Through his first three starts of 2021, Jacob deGrom has somehow looked even better than he ever did before, a remarkable feat considering that he had already established himself as the best pitcher in baseball. deGrom’s numbers to start this year are downright silly: 20.0 innings, 35 strikeouts, 3 walks, 0.45 ERA, 1.41 FIP, 15.75 K/9, 48.6 K%, and an 872 ERA+. During his start on Saturday, deGrom struck out nine batters in a row, coming up one shy of Tom Seaver’s record of ten in a row. And in terms of ERA, it helps that all three runs that deGrom allowed in that start were unearned thanks to a Jeff McNeil error.
For the vast majority of pitchers out there, it would also be silly to see three starts worth of stats and think “time to fire up the tracker,” but deGrom is not the vast majority of pitchers. Even when he struggled a little out of the gate in 2019, with a 4.85 ERA through the end of April that year, he wound up pitching so well the rest of the way that he grabbed his second consecutive Cy Young.
So let’s start the process of seeing where deGrom ranks among his peers as the season goes along while also comparing his numbers to some of the greatest pitching seasons in Mets history, one of which already belongs to him.
Among qualified starting pitchers, deGrom’s 0.45 ERA is the best in the National League and the best in baseball. Two pitchers are particularly close, with Joe Musgrove sitting at 0.47 and Corbin Burnes at 0.49. Three other pitchers are in the sub-1.00 ERA club at the moment: Tyler Glasnow at 0.73, fellow Mets starter Marcus Stroman at 0.89, and Lance Lynn at 0.92.
By FIP, deGrom ranks second in the National League and fifth in all of baseball with a 1.35. Only Burnes is ahead of him in that metric in the National League, thanks in large part to the fact that he literally hasn’t walked anyone yet. There’s a very long way to go, and there are a lot of good pitchers out there. But in the very early going, Burnes looks like the one pitcher in the league who might be on deGrom’s level.
In Mets history
With the bar set incredibly high by deGrom himself, let’s compare his seasons to the three others in Mets history in which a pitcher finished the year with a sub-2.00 ERA: Dwight Gooden’s 1985, deGrom’s 2018, and Tom Seaver’s 1971. Ironically, Seaver’s season was the only one of those three that did not result in a Cy Young, as he lost out on the award to Fergie Jenkins, who had an ERA a full run higher than Seaver and fewer strikeouts despite having thrown just shy of forty innings more than Seaver.
Through three starts
The fact that deGrom compares so favorably to those three seasons is impressive. deGrom won’t keep pace with Seaver and Gooden in innings pitched, as they threw 286.1 and 276.2 innings respectively in their seasons. But thanks to back-to-back 14-strikeout starts, he still has an edge here in terms of strikeouts.
deGrom would need to maintain his gaudy strikeout numbers for a while to really start thinking about it, but Seaver’s 289 strikeouts in 1971 is the Mets’ franchise record for a single season. deGrom’s high is 269 in 2018, but he did finish the short 2020 season with 104 strikeouts in just 68.0 innings of work. Combined with what he’s done so far this year, he’s been striking out hitters at a rate that would give him a real chance at breaking Seaver’s franchise record.