The spotlight never seems to find Jacob deGrom. Noah Syndergaard’s blond flowing locks, brute strength, and blazing fastball demand attention. The high hopes and the justifiable concern that follow Matt Harvey like a shadow. And then there’s the return of Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz. All are worthy of attention, but take all of that away and deGrom still remains. His steady presence, calm demeanor, and undeniable talent demand that others pay attention.
When healthy, it is hard to say who is the true ace of this staff. Both Syndergaard and deGrom are the front-runners for that title, but considering how last season unfolded it might be deGrom’s title to lose. The righty survived the season, and in a year where the team only achieved 70 wins, he accounted for 15 of them. His year was cut a bit short when he got sick and was unable to make his final start, but he reached the 200-inning plateau for the first time in his career and certainly made the most of those 200 innings.
deGrom pitched 11 double-digit strikeout games and finished only behind Max Scherzer in total strikeouts with 239. In fact, his 10.7 K/9 rate was the highest of his career, though his 3.52 ERA and 3.50 FIP were career worsts. Even with two very un-deGrom-like starts last season in which he gave up 15 runs in two games, his 5.0 bWAR was the best on the team, and he ended up eighth in the Cy Young voting.
This offseason, deGrom and the Mets briefly discussed a contract extention but instead merely settled on a $7.4 million salary for this season to avoid arbitration. Considering the going rate for starting pitching, well, before this offseason at least, deGrom could be considered a bargain at that price. The Steamer projections have him pitching over 200 innings again and making 32 starts, whereas PECOTA is a little less optimistic and has him pitching 180 innings.
No matter the projections, deGrom has set lofty expectations for himself. He hopes to be the 2018 Cy Young Award winner and wants to lead the team back to the postseason. A healthy, dominant deGrom would certainly help in that regard, but he would have to do it without his signature flowing locks. It is possible the hair was just a silly superstition, but perhaps there was an advantage to having the long hair. At least one batter in the 2015 postseason found the hair distracting which made the baseball harder to pick up.
This season, having deGrom on the mound for another 200 innings would certainly bode well for the Mets, but he is still only one man and his rotation-mates will need to step up their game if this team is to contend.