Jacob deGrom was so consistent and earnest in his claim that before long it seemed genuine: No, he said, he was not aware of whatever historical feat he accomplished in his latest start.
Twenty-nine consecutive starts allowing three runs or fewer, a major-league single-season record? That was news to the Mets’ righthanded ace. Same goes for his 24 straight quality starts, also a single-season high, along with the litany of other achievements that meant his name was frequently found alongside Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden, the best pitchers in Mets history.
On Wednesday, deGrom will look to add one more record to the list: fewest wins by a Cy Young Award winner. The NL and AL Cy Young honorees will be announced during an hourlong MLB Network special beginning at 6 p.m.
Seattle’s Felix Hernandez had 13 wins during his Cy season in 2010. This year, deGrom went 10-9 with a 1.70 ERA, a wildly unlucky season for the degree to which the Mets' offense and bullpen failed to support him, driving a baseball-wide conversation about what a pitcher’s record means and which ways are the best to measure his effectiveness.
DeGrom, Washington’s Max Scherzer and Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola are the finalists for the NL Cy Young, which like the sport’s other major awards is voted on by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Two BBWAA members from each of the 15 NL cities had ballots for a total of 30 votes, submitted after the regular season and before the playoffs. Last week, the top three vote-getters were named finalists.
Scherzer and Nola bested deGrom in the wins category but fell short in most others — most of those that matter most.
Scherzer led the NL with 18 wins, but had a 2.53 ERA. Put another way, Scherzer — who led baseball with 220 2/3 innings, 3 2/3 more than deGrom — would have had to throw more than 100 additional scoreless innings to match deGrom’s ERA, the best in baseball.
Nola was right behind Scherzer with 17 wins to go with his 2.37 ERA.
Here’s how the pitchers compare on various other metrics.
FIP: deGrom (1.99), Scherzer (2.65), Nola (3.01).
WHIP: Scherzer (0.911), deGrom (0.912), Nola (0.975).
Strikeouts: Scherzer (300), deGrom (269), Nola (224).
Strikeout percentage: Scherzer (34.6), deGrom (32.2), Nola (27.0).
Opponents’ average: Scherzer (.187), deGrom (.194), Nola (.195).
Opponents’ slugging percentage: deGrom (.277), Nola (.311), Scherzer (.332).
It’s ERA — and similar statistics such as Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and Deserved Run Average (DRA) — that matter most to manager Mickey Callaway, who in repeatedly making deGrom’s Cy Young case during the second half of the season framed a pitcher’s job not in terms of winning games, as W-L record suggests, but in terms of run prevention.
“DeGrom has been so much better than everyone else at preventing runs,” Callaway said in August. “I mean way better. For him to prevent runs like he’s doing at this rate, it’s almost historic...I think at this point run prevention is everything, and that should probably be accounted for more than anything else.”
The Cy Young announcement comes as speculation about a potential deGrom contract extension heats up again. New general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, formerly deGrom’s agent, said last week that the Mets and deGrom, who is under team control for two more seasons, had not engaged in serious contract talks. If and when the parties do get to that stage, Van Wagenen is contractually obligated to recuse himself from negotiations because of his previous relationship with deGrom.
“Outside of just an expression of interest, which has been consistent, we have not gone down to the point where we would be exchanging proposals,” Van Wagenen said.
Either way, an extension will cost the Mets more now than it would have in July, before deGrom turned it up a notch and when Van Wagenen said the Mets should sign deGrom or look to trade him.
After the All-Star break, deGrom had a 1.73 ERA (1.68 in the first half) and 0.83 WHIP (0.97 in the first half). After his last start of the season, when he finally took the blinders off and the magnitude of what he had done started to set in, deGrom acknowledged in his usual understated way that he impressed even himself.
“Looking back now,” deGrom said, “I guess it’s kind of crazy that there wasn’t really a hiccup.”