On May 2, 2018, it felt as if the world around the Mets had stopped turning. Jacob deGrom left his start early that night after feeling pain in his pitching arm from swinging that bat, and he was diagnosed with what was described as a “hyperextended elbow.” Tremendous concern arose as to how long deGrom would be out for, what it meant for the Mets’ season, and how it could impact any remaining hopes the team had for the postseason.
However, an MRI revealed no structural damage in his elbow, and deGrom only missed one start and returned less than two weeks later on May 13 against the Phillies. Usually, “no structural damage” injuries don’t end well for the Mets, but deGrom miraculously did not have any setbacks, nor did he ever show any ill-effects from the injury. On the other hand, the injury may have been more like Henry Rowengartner’s broken arm, because all deGrom did from there was put together one of the best pitching season in recent memory.
Not only that, but deGrom’s fastball velocity jumped noticeably after his return:
deGrom’s average velocities in every month over the rest of the season were all higher than any monthly mark he had reached in any previous season. His average velocity over the full season was a career-high 96.70 MPH, almost a full MPH faster than his previous high of 95.95 in 2017.
There are so many statistics that illustrate just how magical deGrom’s season was from start to finish. For starters, he gave up more than three runs in just one start all season, when he allowed four against the Marlins in April. After that, he then went 29 consecutive starts not allowing three or more runs, which shattered an MLB record. In addition, after his one-inning outing in that May 13 start against the Phillies, deGrom never failed to complete the sixth inning in any of his 24 starts from that point on. All 24 of those subsequent starts were quality starts, which broke an MLB record for most consecutive quality starts by a pitcher.
As impressive as that all is, that’s not even mentioning the actual stats that deGrom put up this season. His 1.70 ERA was not only the best in baseball by a substantial amount, but the best ERA any qualified starter has put up since Zack Grienke in 2015. By ERA-, deGrom’s season was the ninth-best since they lowered the mound in 1969. The only pitchers who populate the eight spots above him in the rankings of that list are Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Dwight Gooden, and Grienke. What’s more, deGrom’s FIP- of 49 is the fifth-best any starter has put up since 1969. Martinez, Gooden, and Randy Johnson are the only pitchers above deGrom on that list.
But wait! There’s more! deGrom’s season was so much more than just a shiny ERA and FIP. He also put up an MLB-best 8.8 fWAR, 8.04 WARP, 0.41 HR/9, and 2.60 xFIP. His 32.2% strikeout rate, 2.78 SIERA .194 BAA, and 0.91 WHIP were all in the top-5 in baseball as well. His 9.5 bWAR was second to only Aaron Nola, though Baseball Reference has had wonky WAR adjustments for team defense this year. deGrom did this all all over a career-high 32 starts and 217.0 innings.
We could sit here and talk about the numbers all day long, but perhaps the most telling nugget about deGrom’s season isn’t a statistic, but rather an observation. As Mets fans, we have witnessed a number of great pitching seasons in recent memory. In all of those wonderful seasons by the likes of Matt Harvey, R.A. Dickey, and Noah Syndergaard, there were certain starts in those campaigns that stand out as “signature” starts; think of Harvey’s start against the White Sox or Dickey’s one-hitters.
deGrom, though, didn’t really have any starts that stood out much more than the others. Every single start was seemingly just as awesome as the last. From May 18 to September 21, 21 of deGrom’s 23 starts over that time recieved game scores between 60 and 85. The only two starts that didn’t were both still quality starts in which deGrom struck out eight and six, respectively.
If there was a signature game that deGrom had this season, though, it was probably his last start of the year against the Marlins. deGrom went eight innings, struck out ten, and only allowed two hits in the game. His game score of 91 that night was his best of the season. But what made the night so memorable was how he finished it. With his historic campaign approaching its conclusion, deGrom took control of the game, retiring the last 20 batters he faced that night—half of them on strikeouts. The fans in attendance were electric for deGrom all night, and it all reached a crescendo when he finished off the night by notching his 1,000th career strikeout against his final batter of the season in what was probably the most captivating moment Citi Field has seen in a few years.
Unfortunately, deGrom’s greatness was often overshadowed by the Mets’ inexplicable ineptitude whenever he started. One of the most well-documented and discussed themes of deGrom’s season wasn’t his pitching, but the incredible, historic lack of run support he recieved nearly every time he took the mound. Despite deGrom having one of the best pitching seasons in the last 50 years, the Mets only went 14-18 in that games that he started. They scored a measley average of 3.49 runs per game whenever he was on the bump. This resulted in deGrom only finishing with a record of 10-9, a record that could disqaulify him from the Cy Young in the eyes of some of the older, more traditional voters.
That said, deGrom was so far above and beyond anyone else in the league that his record should not even be a factor in the Cy Young voting. deGrom had the kind of season that completely transcends and nullifies his win-loss record which, even in this analytical era, is hard to accomplish. We are all lucky to have witnessed it.