Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Not even Tom Seaver won back-to-back Cy Young Awards, so perhaps that gives you an idea of how difficult it is to achieve what Jacob deGrom just might do by the end of this season.
But while the Mets ace has been masterful -- again -- this year, he's not as clearly the best pitcher in the National League the way he was in 2018. The rest of his season, beginning with his start Friday night in Cincinnati, will have a massive impact on whether deGrom hoists another trophy.
In taking a look at how he can get it done, let's start with this: deGrom is in terrific shape in this race. He leads the NL in multiple important categories -- strikeouts, WHIP, bWAR and lowest opponent OPS. He's second in FIP (fielding independent pitching), third in ERA and fifth in both innings and ERA-plus.
Sounds great, right? But there are other aces lurking. Max Scherzer -- duh -- has been tremendous again and leads in FIP and strikeouts per nine innings and is second in bWAR.
But injuries have limited Scherzer to the point where he started Friday just 23rdin the NL in innings pitched at 166.1, 23.2 fewer than deGrom.
Atlanta rookie Mike Soroka, who is tied for the NL lead in ERA-plus, could be a factor; so could Scherzer's teammate, Stephen Strasburg, who is 17-6, sits second in strikeouts and third in innings. Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers, who threatened to run away with the award earlier in this season, still leads by a lot in ERA (2.35) and is tied for first in ERA-plus.
And the pitcher who made Yankee fans cringe over the past couple of years is showing why GM Brian Cashman coveted him. But he's doing it in a Reds uniform. Sonny Gray, the one the Yanks sent away, is in the mix, too. He's limited hitters to an NL-best .196 average, is fourth in ERA, ERA-plus and bWAR.
It's a crowded field and it would be even more crowded if St. Louis wunderkind Jack Flaherty would've gotten rolling earlier. He's been one of the best pitchers in baseball for months -- he has a 1.07 ERA since July -- trimming his ERA by nearly two runs in that span to 2.96.
So with all that in mind, plus the pressure of the Mets' Wild Card hopes swirling, too, the best possible road map for deGrom to win another Cy Young is, well, just do what he's done remarkably well in his career: Be consistent.
If deGrom keeps doing what he's done lately, he will be tough to beat.
Since May 22, deGrom has the best ERA in baseball -- 2.09. He has thrown at least seven innings in six consecutive starts and 10-of-11. And innings, as we'll get to in a moment, matter.
His 9-8 won-loss record certainly isn't as shiny as Strasburg's or even Scherzer's 10-7 mark. But voters from the Baseball Writer's Association of America proved last year it doesn't really matter anymore.
Bet deGrom could finish the year with two great outings in 1-0 losses and still get enough votes. Hey, that's not an unreasonable scenario -- as well as deGrom has pitched all year, the Mets have only won 12 of deGrom's 30 starts this season.
But delivering distance might enhance his chances. Since 2000, the NL Cy Young Award winner has been in the top 10 in MLB in innings 15 times. DeGrom is 14th in baseball in innings going into Friday.
If Scherzer is his primary competition, a bigger innings advantage can only help. Still, that doesn't bring a guarantee, either: Justin Verlander threw 33.1 innings more than Blake Snell last year, but Snell won the AL Cy Young with only 180.2 innings pitched.
Before that, no starting pitcher had won a Cy Young in a non-strike year throwing fewer than the 198.1 innings Clayton Kershaw delivered in 2014.
To be safe, though, two more seven-inning starts would certainly elevate deGrom. What if he allowed two earned runs in one of them and just one in the other? That would give him a 2.56 ERA at the end of the season, likely right in the mix where he is now, third.
DeGrom is striking out 11.32 batters per nine innings, second behind Scherzer (12.61). Let's say deGrom does slightly better in his final two starts, getting 18 total punchouts. That would give him 257 total, only 12 fewer than last year. Might be enough for him to lead the NL, too.
So what if deGrom finishes with a -- gulp -- 10-9 record, just like last year? He probably won't get 29 of 30 first-place votes again. But if he maintains his leads in WHIP, bWAR and strikeouts, he just might do something that no Mets has ever done -- win back-to-back Cy Young Awards.