Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
We all know what we see when Mets ace Jacob deGrom pitches -- nuclear stuff delivered with competitive fire and brains from someone who just might be baseball's best pitcher.
"If he's not, he's certainly in that conversation," says Hall of Famer Tom Glavine, the former Braves and Mets lefty who won 305 games in his career.
And if deGrom wins his second consecutive NL Cy Young Award -- the voting results will be announced Wednesday evening and he is the favorite -- he'll get a different kind of next-level career validation, one that few pitchers in baseball history have enjoyed.
Only 19 pitchers own more than one Cy Young Award, a select group that includes some of the best hurlers in baseball history.
"The first one, obviously, is a big deal," said Glavine, who won with Atlanta in 1991 and 1998. "There's a certain wow factor when you win a Cy, knowing the company you're in. The big thing with the second one, it really makes it more exclusive company.
"When you win one, I don't want to say anybody can have a good year, but it's one great year. When you do it a second time, it just speaks to the consistency.
"With Jake, if he wins a second one, that takes him from 'OK, I'm not surprised he won one, with his stuff,' to 'This guy is great.'"
Added Bret Saberhagen, who won the AL Cy Young Award in both 1985 and 1989 for the Kansas City Royals: "The second one almost defines someone, to say it (the first one) is not a fluke. It says the pitcher is a good, quality guy and pitcher and he's put in his time and put in his effort."
The list of multiple winners is a Who's Who of modern pitching excellence (the award started in 1956). Roger Clemens won seven Cy Youngs and Randy Johnson has five. Steve Carlton and Greg Maddux have four apiece and six others have three: Tom Seaver, Sandy Koufax, Clayton Kershaw, Pedro Martinez, Jim Palmer and Max Scherzer, who is a finalist for this year's award along with Hyun-Jin Ryu.
With deGrom's prime kicking into a different stratosphere the past two seasons, there's no telling where he could rate among these elite pitchers. He's only 31.
If deGrom nabs his second Cy Young, he'll have as many as Hall of Famers Glavine, Bob Gibson, Roy Halladay and Gaylord Perry.
Only eight of the pitchers who have won two or more Cy Youngs are not enshrined in Cooperstown. Kershaw, Scherzer and Corey Kluber are still active. Tim Lincecum hasn't hit the Hall of Fame ballot yet. Clemens has been on the ballot since 2013, but has not gained election because of links to PEDs.
Saberhagen, whose career was marred by shoulder injuries, Johan Santana and Denny McLain did not get elected in balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
DeGrom would be only the 11 pitcher to win the Cy Young Award in back-to-back years, including Clemens, who did it twice.
Saberhagen won his first Cy Young at age 21. He initially thought he'd lose the award to Ron Guidry of the Yankees, who was 22-6 with a 3.27 ERA and had already won in 1978. "I just assumed they were going to give it to Guidry because he was a veteran, established pitcher," said Saberhagen, who was 20-6 with a 2.87 ERA. "We had very similar numbers. I was very pleased I got it."
But, Saberhagen says, he learned a painful lesson the next season.
"I came out that following year trying to prove to everybody I was worthy of what I had achieved," he said. "I came out too soon throwing the ball in spring training and had a dismal 1986. I was trying for too much too soon. I had tendinitis and the arm never got to 100 percent that year.
"After that, I went back to what I normally do, working hard, but not trying to impress anybody. Doing my job."
Glavine recalls feeling that his first award was a culmination of work he'd done to refine his pitching. He knew he needed an off-speed pitch to rely on, so he developed a changeup that became an any-count weapon for him. He also developed the grit that allowed him to thrive even if all his pitches weren't perfect.
"In '91, that was the moment in time I learned to win without my best stuff," Glavine said.
Both pitchers already see that ingrained in deGrom. And he never appeared to be trying to justify the 2018 Cy Young. He just pitched and pitched well, leading the NL in strikeouts (255) and baseball-reference.com's WAR for pitchers (7.3). He finished 11-8 and was second in the NL with a 2.43 ERA.
"Broadcasting Braves games and being in that (NL East) division, you see Jake enough and it's obvious when he has his A game," Glavine said. "His B game, most people -- myself included -- would love to have. You can tell when he's off with his fastball, on location, or doesn't have the slider to put hitters away with, but what's so great is his competitiveness. He'll come at you with everything he's got."
"I love watching him, that's for sure," added Saberhagen. "He's got great stuff. He's got it all. He's been staying healthy, which is a big factor with any pitcher. When you back it up, two years in a row, that's pretty impressive."