It’s been almost two decades since a reliever won the MLB Cy Young award. Don’t tell that to Edwin Diaz, though.
The Mets closer has been simply electric this season, boasting a 1.39 ERA while converting 26 of 29 save opportunities entering Friday. And yet, with all the noise surrounding his potential NL Cy Young bid, he’s still dealing as a +5000 long shot at BetMGM to win the award.
Is Diaz worth betting at such long odds, or is the deck stacked against him as a short reliever?
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Edwin Diaz making Cy Young case as long shot
Only nine relievers have ever won the Cy Young award, and none since Dodgers closer Eric Gagne in 2003. He was a perfect 55-for-55 in save opportunities that year – extending his save streak to an MLB-record 62 in a row – and allowed just 11 earned runs in 77 appearances.
Through 45 games, Diaz has allowed just seven. And the way he’s generating outs is nothing short of historic.
Entering Friday, Diaz had struck out 91 of the 172 batters he’s faced this season. That’s good for a ridiculous 52.9% strikeout rate — the highest by a reliever through 45 appearances in MLB history. If it holds, it would also set a new record across a full-length season, as would his absurd 18.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
Diaz’s dominance isn’t limited to his punchout rates, though. Among those with at least 40 innings pitched, the Mets closer ranks second in the NL in ERA (1.39) and paces the field in FIP (0.83), xERA (1.51), and xFIP (0.59), and SIERA (0.88). He also leads the league in games finished (38) and has been a key reason why the Mets own the second-best record in baseball and are among the favorites to win their first World Series title since 1986.
Odds are against Diaz to win Cy Young
The case is clear: on a per-inning basis, Diaz has been the best pitcher in baseball. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be enough for Cy Young voters to reward him. When it comes to relievers, they rarely do.
It’s happened nine times in MLB history and just once in Diaz’s lifetime. Even his own brilliant campaign in 2018, when he boasted a 1.96 ERA with an MLB-best 57 saves in 73.1 innings, was only good for an eighth-place finish.
For a reliever to actually win this award, the formula is simple but daunting: toss enough innings to earn the respect of voters, and dominate in an all-time fashion within that limited work.
Diaz has the latter in check, but volume could be an issue. The previous nine relievers all pitched at least 78 innings, with four cracking 100 frames, and they all led the league in either saves, games finished, or appearances. As of Friday, Diaz leads the NL in games finished but ranks third in saves and 17th in appearances, and he’s on track for just 65 innings.
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Would that be enough to dethrone runaway favorite Sandy Alcantara (-275)? The Marlins ace hasn’t exactly been an archetypal Cy Young candidate, either. He’s striking out fewer than a batter per inning and is on pace for roughly 210 strikeouts, which would be the fewest by any NL Cy Young winner in a full season since Brandon Webb (178) in 2006.
Yet Alcantara leads the NL in ERA (2.01), and his 166 innings pitched are 21.1 more than any other qualified starter. In fact, he’s currently on pace to toss 242 frames, which would be the most by any pitcher since 2014. In many ways, he’s the antithesis of Diaz – which further complicates Diaz’s case as a short-relief superstar.
Can Diaz make history in 2022?
Let’s be real: any time a player as dominant as Diaz is dealing as a +5000 long shot, it’s hard to stay away. So I can’t fault anyone for sprinkling a few dollars on the Mets closer in case his candidacy builds steam.
From a pure value perspective, though, it’s likely not worth the ticket. It’s been 14 years since a reliever even finished in the top three, as they face an almost insurmountable climb to the top even with a sterling resume. And that’s far from guaranteed for Diaz – the nature of being a reliever means a handful of bad pitches could sully his resume, especially with a combined 19 games left against the power-happy Yankees, Dodgers, Braves, and Phillies.
So, can Diaz win this year’s NL Cy Young? Sure. But it’ll likely take dominance beyond what we’ve seen amid an already historic campaign.