In her Jacob deGrom series preview before everything went to hell, Maggie Wiggin called the reigning two-time Cy Young Award winner “the twice and future king”. I can’t sum things up better than she did in her preview, and I would encourage everyone to give it a read. There’s not much more that needs to be said about deGrom.
The post went up one day before baseball was indefinitely shut down, and the sport is only now starting to ramp up for a season that is scheduled in a few days. There’s a lot of uncertainty heading into an abbreviated 60-game season, but one thing is for certain: deGrom will take the mound on Opening Day on July 24 as the best starting pitcher in baseball. He’s earned that title after decisively winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards on the back of two of the best-pitched seasons in franchise history, and he’s done it in a simple and almost understated way.
Jake earned his most recent award with a stellar 2.43 ERA and a 2.67 FIP—not quite his historic 1.70 ERA and 1.98 FIP from 2018, but it would certainly do—while finishing with a 7.0 fWAR over his 32 starts. While he wasn’t as dominant from start to finish as he was in his previous award-winning campaign, what made his 2019 arguably more impressive is that he got off to a rougher-than-anticipated start by his standards and figured things out en route to another masterful display of pitching dominance.
It’s easy to forget that deGrom ended April 2019 with a 4.85 ERA and, after a terrible start against the Marlins in Miami on May 17, he was sporting a rather pedestrian 3.98 ERA along with a 3.37 FIP, and 1.17 WHIP through 52.0 innings. With people questioning whether the reigning Cy Young Award winner was just not going to match the brilliance fans came to expect after his 2018 season, Jake got to work to quell any of those worries.
After allowing at least five earned runs in three starts to that point in the season, he never allowed more than four earned runs from that point forward, and had 11 starts in which he went at least seven innings and allowed two earned runs or fewer. From that point forward, he posted a 1.89 ERA, a 2.44 FIP, a 0.90 WHIP, a 32.2% K%, a 5.1% BB%, and a 0.7 HR/9 in 152.0 innings. When play resumes, he will enter with 23 consecutive scoreless innings after ending the year with three straight starts of seven shutout innings.
Two things have changed since Maggie’s preview. The first is that the universal DH has been implemented, so deGrom will not get a chance to help himself with the bat. A lot has been made about the noticeable lack of run support the team has provided deGrom during his two prior seasons. While fans have long lamented that fact, the ace has never complained about it despite being completely justified. By pitchers’ standards, deGrom was cromulent at the plate, with a .200/.246/.323 slash line along with two homers, six runs batted in, and a 52 wRC+.
Jake always seemed to have to help his own cause, and had several moments were he contributed at the plate amidst a lack of offense generated by the lineup put together to support him. In one case in a late-August match against the Braves, his solo home run was the lone offense over 14 innings in a back-breaking loss that started the team’s slide out of the playoff race. It’ll be at least another year until fans get to see deGrom at the plate again, and his home run against Atlanta may end up being the last homer hit by a Mets pitcher should the universal DH become permanent MLB law moving forward.
The second thing is of much more consequence to the team’s chances in 2020. Right around the time MLB had announced its plans to indefinitely suspend the start of the season, the team revealed that Noah Syndergaard would have Tommy John Surgery. By all accounts, the surgery was successful, and Thor continues to rehab, but he is out for the remainder of the season and possibly the start of next season as well. This puts added emphasis on every deGrom start throughout the year and makes the team’s rotation seem thinner than usual. The Mets will need to essentially win as many deGrom starts as possible in a shortened season, and any missteps, be it bullpen meltdown, offensive outage, or the occasional deGrom misstep, could be more hurtful than usual. However, there’s no reason to think deGrom won’t meet the challenge in Syndergaard’s absence.
From early Summer Camp workouts videos, deGrom looks as to be in midseason form, which should surprise nobody. Despite a brief scare with back tightness in the second half of summer camp, deGrom looks ready to go this Friday after throwing 60 pitches in a simulated game on Sunday, which is the best news the Mets could get.
Anyone who has watched the ace since he debuted with a Rookie of the Year-winning 2014 campaign knows how good he is and how good he can be. The two-time Cy Young award winner is now 32 years old, but given his pitching style and his recent output, there’s no reason to think he will be hitting his decline any time soon. There’s certainly no reason to think we won’t see deGrom at his peak yet again this year, albeit in much smaller doses than we ideally would have liked. While a lot remains uncertain these days, deGrom’s greatness is a constant.