The New York Mets broke through and gave pitcher Jacob deGrom some run support on Wednesday. DeGrom recorded 10 strikeouts against the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field for an 8-0 win. It was his first victory since June 18, and lowered his ERA to 1.77.
Despite having a 1.77 ERA, a National League leading 212 ERA+, an N.L. leading 2.20 FIP, fielding independent pitching and also leading the senior circuit with 0.5 home runs allowed per nine innings, deGrom is 6-7 for a Mets team that is in fourth place in the N.L. East. deGrom has baffled batters all season long, and the Mets have baffled the rest of us with their inability to score for him prior to Wednesday.
Does anybody out there still think pitchers should be judged by wins and losses? DeGrom is making $7.4 million this season, yet at times he couldn’t buy a win because of the run support he was getting. A legitimate N.L. Cy Young contender has a losing record despite hardly being at any fault at all.
Have you ever seen anything like this? After all, it’s hardly unprecedented for bad teams to have a pitcher who is having a good or a great season.
Shelby Miller probably wishes the Atlanta Braves were as good in 2015 as they are in 2018. In Miller’s first and only season with the team, he compiled a 3.02 ERA in 205.1 innings pitched and was also selected for the All Star Game. Despite this, his record was 6-17, and those 17 losses were the most in baseball, though he has been woeful in the desert from 2016 through this year with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Perhaps the one case that will probably draw the most attention to deGrom’s performance this year is that of Felix Hernandez, who won the 2010 American League Cy Young with a 13-12 record. I remember like it was yesterday that some fans were outraged that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America gave the top pitching award to somebody who was one game over .500, but his 2.27 ERA led all of baseball and he was a complete workhorse by leading the A.L. in games started (34) and innings pitched (249.2).
It’s hardly King Felix’s fault that the Mariners went 61-101 and hard the worst record in the A.L. Ironically, the M’s were lousy when Hernandez was arguably the best pitcher in the A.L. while the Mariners are contending for a Wild Card spot this year despite Hernandez’s numbers ballooning three years running.
Just think how many wins King Felix would have had if Seattle was competitive back then.
Yet deGrom’s case is Miller and Hernandez on steroids, because even though Miller got poor run support, his numbers weren’t as good as deGrom’s are this year. Hernandez had really good numbers, but at least he had a winning record despite pitching for the team he was on.
Even historically bad teams have not had this problem. Let’s get in that time machine and go back to 1972, when the Philadelphia Phillies won 59 games and Steve Carlton was the winning pitcher for 27 of them.
Yes, baseball was a bit different back then when somebody could win 27 games (deGrom and all of today’s pitchers must be envious of that) and toss an N.L. leading 346.1 innings that year. Good luck getting anywhere close to that today, but at least the Phils gave run support for their future Hall of Fame ace in what was one of the best seasons by a pitcher in the live ball era. It’s no surprise Carlton took home the N.L. Cy Young that season.
We can go even further back in time to 1951, when the hapless St. Louis Browns were 52-102, a far cry from 1944 when they flew their only pennant in team history, and lost in the World Series to the team they shared a city with, the St. Louis Cardinals.
Enter Ned Garver, a pitcher who was 28 games under .500 in his career and made only one All-Star team. Yet his teammates in St. Louis really clicked when he was on the mound. Garver went 20-12 for a Browns squad that lost 50 more games than they won and finished dead last in the American League. There was no Cy Young Award back then, but he did finish second behind Yogi Berra in the A.L. MVP voting.
Here’s another interesting dynamic when shaping the Cy Young debate. Will deGrom scoop up the top pitching prize in the N.L. this year even though he could potentially end the season with a losing record and end up with less than 10 wins?
If this was 1998 instead of 2018, forget about it. However, not only has the game changed, the perception of the game has changed as well, and that includes how we judge pitchers.
For those of you who were alive in 1990, you might remember the late Bob Welch won 27 games for the Oakland Athletics. Welch remains the last pitcher to win 25 games in a season, though Justin Verlander did win 24 in 2011. Welch earned the A.L. Cy Young that season following his 27 wins. Yet, Roger Clemens put up better numbers than Welch did in just about any other statistic you’d like to throw out there, and he won 21 games.
If something like this happened this year, who would be more likely to win the Cy Young, someone with a season like Welch, or someone with a season like Clemens? While we do not know the answer to that definitively, it’s far more likely now that someone with a season like the one Clemens had in 1990 would beat out someone who had the type of year Welch had.
Of course, we cannot immediately jump to the conclusion that wins are completely obsolete in the minds of some voters. Jake Arrieta won 22 games in 2015, and was the first Chicago Cubs pitcher to win the N.L. Cy Young since Hall of Famer Greg Maddux in 1992.
Was he, however, better than 19-game winner Zack Greinke? Greinke had the statistical advantage over Arrieta in quite a few areas. If Greinke won 22 that season and Arrieta won 19 and all the other numbers stayed the same, does the Cy Young outcome remain the same?
I’m inclined to think defining pitchers by wins and losses is a work in progress, though the voters have not completely shifted away from that dynamic yet. Aaron Nola has become a bonafide ace for a contending Phillies team, and Max Scherzer has a legitimate chance to win a third consecutive Cy Young.
Both of them have at least twice as many wins as deGrom does in addition to being fantastic in the other statistical categories as well. deGrom might be a legitimate contender for the award, but he has some stiff competition, and his situation is more extreme than that of Clemens in 1990, Hernandez in 2010 or Greinke in 2015. The 2014 N.L. Rookie of the Year might get passed up to add a Cy Young to that trophy case this year, all because his team has been struggling to go out there and win for him.
Speculation floated as to whether the Mets would move deGrom in July during the non-waiver trading deadline this season. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Multiple sources reported that deGrom’s agent, Brodie van Wagenen, told broadcaster and writer Ken Rosenthal in July that he wants the Mets either to trade deGrom, or sign him to a long-term deal.
That’s right. deGrom still hasn’t been locked up yet. He’s arbitration eligible once again after this season, and if the two parties do indeed go to arbitration, it would be an injustice if the arbitrator sided with the Mets.
If the Mets won’t give deGrom more wins, or a contender to be on, perhaps they should give him all the money he wants.
After all, deGrom and the Mets don’t deserve each other. He doesn’t deserve to have those kind of numbers and the win-loss record that he has, and the Mets don’t deserve a pitcher of deGrom’s caliber if they won’t keep giving him the adequate run support following Wednesday.
Contact Corey Stolzenbach at email@example.com