Picking which of the Mets' young aces will be the best of the bunch in 2016 is a difficult task. You have the Dark Knight in Harvey, who is another year removed from Tommy John surgery and ready to take the next step. You have Thor in Noah Syndergaard, the massive young fireballer from Texas who can dial the Warthen slider up to the low 90s. But the safest bet in the bunch is likely the one with the lamest nickname: Jacob deGrom, or "deGrominator/"
deGrom's 2014 Rookie of the Year season was of the relatively unexpected variety. Coming through the minors, he lacked any one plus pitch and didn't have overwhelming velocity. He was a ninth-round pick, relatively new to pitching, and didn't even reach Triple-A until the age of 25. He also had already fell victim to Tommy John surgery. But he continually developed as a pitcher, an excellent athlete with strong mechanics and strong command of his repertoire, and worked his way up the ladder. He finished the year with a 2.69 ERA backed up by a 2.67 FIP. He added yet another pitcher with ace upside, all while Matt Harvey was working his way back from Tommy John Surgery.
If deGrom's debut was excellent, his encore was elite. deGrom improved in nearly every conceivable facet in 2015 despite throwing 50 more regular season innings. His strikeout rate increased and he slashed nearly a full walk (from 2.76 to 1.79 per nine innings) off of the previous season, resulting in a 0.98 WHIP fantastic 5.39 K/BB, seventh best in baseball. He added more life to his pitches as well, averaging 95.0 MPH (93.5 MPH in 2014) on his fastball, and 89.7 MPH (87.0 MPH in 2014) on his slider. Both pitches improved year-over-year in terms of effectiveness, as did his changeup. He allowed less hard contact and induced a greater amount of soft contact. He had a 2.54 ERA, a 2.70 FIP, and a 2.99 SIERA. No matter what metric you like, Jacob deGrom was one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2015.
So, now it's 2016. He'll get the ball third to start the season, but may well be the best of all on the roster. Choosing anyone one Mets starter as their #1 defeats the purpose. They have three number ones, and potentially five depending on Matz's development and Wheeler's health. If deGrom can replicate or come close to his 2015 performance now and in the near future, he'll continue to be an elite pitcher for the length of his Mets contract. If he improves even further, there's an argument to be made he's the best non-Kershaw starter in the game. Even if he regresses some, which is a concern because he is a) a pitcher and b) threw 216 innings last year, he will be a fantastic pitcher. He ended the season on a sour note, with a five-inning, four-earned-run performance in the Mets' World Series Game 2 loss, and will be hungry to get back to that stage. He's as good a bet as any to beat all of his projections, and the hair appears to be here to stay. We should be so lucky.