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Jacob deGrom looks to continue his reign as the best pitcher in baseball

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He’s had one of the best stretches of extended success in Mets history. How long can it last?

MLB: MAR 21 Spring Training - Mets at Nationals Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Fun fact: There are ten pitchers who have won three or more Cy Young awards in their career. Among that group, nine of them either have been voted into the Hall of Fame, or in the case of Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer, they almost certainly will be once their playing days are over. The one exception on this list is Roger Clemens, and his exclusion from the Hall has nothing to do with his on-field performance.

Mind you, the list of players with a mere two Cy Young wins isn’t too shabby, either—Bob Gibson, Gaylord Perry, Tom Glavine, and Justin Verlander are on it—but the trendline is clear: If you win three Cy Young awards, you’ve pretty much cemented your place as one of the all-time greats.

Jacob deGrom came into the 2020 season on the winds of back-to-back Cy Young campaigns, and he came pretty damn close to notching his third straight win and joining that elusive company. In the shortened season, the Mets’ ace was just as dominant as he’d been the previous two seasons, putting up a 2.38 ERA over 68 innings in 12 starts and racking up a mind-boggling 104 strikeouts (or 13.8 K/9). He ended up finishing in third place for the award behind Trevor Bauer and Yu Darvish, but both of those two had the benefit of pitching in the incredibly mediocre National League Central division and primarily facing weak offensive teams. Had it been a normal 162-game schedule, there’s every reason to believe that deGrom might have been able to pull away from the rest of the field over the remainder of the season and claim the award once again.

Instead, deGrom will look to reclaim his title as he leads the Mets’ rotation into a hopefully more normal 2021 season. And given the utter dominance that we’ve seen from him over and over again, it’s pretty hard to bet against him at this point.

Frankly, it’s hard to find a new angle to talk about what deGrom has done over the past few years beyond just recounting the stats and being bewildered all over again at just how much he has dominated. Since 2018, he leads the major leagues in fWAR (18.7), innings pitched (489), ERA (2.10), FIP (2.31), ERA- (52), and WPA (11.04). Look up just about any other relevant stat (strikeouts, WHIP, K-BB%, etc.), and you’ll see his name in the top five. By any objective measure, he has been the best pitcher in baseball over that time span, the kind of performer that makes statheads and purists alike drool.

And of course, the stats still don’t tell the whole story. Any of us who have been lucky enough to watch him over these past few years have seen the kind of electricity and excitement that his performances bring night in and night out. In recent history, Mets fans have seen flashes of that kind of dominance—Johan Santana in 2008, R.A. Dickey in 2012 season, Matt Harvey in 2013 season—but it typically hasn’t lasted very long. What makes deGrom special is not just that he’s shown this kind of excellence, but that he’s done it over such an extended period of time. It is that consistency more than anything else that has vaulted deGrom up towards the top of all-time Mets pitchers—an impressive feat, considering the pitching-rich history that this franchise has.

And now we all wait to see what 2021 has in store for deGrom. We have every reason to believe that his own performance will continue to be elite, but it remains to be seen what the players behind him will do. While deGrom has famously suffered from a lack of offensive and defensive support from his teammates over the past few years, the additions that the Mets made over the offseason—including adding a quality veteran catcher for him to throw to and a premium defensive shortstop to play behind him—will hopefully make that a thing of the past. Indeed, while pitching wins may be pointless in trying to determine a pitcher’s overall levels of production, they do still carry some sentimental value, and it would be incredibly satisfying for fans and deGrom alike to see him rack up 15-20 wins instead of clawing just to reach double digits like he did during his two Cy Young seasons. Beyond the sentimental value, of course, they would also help him on his quest for a third Cy Young, which—as mentioned—would make his case for an eventual entry into the Hall of Fame an incredibly strong one.

The question now becomes how long we can expect deGrom’s reign of absolute dominance to continue. He is set to turn 33 in June this year, and the number of pitchers at that age who dominate the league at a level even close to what he has done over the past few years is incredibly small. And yet, it’s hard to say that we’ve seen any signs of an impending decline here—if anything, his stuff has only gotten better with age. It’s been well documented that deGrom’s velocity has seen an unprecedented increase in velocity as he’s gotten older, which makes it difficult to say where exactly he is on the aging curve. Of course, this trend won’t continue forever—Father Time eventually comes for all of us, and it will eventually come for deGrom. But the early signs from camp are that he is looking just as dominant as ever, so it seems unlikely that the decline is going to come this year. And some of the other pitchers from this generation who deGrom will hopefully be joining in the Hall of Fame down the line—such as Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander—have been able to maintain their ace-level production well into their thirties. We’ve often seen deGrom put up excellent lines even when he doesn’t have his best stuff on a particular day thanks to his advanced pitching intelligence and savviness, so who’s to say he can’t also continue to be a strong pitcher even when the pure tools and velocity begin to slightly decline?

With any luck, deGrom still has a number of years left as one of the better starting pitchers in this league. And with any luck, he will spend all of those years with the Mets. While he does have an opt-out after the 2022 season, deGrom has already stated his desire to spend his entire career with the organization. Of course, many players will throw out that same line when talking to the media and sing a different tune when contract negotiations roll around, but with Steve Cohen and his endless piles of money now being the one signing the checks, it’s hard to imagine that it would be too difficult to reach a new deal that would satisfy all parties.

But that is likely a concern for sometime after this season. For now, deGrom will focus on maintaining his current levels of excellence, leading the Mets to a postseason berth, competing for his third straight Cy Young award, and continuing his reign as both the best pitcher in baseball and one of the greatest players in franchise history. And Mets fans should continue to feel incredibly blessed that they get the opportunity to watch him do it.