Regardless of where you stand on the value of a pitcher’s wins, Wednesday was a critical afternoon for Jacob deGrom’s Cy Young chances. In addition to the 10 strikeouts, and the masterful deGrom lowering his ERA to 1.77, it was almost equally important that the Mets came away with a 8-0 victory over the Reds at Citi Field.
Because if deGrom remains in a tight race with the Nationals’ Max Scherzer over the next two months -- and that certainly is the expectation -- padding the resume with a few more Ws is probably going to be necessary, even among the most progressive voters of the BBWAA electorate.
As astounding as it is, deGrom improved to only 6-7 with his first win since June 18, a stretch of eight starts. Scherzer stands at 15-5. And with each of them in line for another 10 starts or so, we’d suggest -- if other numbers like strikeouts and innings remain similar -- that deGrom has to reach double-digits while Scherzer has to stay south of 20, a magic threshold for pitchers.
The precedent for this is 2010, when the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez finished 13-12, yet beat out the Rays’ David Price (19-6), the Yankees’ CC Sabathia (21-7) and Jon Lester (19-9) for the AL award. King Felix ruled on the strength of a 2.27 ERA that was almost a half-run better than Price and nearly a full run below everyone else. Hernandez also had the most innings (249.2) and his 232 strikeouts were second only to the Angels’ Jered Weaver (233).
That’s the kind of competition it’s going to be this year with Scherzer, with possibly the Phillies’ Aaron Nola coming hard on the outside, and why it was essential for deGrom to right himself after some early trouble Wednesday against the weakling Reds. There’s not going to be any margin for error against a three-time Cy winner like Scherzer, who currently has a 2.28 ERA -- and a superior (if underachieving) team backing him. Even with the Mets playing out the string, deGrom has faced the constant anxiety of walking a tightrope, which can be more impressive than straight-up dominance with the occasional cushion.
“I think it definitely is,” Mickey Callaway said. “Almost every game he’s pitched in, one pitch can cost him the game. Now, Jacob is so relaxed, he might not feel the stress of those, but I would have to think that every time a runner gets in scoring position, or every time a home run hitter comes up, that he steps on the gas just a tad more to make sure he doesn’t even give up one run.”
Maybe it’s crazy to think this during early August, but deGrom’s Cy bid appeared to be on the ropes Wednesday in the first inning when he allowed a pair of one-out singles. He escaped, of course, first with a strikeout of Eugenio Suarez and then catching a break as the Reds’ attempt at stealing a run backfired when Scooter Gennett got himself thrown out rather than initiating a rundown.
Beyond that, the only thing that threatened deGrom was an escalating pitch count, as he piled up 60 through three innings. Soon after, he pumped the brakes, slowing it to 87 through five, and used No. 100 -- his final pitch of the day -- to whiff Gennett to end the sixth. The Cy Young has to be on his radar, but deGrom is playing it cool.
"Yeah, I would like to win one,” deGrom said. “But I haven’t kept track of it.”
That’s what we’re here for, Jake. And for those wondering how these votes usually go, it’s best to primarily keep an eye on ERA, strikeouts and total innings before going to the next level for the other statistics. In deGrom’s case, the more numbers crunched -- aside from wins -- is most likely going to be to his advantage. The BBWAA uses two members from each MLB city as voters for each award, so that means an electorate of 30 will list their top five pitchers, in order, for the NL Cy Young.
Like a jury selection, the prejudices of those voters will come into play. Do they value wins? How much does pitching in a playoff race count? Or will “run prevention,” as Callaway stressed, outweigh the other categories?
“I just control what I can control,” deGrom said.
His next opportunity comes Monday night, at Yankee Stadium, for ESPN’s primetime audience. The perfect stage for deGrom to further push his Cy Young campaign.