If you’re a Cincinnati Reds fan, you’ve probably already thrown in the towel on the 2023 MLB season. The team was 9-15 coming into Wednesday’s play, tied for last in the NL Central, slightly behind pace already to hit its preseason win total over/under of 66.
But sometimes, one fun wager is all it takes to keep the baseball season interesting.
Enter Graham Ashcraft, the Reds pitcher who is by far the most pleasant surprise on the roster through the first four weeks of action. As a rookie in 2022, the righthander taken in the sixth round of the 2019 draft went 5-6 with a 4.89 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP. Respectable numbers, but not remotely eye-popping enough to get him listed at any of Ohio’s mobile sportsbooks as a Cy Young candidate entering his sophomore season.
Yet entering his fifth start of the 2023 season on Wednesday, the 25-year-old is 2-0 (for a team that doesn’t do much winning) with a 1.88 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. And FanGraphs noted he was the most improved pitcher in all of baseball early this season in an advanced metric called Stuff+. As the name of the stat indicates, Ashcraft’s “stuff” is looking a lot better — a lot nastier. His pitches have more movement.
And now we’re seeing some of the same in the Cy Young betting markets.
A crafty wager?
But two major books do now have a price on the Alabama native, who has yet to give up more than two runs in any of his starts. FanDuel is offering a +6500 (65/1) payout on Ashcraft, while BetMGM posts a higher reward — by the slimmest of margins — at +6600. (Hey, every dollar counts, right?)
Is Ashcraft a serious threat to win the award as the top pitcher in the National League? Well, his hot start doesn’t look fluky — he’s shown legitimate improvement over last season and had put up strong numbers in the minors the previous couple of years. And team success doesn’t matter for Cy the way it does for MVP. If the Reds only win 60 games, it actually helps Ashcraft’s case if he can finish with 15-20 Ws on his record despite modest support from his offense.
He does have a lot of elite pitchers to leapfrog. Spencer Strider is the early favorite (+220 at FanDuel), followed by the likes of Zac Gallen, Max Fried, Julio Urias, and last year’s winner, Sandy Alcantara. It will take just the right mix of a few favorites struggling, maybe one or two missing time with injuries, and Ashcraft continuing to pitch at about the same level all season as he has so far in April.
But that’s why they call it a longshot. A bettor doesn’t have to risk much money to stand a chance of boosting the ol’ bankroll big-time. A $10 wager at BetMGM returns $660.
And perhaps just as importantly, a bet on Ashcraft gives a Reds fan something to root for and sweat over every fifth day. With the way this season seems to be going, that’s the kind of ancillary benefit to a bet that you can’t put a price on.
Photo: Dylan Buell/Getty Images