Pitchers and catchers report to spring camps in Florida and Arizona in less than a month. Let’s look at the three betting favorites to lead the majors in wins this coming season – which begins on March 30.
Gerrit Cole, Yankees (+1600)
Cole is always among the favorites for most wins and for the AL Cy Young since singing with the Yankees. He has been very good in that span but perhaps not lived up to the historic contract he signed a few years ago.
In the 2022 regular season he made 33 starts and 13-8 with a 3.50 ERA. Opponents batted just .209 off him and Cole was named to his fifth career All-Star team. He led the majors in strikeouts (257), tied for first in starts (33, tied for first in AL), ranked third in K/9.0IP (11.53, second in AL), sixth in innings pitched (200.2IP, second in AL), eighth in K/BB (5.14, fifth in AL) and ninth in opponents’ OBP (.260, fifth in AL).
The strikeouts were the most by a Yankees pitcher in a single season in franchise history, surpassing Ron Guidry’s previous record of 248K in 1978. Cole became the third Yankee in franchise history to lead the Majors in strikeouts (outright or tied), joining Vic Raschi (tied for lead with 164K in 1951) and Lefty Gomez (194K in 1937) and first Yankees pitcher to throw at least 200.0 innings in a season since Hiroki Kuroda (201.1IP) and CC Sabathia (211.0IP) in 2013. Cole had nine double-digit strikeout games, tied for the most in franchise history (also had nine in 2021 and David Cone’s nine in 1998).
The last time we saw Cole, though, he pitched five innings and took the loss during in Game 3 of the ALCS vs. Houston, allowing three earned runs on five hits and two walks while striking out seven. HE surrendered a two-run homer to Chas McCormick in the second inning and left after loading the bases in the sixth inning. The two-run homer was a back-breaker, coming after a two-out error by Harrison Bader, and Lou Trivino allowed all three of Cole’s inherited runners to score in the sixth.
Justin Verlander, Mets (+1600)
The future Hall of Famer Verlander won his third career Cy Young Award last season with the Houston Astros but is now with the New York Mets – his first National League team. He went 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA in 28 starts for Houston at age 39 and after missing all of 2021 following Tommy John surgery. He led the AL in wins, ERA, WHIP (0.83), opponents’ OPS (.497), opponents’ batting average (.186) and hits per nine innings (5.97). His ERA was the lowest by an AL pitcher since Pedro Martinez (1.74) in 2000.
Verlander, who won the 2011 AL Cy Young with the Tigers — also unanimously — and in ’19 with the Astros, becomes the first pitcher to win a Cy Young Award after not pitching in the previous season. He became the 11th pitcher to win at least three Cy Young Awards. The only pitchers with more are Greg Maddux (four), Steve Carlton (four), Randy Johnson (five) and Roger Clemens (seven).
He also got his first win in nine career World Series starts in Game 5 as Houston beat Philadelphia in six games, earning his second World Series ring. Based on that excellent campaign, he made the easy decision to decline his option with the Astros and return to the open market in search of a larger salary. Most thought Houston would re-sign Verlander but he opted to take a two-year, $86.7 million deal with the Mets that includes a $35 million vesting option for 2025. That third year was the difference.
Max Scherzer, Mets (+2000)
Verlander signing with the Mets reunites the three-time Cy Young Award winner with the 38-year-old Scherzer, himself a three-time Cy Young winner. The two right-handers were teammates in Detroit from 2011 to 2014, when they helped the Tigers to three consecutive American League Championship Series (2011 to 2013) and one World Series (2012, a four-game sweep by San Francisco).
Since then, both have won a World Series ring with other teams. Verlander is hoping that a reunion with Scherzer will mean the Mets are the last team standing next fall. Mets GM Billy Eppler wanted to have two aces against any club they face. That’s what the Mets did in 2022 with Scherzer and Jacob deGrom at the top but deGrom left for the Rangers this offseason.
After signing a three-year deal with New York last offseason, Scherzer was 11-5 with a 2.29 ERA (37 ER/145.1 IP) in his first season with the Mets. That was the lowest mark in a season in his career and the best all time in a pitcher’s first season with the Mets (min. 140.0 innings). His 0.91 WHIP was not just the best mark by a Met in his first season with the club, it was the best by any Met in club history (min. 140.0 innings. Scherzer did not allow more than four runs in any of his 23 regular-season starts.
Among pitchers with at least 140.0 innings pitched last season, Scherzer ranked sixth with a 2.29 ERA, ninth with a 10.71 K/9 ratio, second with a 0.91 WHIP and third with a 7.21 K/BB ratio. Among pitchers to face 500 or more batters, his .207 opponent average ranked 14th in the majors, while his .574 OPS against ranked eighth.