John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The number seemed symbolic somehow. For the first time since early May, Hyun-Jin Ryu's ERA started with a two rather than a one, thanks to the thumping the Yankees gave him on Friday night.
Barely two, that is, at in 2.00, but the jump in one game from 1.64 was significant, especially on a night when Jacob deGrom lowered his ERA to 2.56 and racked up 13 more strikeouts, raising his league-leading total to 207.
Bottom line, as hot as deGrom has been for several weeks, posting a 1.04 ERA since the All-Star break, it felt as if he still had quite a gap to close if he were going to pull off the spectacular feat of winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards.
After all, aside from all the other ways to measure pitching performance, there's something about a guy with a 1-something ERA that screams brilliance, as in the case of deGrom's 1.70 last season.
In this case, especially, it was vital to Ryu's case, since deGrom has better numbers in many other categories, from innings pitched to strikeouts to opposing batting average.
Suddenly, then, deGrom is right in this thing, even with only eight wins, as the Mets, like last season, rarely score many runs for him. If he hadn't hit a home run Friday night, in fact, he would have taken the loss rather than a no-decision.
So he's 8-7 with that 2.56 ERA that is fourth in the NL, behind Ryu, as well as Mike Soroka and Max Scherzer, who are each at 2.41. Either of those two have strong cases as well, though Scherzer's back injury has cost him in innings pitched and strikeouts, while the 22-year old Soroka is expected to have his innings curtailed as the Braves get closer to winning the NL East.
The shame of it for deGrom, meanwhile, is that he'd likely be the strong front runner again if he hadn't had those three starts in April, against the Twins, Braves, and Brewers when he was almost certainly tipping his pitches -- and gave up 14 runs in 13 innings.
In his other 23 starts this season, in fact, deGrom has pitched to a 1.93 ERA.
And while you can't assume he would have dominated in those starts under normal circumstances, it's worth remembering that he began the season with 13 straight scoreless innings over two starts -- and then put up seven more scoreless against the Reds on May 1 after the three pitch-tipping outings.
As I wrote in a column about a month ago, a source told me that someone in the Mets' organization became aware of how deGrom was tipping his pitches with his delivery during those three games and informed the ace righthander before that Reds' game on May 1.
And while deGrom wants to believe it was more about his mechanics at the time that caused him to leave too many pitches in the middle of the plate, he admitted to me that he had been made aware of what he was doing to let hitters know what was coming.
Since then he's gone back to being the best pitcher in the National League. And since voters proved last year that wins were no longer a determining factor, making him the unanimous Cy Young winner with an 11-10 record, his final six or so starts of the season could very well be crucial in repeating.
Which raises another intriguing question, should deGrom continue to pitch at such a high level for say, another five years: will Baseball Writers Association of America members eventually take a similar position when it comes to Hall of Fame voting?
The old standard of 300 wins for pitchers is long gone already, but only in the rarest of cases has a starter been voted in with fewer than 200 wins. The obvious outlier is Sandy Koufax, who retired due to injury after his age 30-season with a career record of 165-87, to go with a 2.76 ERA, not to mention three Cy Young Awards in his final four seasons.
deGrom, meanwhile, got a late start in the big leagues due mostly to needing Tommy John surgery as a minor-leaguer, and at age 31 he has a career record of 63-48 with a 2.65 ERA.
Suffice it to say that with decent run support and fewer bullpen failings on some bad teams, deGrom would have at least another 20 wins, but, in any case it's hard to see him even getting to Koufax's total of 165, never mind 200.
In truth, that shouldn't matter, as voters recognize that pitching brilliance isn't necessarily reflected in wins, especially these days when starters are so limited by pitch count that they almost never go beyond seven innings.
But I do wonder if voters will cling to a Hall of Fame standard of some sort, even 10-15 years from now.
In any case, deGrom is miles from putting himself into the middle of that discussion. Yet the way he's pitching, backing up his Cy Young Award with more dominance, it's not at all far-fetched to think he could do it.
In that case, a second straight Cy Young Award would be a nice accomplishment to have on the resume, to say the least.
We'll see. In some ways it might still be Ryu's to lose, even if deGrom has more impressive peripheral numbers. If the Dodgers' lefty gets that ERA back under two, I think that goes along way toward winning over the voters.
If he doesn't, perhaps deGrom will have the Yankees to thank for helping him go back-to-back.