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Chapman, Hader, Yates All See 2020 Cy Young Odds Fade; Could a Reliever Win in a 60-Game Season?

Bryan Thiel

by Bryan Thiel in MLB Baseball

Jul 9, 2020 · 3:21 PM PDT

Closeup of Aroldis Chapman
In a shortened season, could elite closers like Josh Hader, Kirby Yates and Aroldis Chapman receiver consideration for the Cy Young award? Photo by Keith Allison (flickr).
  • In a shortened season, relievers could make strong cases for their league’s Cy Young award
  • Sportsbooks don’t like their chances though, as closers now face considerably larger odds
  • We examine if a closer is worth the long odds in 2020

In a standard season, it’s tough for a reliever to win the Cy Young award. Only nine have ever taken the honors as their league’s top pitcher, with the last being Eric Gagne in 2003. Before that, it was Dennis Eckersley all the way back in 1992.

But a shortened 2020 season could put added emphasis on bullpens. So could we see a Cy Young award go to a closer? If so, now is the time to bet. All five closers/relievers on the Cy Young board saw their odds get longer over the last two weeks.

2020 Cy Young Odds for Relievers

Pitcher July 9th Odds June 26th Odds
Kirby Yates, SD +8767 +5650
Josh Hader, MIL +6320 +5800
Edwin Diaz, NYM +10750 +6500
Aroldis Chapman, NYY +11000 +7000
Liam Hendriks, OAK +11000 +7000

Odds as of July 9th.

Both  Aroldis Chapman and Liam Hendriks faded significantly and Edwin Diaz experienced a similar fate. But things were kinder to Josh Hader. Why?

Brewers Will Once Again Lean on Bullpen

The Brewers have leaned heavily on relievers the last couple seasons.

In 2019, they were second in No Decisions from their starters and second in Wins in Relief. They were last in quality starts and averaged 4.9 innings per start, which put them in the bottom third of the league.

There is not much reason to expect much different in 2020; they are likely to lean heavily on the bullpen once again.

Josh Hader’s Career Totals

Season Saves ERA WHIP SO/9 HR/9
2017 0 2.08 .986 12.8 0.8
2018 12 2.43 .811 15.8 1.0
2019 37 2.62 .806 16.4 1.8

A two-time All Star, Hader was 15th in games finished last season and 16th in save percentage among pitchers with at least 20 opportunities. He jumps to 10th when you increase the qualification to 30+ and fifth among pitchers with 40 or more.

Both his SO/9 and HR/9 have risen each season, but that could be tied his usage. He pitched in a career-high 61 games in 2019.

Yates Could Dominate Cy Young Conversation

Kirby Yates had an outstanding 2019 season, and all it got him was ninth in the NL Cy Young vote.

He led all relievers in saves, converting 41 in 44 opportunities, and while he only inherited 11 runners, he posted an 18% scoring percentage, which was 27th among all relievers with at least 40 appearances.

Yates also posted a league-best 1.19 ERA out of the bullpen. All of this while fighting off a .325 batting average on balls in play, which ended up being the second-highest total of his career.

Kirby Yates: 2019 vs Career

Career AVG
60/41 Games/Saves 45/3
63.0 Innings Pitched 43
1.19 ERA 4.02
358 ERA+ 101
0.890 WHIP 1.192
15.0 SO/9 12.1
0.3 HR/9 7.5

There are two things to note in the table above. The first is that it takes Yates’ early-career struggles with both the Rays and Yankees into account. It also uses his 2018 season with the Padres to slightly lower those numbers.

Either way, since he’s taken over closing duties, he’s been elite.

Like Hader, Yates has a strong bullpen surrounding him and should get plenty of opportunities in 2020.

Chapman’s Recent History Works Against Him in Cy Young Race

We aren’t disputing Chapman’s dominance here, but it’s worth knowing that in each of the last three seasons, he’s had at least one month with an ERA over 4.00. That’s important in a 60-game season.

We’d wait-and-see with Edwin Diaz, too, after he struggled in his first season with New York.

When it comes to the remaining trio of Hendriks, Yates, and Hader, only Hader stands out. It’s a longshot, but if the Brewers sneak into the playoffs, it’ll be on the strength of their bullpen. And Hader, who will be leading the way, could get Cy Young consideration.

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