis pitching staff, is the +250 favorite at Sportsbook.ag to win the honor. Hard to argue against that as Molina leads the NL in hitting -- as Posey did last year -- at .341.
I'd like to say I recommended Molina at the beginning of the season, as I did Posey in 2012, but that's far from true. Unfortunately, I thought the best value was Atlanta outfielder Jason Heyward at 20/1 (those odds from Bovada). Heyward has missed some time and is batting just .222 with seven homers. At least I can say I did recommend against putting money down on preseason favorites like Ryan Braun (who will probably be suspended soon), Bryce Harper (I thought maybe a sophomore slump) and Matt Kemp (injury-prone, and he is again).
I did also like the Reds' Joey Votto back then, and he's now the third-favorite at +350. Votto is hitting .318 and leads the majors in on-base percentage. His post-all star splits weren't great a year ago, but Votto was hurt. They were very good in 2010, the year he won NL MVP, and 2011. It would certainly help Votto's cause if he had Ryan Ludwick hitting behind him. Ludwick, who hit .275 with 26 homers last year, injured his shoulder in the opener and likely won't be back until mid-August.
Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt is the +300 second-favorite. He's having a big season, hitting .313 with 21 homers and an NL-leading 77 RBI. However, I'm just not a fan of what's around him and think his numbers will dip in the second half unless the Snakes make a trade. And it seems like Arizona is only targeting pitching (Jake Peavy?). The only other options at less than +1000 are Posey (+450) and Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez (+450). I'm sticking with Votto as I do think Molina will have at least one DL stint in the second half; he has been battling knee inflammation.
For NL Cy Young, the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg was the favorite in the spring, but I didn't like him. He's not an option now at 5-7 despite a fine 2.99 ERA (teammate Jordan Zimmermann is +600). Strasburg did have the worst start of his career last time out against the Marlins. Could that be a warning sign something is bothering him? Keep an eye on that.
I did like the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw in the spring (6/1 at Bovada) and he's now the +300 second-favorite at Sportsbook.ag. The lefty leads the National League in ERA (1.91) and WHIP (0.91) but is only 8-6 because the team isn't scoring behind him. He was 5-2 after a win May 20 but didn't get another until June 26 mostly because of run support.
The guy I thought was great value in the spring was Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto at 15/1, but he's been on and off the disabled list all season -- he's back on it now -- and is not a betting option. The Cardinals' Adam Wainwright is now the +200 favorite. He leads the NL in wins (12), innings pitched (146.2) and complete games (four). I'm starting to get a tad concerned about Wainwright as he has allowed at least four runs in three of his past six starts.
I'm a tad surprised that the Mets' Matt Harvey, who will start Tuesday's All-Star Game at Citi Field, isn't lower than +1500. He's just nasty and has the highest average fastball velocity in the majors. I wouldn't recommend him, however, because the team will treat him with kid gloves in terms of innings pitched. The Mets aren't going anywhere this season, so there's really no reason to let Harvey throw -- other than maybe at home to draw fans -- once September hits. I'm sticking with Kershaw on this prop.
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