Can Jacob DeGrom Win NL MVP? Odds Say Yes, History Says Probably Not

Posted By Mo Nuwwarah on June 25, 2021

New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom has put together an historic run in this half season. His ERA begins with a 0. His ERA estimators aren’t far behind, mostly around 1.5. He has even swung the stick to the tune of a .407 average. Add it all up and deGrom seems like a cinch to win NL MVP.

The MVP betting markets have certainly shifted in response to his incredible performance thus far. He rocketed up the board to become the favorite.

But, he must overcome history to win the award. We’ll take a look at where the market has moved and what deGrom must overcome to win NL MVP.

Jacob DeGrom NL MVP Odds

There was an error with the table post type.

While he’s not quite favored over the field, deGrom has overtaken his position player rivals to have the shortest odds. After being listed around +800 at both DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook in May, deGrom has continued an unprecedented level of dominance. He has edged past former favorites Ronald Acuna Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr.

In recent years, as TheLines has already detailed, wins above replacement (WAR) has become possibly the go-to metric for MVP voters. DeGrom leads not only the NL but the entire MLB in FanGraphs WAR with 4.7. He projects to add roughly another 3.5 WAR the rest of the way. That would leave him north of 8 WAR on the season.

Acuna Jr. and Tatis Jr. project to finish at 7.1 WAR and 6.1 WAR, respectively. That seemingly gives deGrom a healthy amount of breathing room.

So, why do the sportsbooks still see this as a pretty competitive race?

The Pitcher Disadvantage

The answer is simple. Despite his surprisingly potent bat this year — he’s a career .204 hitter — deGrom’s primary job remains throwing baseballs. And players who throw baseballs have historically had cold water thrown on their MVP candidacy by the voters.

Since the lowering of the mound in 1969, just seven pitchers have won MVP. That represents just 6.73% of MVPs awarded in that time span. Only two have won the award since 1993: Justin Verlander (2011) and Clayton Kershaw (2014).

Voters have shown a clear preference for position players. Just how much penalty do pitchers get in the voting? Sabermetrics legend Tom Tango estimates pitchers get docked a roughly 2 WAR penalty.

Case in point that highlights the man in question himself: the 2018 voting. There, deGrom easily outpaced all position players with 10.4 Baseball Reference WAR. Even a lead of more than 3 WAR wasn’t enough though, as he finished a distant fifth to Christian YelichMax Scherzer and Aaron Nola racked up more than 9 WAR apiece but finished 10th and 13th, respectively.

According to a study done by Craig Edwards at FanGraphs, pitchers leading the league in fWAR in the Cy Young Award era (1967-) had a median MVP finish of sixth. Those players led the nearest position player by ~1.8 WAR, which jives with Tango’s estimate and deGrom’s 2018 result.

Generally speaking, pitchers need a down year from position players. But, the computers don’t expect that to happen with Acuna Jr. projected only about 1 WAR back.

The Case for DeGrom As NL MVP Favorite

While deGrom faces a tall task overcoming this well-established voter history, he does have a few things going for him.

First, as Edwards notes, all of the pitcher MVPs won in a season that featured no 8 fWAR seasons from position players. According to the projections, deGrom looks safe there.

That’s not the only good news. First, deGrom projects to finish with 17 wins, which would rank among the league leaders. That might not seem too relevant in 2021. But, a 2018 study found pitcher wins still accounted for about 80% of MVP voter opinion when comparing pitchers with batters.

That may help explain why deGrom’s 2018 season (10-9 record) didn’t receive enough love.

Second, the Mets look likely to be in contention this year. They lead the admittedly disappointing division, and the markets believe it will stay that way, pegging them as favorites. Historically, playing for a contending team has been close to a must for serious MVP consideration.

Again, contrast that to 2018. That year’s Mets finished 77-85, seriously hurting deGrom’s candidacy.

It’s tempting to look at Jacob deGrom performing basically perfectly in 2021 and assume he’s a shoo-in for MVP. However, history says that’s far from a certainty. He has certainly been the best player in the NL this season.

But, when it comes to MVP voting, he may not be the best candidate. Can he overcome history? The betting market thinks so, and it costs to voice your agreement.

Mo Nuwwarah Avatar
Written by
Mo Nuwwarah

View all posts by Mo Nuwwarah