AL Cy Young Odds: Astros Pitcher Hunter Brown Among Live Longshots

, ,
Written By Mo Nuwwarah | Last Updated
Hunter Brown AL CY Young bets

One of the more interesting award races in the 2024 MLB season figures to be in AL Cy Young odds. The field looks to be wide open, thanks in part to a couple of high-profile injuries, possibly opening the door for a longshot candidate. Young Astros hurler Hunter Brown checks several boxes that make him a plausible candidate. Let’s explore whether he makes sense for a wager in AL Cy Young bets.

AL Cy Young Odds: The Big Picture

I first want to talk about why the AL Cy Young race looks so wide open in 2024, which makes for an intriguing landscape to bet a longshot.

Coming into the season, two clear favorites occupied the top of the board: Gerrit Cole and Kevin Gausman. However, both have major question marks in the form of injury.

Cole’s situation is much worse. Long one of the most durable starters in MLB, his elbow may have finally given out. The team already announced he’s a candidate for the 60-day IL. Frankly, it wouldn’t count as a major surprise if he didn’t throw a pitch this year. That the books are still offering on Cole in AL Cy Young bets is heinous.

Gausman has also been a paragon of consistent excellence. It makes sense to slot him as the new favorite coming off three straight full seasons around 5 fWAR plus a 2020 season on a 5-WAR pace. It sounds like he’s going to try to avoid the IL. But just a couple of weeks ago, he was considered likely to miss the start of the year with a shoulder injury. Those can be troublesome, and it’s not a good sign Gausman is starting the year less than 100%.

Corbin Burnes is coming off the worst full season of his career and will adjust to a new defense, park, and league. He had concerning peripheral drops across the board. Even if he remains a very good pitcher, he may no longer be truly elite.

The rest of the favorites are Framber Valdez, Luis Castillo, Tarik Skubal, and Pablo Lopez. All great pitchers, to be sure. But none are overwhelmingly dominant in the mold of Cole or even NL Cy Young favorite Spencer Strider.

Does Hunter Brown Make Sense In AL Cy Young Bets?

So, the door is wide open for someone to bust through. And looking at the longer shots down the board, I can’t see a better candidate than Hunter Brown.

The reason why Brown has such long odds is obvious. He posted an ugly 5.09 ERA across 31 appearances (29 starts) last year. It’s seemingly a long way from that to Cy Young candidacy.

But not as long as it looks at first glance.

Consider that Brown wound up with numbers somewhere between terrible and below average in three of the major luck metrics:

  • Batting average on balls in play (BABIP): .330 (league average .297)
  • Left on base (LOB%): 68.8% (league average 71.9%)
  • Home runs per fly ball: 21% (league average 12.7%)

This is why his ERA estimators SIERA and xFIP were 3.74 and 3.52, respectively. xFIP tends to predict future ERA better than ERA does because HR/FB rate is very volatile. Brown was within shouting distance of double the league average there, which is very unlikely to continue.

Does Brown Have Contact Management Issues?

Some pitchers consistently allow too much hard contact and, therefore, underperform their ERA estimators. It’s possible Brown falls into this bucket, and he’ll continue to post ERAs north of his SIERA/xFIP numbers.

With a 4.27 xERA, Statcast thought Brown was unlucky but not to the point of being a great pitcher, as his SIERA and xFIP say.

Looking at Brown’s heat maps, he does seem to have some location issues that could make his pitches play down. His breaking pitches got crushed last year, and he does seem to leave too many of them in the zone. His exit velocity allowed was in just the 8th percentile, suggesting he’s throwing too many hittable pitches in general.

The sample size remains much too small to say for certain, though. Brown has thrown 176 MLB innings, and that’s not close to enough for us to conclude he has a true “talent” for underperforming his peripherals.

Even if Brown’s pitches get consistently squared up, he’s in a decent situation for mitigating that damage. First, he has an elite groundball rate (52.4%). Second, those grounders will often find their way to Jeremy Pena and Alex Bregman. Their elite glovework will vacuum up many of these hard-hit balls.

My Bet: Hunter Brown +10000 To Win AL Cy Young

Despite the disappointing 2023, Brown looks awfully close to joining the ranks of the elite. He checks arguably the three biggest boxes a pitcher can: he strikes guys out (75th-percentile K%), he doesn’t give away many free passes (50th-percentile BB%), and he gets grounders aplenty.

Sure, the command needs work. But as a former top-50 prospect, Brown has the talent to continue improving.

And the raw stuff is there — Brown rated 22nd in STUFF+ out of 87 pitchers who threw at least 130 innings last season. A leap into the top 10 is plausible and would put him squarely in the hunt in AL Cy Young bets, assuming his luck metrics smooth out.

A few other factors could aid Brown as well. I like that he plays on a team I expect to win its division (see Astros team preview below), raising his profile. He also pitches for an organization that consistently optimizes its arms, which bodes well for continued improvement. And after firing 155 IP last year, he should be ready for a full workload.

The biggest obstacle may come from the fact that he has a teammate with better projections than him. But that’s why we’re getting a massive price.

I got Brown at +10000 which is still available at Caesars Sportsbook as of Tuesday afternoon. Even the +6000 or so widely available line seems like a fine longshot punt for a smaller play. With the clear favorites all in less-than-convincing situations, I think Brown’s worth a try.

2024 MLB Team Betting Previews & Win Totals ANalysis

American League
Orioles Betting PreviewRed Sox Betting PreviewWhite Sox Betting PreviewGuardians Betting Preview
Royals Betting PreviewAngels Betting PreviewA’s Betting PreviewMariners Betting Preview
Astros Betting Preview
National League
Braves Betting PreviewCubs Betting PreviewDiamondbacks Betting PreviewReds Betting Preview
Rockies Betting PreviewBrewers Betting PreviewDodgers Betting PreviewPadres Betting Preview
Nationals Betting PreviewPirates Betting PreviewGiants Betting PreviewCardinals Betting Preview
Phillies Betting PreviewMarlins Betting Preview