It's easy to determine which pitchers should be considered for the AL & NL Cy Young Awards each season. Does that translate to success backing that pitcher on MLB odds? Here are three guys from each league who were great bets in the 2014 season.
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
No surprise here at all. Clayton Kershaw simply is the best regular-season pitcher on the planet right now and he won a third NL Cy Young in the past four seasons on Wednesday. The only year he didn't win it in that stretch was 2012 and he finished second to former New York Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Kershaw has won four straight MLB ERA titles, a first in big-league history.
Kershaw missed a month or so early last season with an injury and made 27 starts. He finished 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP. The lefty was just 3-2 with a 3.57 ERA at the end of May, but the Dodgers lost just one more of his starts: Aug. 16 vs. Milwaukee when Kershaw had a complete game, allowing three runs and striking out 11. Overall, the Dodgers were 24-3 in his starts and Kershaw was +1587 in win/loss units at sportsbooks. That was the best in the NL. Now if Kershaw can just figure out how to beat the Cardinals in the playoffs.
Henderson Alvarez, Marlins
Miami was supposed to have one of the majors' best pitchers in 2014, but it was expected to be 2013 NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez. However, the fire-balling Cuban made it through just eight starts in 2014 before being ruled out for the season. He underwent Tommy John surgery in mid-May, a crushing blow to the Marlins.
Miami could really have a good 1-2 punch once Fernandez gets back to 100 percent to go with Alvarez. The Venezuelan was 12-7 with a 2.65 ERA this past season. At home he was 7-2 with a 1.60 ERA. In his previous three seasons, Alvarez had losing records in all three and a best ERA of 3.53. He was acquired from Toronto before the 2013 season in the Jose Reyes deal. The Marlins finished 20-10 overall in Alvarez's starts, and they were usually underdogs on MLB odds so he had a great units win/loss mark of +1325 at sportsbooks.
Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals
Zimmermann is proof you can come back from Tommy John surgery better than ever as he had it in 2009. Zimmermann had the first no-hitter in Nationals history in the '14 regular-season finale against Miami. The pitcher he beat? Alvarez, who had a no-hitter in the regular-season finale of 2013. Only five guys overall have thrown a no-no in his team's final game of a season.
Overall, Zimmermann finished 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA, his third straight season with 32 starts and at least 12 wins. He's going to be a very rich man after next season as a free agent. The Nats were 23-9 in his 32 starts in 2014, and he had a units mark of +1156 on MLB odds.
Chris Tillman, Orioles
At age 26, Tillman emerged as the clear ace on the American League East champion Orioles. The right-hander was 13-6 with a 3.34 ERA in a career-high 207.1 innings. That ERA might not look all that great but consider Tillman pitches in the tougher AL and plays home games in a hitters' park that is Camden Yards. Tillman made two playoff starts, beating the Tigers in Game 1 of the ALDS but taking a no-decision in what would be an 8-6 loss to the Royals in the ALCS opener.
The Orioles finished 24-10 in Tillman's 34 regular-season starts and he led the majors with a units mark of +1650. It helped he usually got very good run support as the Orioles averaged 4.88 runs per game in Tillman's starts.
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Phil Hughes, Twins
Some around baseball were scratching their heads when Minnesota signed Phil Hughes to a three-year, $24 million deal last December. After all, Hughes was a terrible 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA for the Yankees in 2013. Hughes always had good stuff but perhaps just wasn't built to pitch in the Big Apple.
So what did Hughes accomplish for the last-place Twins? He was 16-10 with a 3.52 ERA, but perhaps more impressively had 186 strikeouts to just 16 walks. His 11.63 ratio was the best of all time for pitchers with a qualifying amount of innings. The previous mark was by Bret Saberhagen, who had 143 strikeouts and 13 walks for the New York Mets in 1994 for an 11.00 ratio. The Twins were 20-12 overall in Hughes' starts, and he had a wins units mark of +1310 at sportsbooks.
Matt Shoemaker, Angels
Shoemaker wasn't expected to be a part of the Angels' rotation last season but injuries forced him into the role. He was terrific and likely would have won AL Rookie of the Year honors most years -- just not in 2014 when the White Sox's Jose Abreu had one of the greatest rookie seasons ever for a hitter. Shoemaker finished a distant second to Abreu in the voting.
Shoemaker, who is 28, was 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA. He started the year as an afterthought in the bullpen and was sent down for a month early on. Shoemaker came back to the bigs in mid-May to fill in and pitched well enough.