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Scherzer Becomes NL Cy Favorite; Burnes a Close Second

Sascha Paruk

by Sascha Paruk in Uncategorized

Sep 16, 2021 · 2:29 PM PDT

Astros vs Dodgers
Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Max Scherzer (31) in the first inning during a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Sunday, Aug 1, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
  • Max Scherzer’s Cy Young odds have gone from +1550 to +105 since the start of September
  • Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes remains the second-favorite
  • See the latest odds and the outlook for the rest of the season

When the Los Angeles Dodgers traded for Max Scherzer at the 2021 MLB trade deadline, they knew they were getting a once-dominant veteran with over 100 innings of playoff experience. What they likely didn’t realize is that “Mad Max” was going to turn back the clock and relocate his three-time Cy Young-winning form.

But that’s exactly what has happened over the past month, and the latest NL Cy Young odds are proof. A +1550 longshot at the start of the month, Scherzer is now the outright favorite at average odds of +105. DraftKings is the shortest on Scherzer, moving him to odds-on status recently.

2021 NL Cy Young Odds

Player Odds
Max Scherzer (LAD) -105
Corbin Burnes (MIL) +135
Walker Buehler (LAD) +350
Zack Wheeler (PHI) +1500
Brandon Woodruff (MIL) +2000
Kevin Gausman (SF) +5000
Aaron Nola (PHI) +10000
Jacob deGrom (NYM) +10000
Joe Musgrove (SD) +10000
Julio Urias (LAD) +10000

Odds as of Sep. 16, 2021, at DraftKings.

Scherzer’s Superb September

At no point this was Scherzer having a bad season in 2021. In 19 starts for the Nationals before the trade deadline, he was 8-4 with a 2.76 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. Those numbers were good enough to make him a fringe Cy Young contender, but with the way Jacob deGrom dominated the first half of the season, Scherzer wasn’t in serious contention.

Since being moved to the Dodgers, the 37-year-old has been almost unhittable. In eight starts with LA, he is 6-0 with a ludicrous 0.88 ERA and 0.67 WHIP. In other words, he’s been just as good as deGrom was before the Mets’ ace hit the injured list. He hasn’t surrendered a single run – earned or otherwise – in his last four starts, a total of 29.2 straight scoreless innings.

For the season as a whole, Scherzer is sporting a 2.17 ERA and 0.82 WHIP.

NL Pitching Leaders

The table below shows the key statistics for the players considered Cy Young contenders with just a few weeks remaining in the season. The best number is bolded in each category.

Max Scherzer 162.0 2.17 0.82 12.17 2.86 5.2
Corbin Burnes 152.0 1.90 0.91 12.43 1.50 7.1
Walker Buehler 186.0 2.32 0.95 9.15 3.23 4.6
Zack Wheeler 195.1 2.86 1.02 10.37 2.66 6.5
Brandon Woodruff 169.1 2.55 0.96 10.52 2.98 4.4
Kevin Gausman 170.0 2.65 1.01 10.64 2.87 4.5


The race is clearly a tight one any which way you look at it. Scherzer and Burnes and 1-2 in ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts per nine innings. Zack Wheeler is second in WAR due to his MLB-leading 195.1 innings pitched.

If the race ended today, I would side with Burnes. He has a lower ERA and significantly better FIP (which “measures what a player’s ERA would look like over a given period of time if the pitcher were to have experienced league average results on balls in play and league average timing” per FanGraphs).

But the race isn’t ending today. Both pitchers have three scheduled starts remaining.

The Upcoming Schedule

If all goes according to plan, Scherzer’s final three starts will be at the Reds, at the Diamondbacks, and versus the Padres. He’s already faced the Padres four times this season. He got lit up in the first two (11 earned runs in 10.2 innings) but pitched 15 scoreless innings in the last two, surrendering just three hits and one walk.

Scherzer has also faced the D-Backs twice already this season, giving up zero runs and just four hits over 12 innings of work. His lone start against the Reds was solid if not spectacular (five hits, two runs, nine Ks over seven innings).

All in all, he has a favorable schedule remaining.

Burnes’ scheduled starts are versus the Cubs, versus the Cardinals, and at the Cardinals. He’s been lights out against the Cubbies this year, pitching 14 scoreless innings over two starts while striking out 25 hitters. The upcoming starts against the Cardinals are a little worrisome, though. He has faced them three times this year; in his second start of the year, he gave up just one hit and zero walks over six scoreless innings. Just over a month later, he held them to one run on five hits over just five innings.

But in his most recent start versus the Red Birds on Sep. 5th, he was tagged for six hits, two walks, and three earned runs over five innings. St. Louis is in the thick of the Wild Card race all of a sudden and playing inspired baseball. There won’t be any free outs again Mike Schildt’s team over the final weeks of the season.

Projecting who will have the better ERA over their final three starts, I side with Scherzer. But that will likely pull him statistically even with Burnes overall. At that point, it’s all in the hands of the voting body. Will they side with the high-profile three-time winner who plays in a massive media market? Or will they reward the youngster in America’s Dairyland?

My instinct is that Burnes will win if all else is equal. There will be an element of “Scherzer already has three on him mantle; let’s give it to the new guy” which tips the balance. The fact that he threw the first eight innings of a combined no hitter in September certainly won’t hurt, either.

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