Jacob deGrom’s historic start to 2021 season once again sparks MVP debate

By Cameron DaSilva | Posted 3 years ago

If you were to poll 100 baseball fans and ask who the best pitcher in the league is, at least 75% would probably say Jacob deGrom. Not only is he the ace of all aces, but his performance this season has been remarkably impressive.

After pitching six shutout innings of two-hit ball with eight strikeouts against the Diamondbacks on Monday, deGrom (4-2) closed out the first two months in historic fashion. He owns an ERA of 0.71, the lowest through the month of May since 1964 when Chris Short held a 0.64 ERA in 1964.

He hasn’t allowed more than one run in a single start, has three games with at least 14 strikeouts and his shortest outing is five innings, which he’s done twice. Incredibly, he’s only allowed four earned runs in 51 innings, with a WHIP of just 0.57.

It continues a trend of the New York Mets ace absolutely breezing through opposing lineups, which he’s done for the last four years, posting a sub-2.50 ERA in each season since 2018.

deGrom has never won National League MVP, but if there’s been a year for him to take home the hardware, it might be 2021. The two-time Cy Young Award winner has a strong case as the league’s Most Valuable Player this year, helping keep an injury-riddled Mets team afloat in his eight starts so.

Unfortunately, deGrom faces some stiff competition in the NL, with Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuna, Nolan Arenado and Bryce Harper all putting together stellar seasons. And pre-season betting favorites Mookie Betts and Juan Soto still have time to make a push, too.

Clayton Kershaw is the last pitcher to win NL MVP in 2014, the only pitcher since 1969. That’s the type of company deGrom is trying to join if he continues to stifle opposing lineups the way he has through his first eight starts. He undoubtedly has a steep climb, especially with the lack of help he’s gotten. There’s no reason he should have two losses after holding opponents to one or fewer runs in each start.

It’s par for the course with deGrom, though. It’s been the story of his career, consistently throwing quality starts (six innings and three or fewer runs) but failing to rack up wins.

Despite the Mets’ struggles in the last eight years, deGrom has had a phenomenal career. He’s gone 74-53 in 191 starts, pitching four complete games, two shutouts and 1,441 strikeouts in

1,220 innings. Those numbers are obviously impressive, but it’s hard not to think about how much better they could’ve been if not for a lack of support.

There isn't a pitcher in baseball in the last 10 years who has gotten less out of his dominant performances than deGrom has in New York. Consider this: deGrom has made 23 starts where he pitched at least seven innings, gave up no more than one earned run and struck out at least 10 batters. The Mets somehow lost seven of those games, scoring either one run or being shut out six times.

And when deGrom struggles, which is rare, the Mets don’t pick him up and give him a chance to win.

Up to this point, deGrom has had 16 starts where he pitched at least five innings and allowed at least four earned runs. That hasn’t happened since 2019. Yet, in all but four of those games, the Mets lost. That’s right, they’re 4-12 in games when deGrom allows at least four runs in five innings or more.

His personal record in those starts is 2-9. It’s not a perfect comparison, but in Rick Porcello’s Cy Young season in 2016, he had six such starts of five-plus innings with four or more earned runs allowed. The Red Sox were 3-3 in those games, and Porcello had a record of 2-1.

Wins aren’t everything for a starter, but that statistic does matter, especially in the Hall of Fame conversation. In 29 of his 191 career starts, deGrom has gone at least six innings, allowed one run or fewer and come away with the no-decision. The Mets are 14-15, with six of their wins coming by only one run.

If deGrom gets the win in half of those games, he improves his record significantly, giving him 88 career wins in less than eight full seasons. Both the bullpen and the bats have failed deGrom countless times.

At 32 years old, deGrom has plenty of good years ahead of him. But he shouldn’t be expected to pitch 18-20 seasons of Cy Young-caliber ball. If he pitches the way he has up to this point for another five or six years, though, he’s going to make a push for Cooperstown. In Baseball Reference’s database, only three pitchers have more games with eight strikeouts, no walks and no runs allowed than deGrom’s 11: Randy Johnson (15), Pedro Martinez (12) and Clayton Kershaw (12).

His 2.529 career ERA is second-lowest among all active players, behind only Kershaw, and ranks 47th in MLB history – including relief pitchers. He averages 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings, which puts him fourth all-time in league history.

What’s working against deGrom is his age. Kershaw is 33 years old and has 14 years of experience. He has a career WAR (wins above replacement) of 68.3, tied with Zack Greinke, who’s 37 and has pitched 18 years in MLB.

deGrom is almost 33 and has a WAR of 38.8. So, he’s basically the same age as Kershaw but has a WAR significantly lower and has pitched a little more than half the number of seasons as the Dodgers’ ace.

There’s still a long way to go before deGrom has a legitimate case for the Hall of Fame, but his current trajectory puts him on that path to Cooperstown.

There isn't a pitcher who strikes more fear into batters and deGrom has never pitched better. He just needs the rest of the team to give him some support, hopefully getting him to 20 wins for the first time in his career.

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