We routinely talk about Jacob deGrom as the heir to Tom Seaver with the New York Mets … and rightly so. But even Seaver didn’t have to work this hard to get a win — and that means before his team became the Miracle Mets of 1969.
Tom Verducci wrote the other day that deGrom isn’t the most hard-luck pitcher in the world. He pointed out that Clayton Kershaw has pitched more often with two runs of support or fewer — and there are other pitchers in baseball who get less runs to work with than deGrom does with the Mets. All true and all good.
But there has never been a pitcher as good as deGrom has been over the past few years — when he has consistently been the best pitcher in baseball, winning two National League Cy Young Awards (and nearly a third) and routinely throwing 100 mph fastballs — who has run into the combination of low run support and lack of bullpen help deGrom has. And that is a fact.
Truly, nobody as good as deGrom has ever really had to work this hard to get a stinking win.
He was the losing pitcher on Saturday against the Marlins on a day in which he pitched eight innings, gave up five hits, struck out 14 and allowed a single run. All it made him in the end was a losing pitcher — because the Mets eventually ended up falling to Don Mattingly’s Marlins, 3-0. Against the Phillies in his first start of the season, deGrom threw six scoreless innings, was pulled after 77 pitches and watched as the Mets’ bullpen coughed up another game that he started. He has now given up eight hits on the season, struck out 21 batters over 14 innings and owns an earned run average of 0.64.
All he has to show for it is an 0-1 record.
After Saturday’s game, I asked Marlins manager Don Mattingly just how good he thinks deGrom is, as he measures him against other great pitchers he has seen across his baseball life.
“It doesn’t matter when he would have pitched,” Mattingly said. “This guy is good anytime. Pick any era.”
And deGrom’s manager, Luis Rojas put it this way:
“An outing like that, you could call it a waste.”
It seems to happen all the time with deGrom, who — despite his excellence, the two Cy Youngs and a third-place finish in the voting last year — has a 25-20 record going back to 2018, his first Cy Young season. Over that span, he had a 1.70 ERA the first year, then 2.43, followed by 2.38.
So far in 2021, he has the dazzling numbers we’ve already talked about. The Mets lost both games. In 2020, the Mets lost four of the 12 games deGrom started — and he posted quality starts (at least six innings, three earned runs or fewer) in three of those four games. In 2019, there were an amazing 18 Mets losses in deGrom’s 32 starts — in what was his second Cy Young season — as he posted a quality start in 10 of those 18 defeats.
It is as if deGrom’s dazzling talent being tied to an outrageous lack of good results is running on some kind of continuous loop for the Mets and their fans. You saw what happened in the Super Bowl when the Chiefs couldn’t block for Patrick Mahomes, a dazzling talent himself. The Mets rarely give deGrom enough blocking — while he still has the ball as well as after he leaves. The only surprise on Saturday was that deGrom wasn’t ahead 1-0 when Edwin Díaz gave up those two Marlins runs in the top of the ninth.
There are other pitching stars right now in baseball. Not one of them has been better than deGrom has been over the last three-plus seasons. He absolutely has a right to talk about wanting to make the Hall of Fame someday. But this really is what it would have been like if Seaver had to struggle this hard to get a win. Or Koufax. Or anybody. It’s about more than just lack of run support … and everybody who has watched deGrom knows it.
Starting in 2018, the Mets are 36-42 in deGrom’s 78 starts. In those 42 losses, deGrom has turned in 31 quality starts.
When it was over on Saturday, deGrom took the high road the way he always does — win, lose or no-decision.
“Their guy was really good on the mound, he didn’t make many mistakes,” said deGrom. “… That’s part of baseball. … Today, we just got beat.”
It happens this way a lot for him. We live in a time in baseball when we’re told wins for starting pitchers don’t matter as much as they once did. You know they matter to Jacob deGrom, an ace who keeps finding himself in a hole.