Before last year’s spring training, Jacob deGrom agreed to let his shoulder-length, corn broom-style hair be shorn. It was like Samson letting Delilah seduce him out of his locks. Except that when Delilah sheared Samson, he became weaker than a baby in the cradle. When deGrom got sheared, he became Samson.
Samson of course received more support from a forgiving God and His children Israel than deGrom received from his Mets last year. If Samson finally brought the Philistines’ temple down upon them (and himself in the bargain), deGrom must have felt on too many days and nights as though the Mets let the Philistines escape after he’d manhandled them yet again.
How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob? They’re becoming five years and $137.5 million worth of goodly now.
Almost as soon as deGrom’s rotation mate Noah Syndergaard all but ordered the Mets to do right by their defending Cy Young Award winner, the Mets got serious and deGrom, who wasn’t optimistic about a new deal with the Mets before his self-imposed Opening Day deadline, gets rich.
It’s not quite the kind of rich the Red Sox decided to make Chris Sale, but it’s rich enough for a pitcher who’d merely walked the line between above average and excellent before 2018 but went off the charts and into Pedro Martinez territory during 2018.
The Cy Young Award voters chose wisely not to hold his team’s non-support against him; the Mets chose wisely at last in making him their new franchise face. DeGrom’s new deal includes an opt-out clause after 2022, his age 34 season. It also includes a no-trade provision and a team option for 2024.
Thus does deGrom join the pre-free agency extension parade whose participants include Sale, Nolan Arenado, Alex Bregman, Justin Verlander, and, of course, the arch Angel Mike Trout.
Syndergaard unloaded Sunday, partially out of frustration that the Mets planned a promotional pre-Opening Day trip to Syracuse, when asked whether he was paying attention to his buddy deGrom’s contract status, knowing deGrom would have become arbitration eligible at the end of the season about to begin.
“Jake’s the best pitcher in baseball right now,” Syndergaard said. “I think he deserves whatever amount he’s worth. I want to keep him happy, so when it does come time for him to reach free agency, he stays on our side pitching for the Mets. I just think they should quit all this fuss and pay the man already . . . He’s really good. He’s a great teammate. I just don’t get it.”
The National League’s 2014 Rookie of the Year, and the fourth Cy Young Award winner in franchise history (the others: Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, and R.A. Dickey), has probably shocked a lot of people who thought upon his original arrival, among a known crop of up and coming young Mets pitchers, that Matt Harvey was going to be the prize nugget and deGrom one of his over-endowed supporting players.
Harvey had his moments but he became addled both physically and emotionally; the former sapped his pitching power, the latter finally punched his ticket out of New York and to Cincinnati. He’s been remaking himself since into a different pitcher and person before the Angels took a chance on him as a low-cost, single-season free agent for this year.
DeGrom has survived rotator cuff tendinitis (in his Rookie of the Year season) and ulnar nerve surgery (after the 2016 season) and was the only Met starting pitcher to avoid the disabled list (oops! the injured list) during their bloodied-and-bowed 2017. When he underwent the much remarked haircut before last year’s spring training, he was only kidding when he said it would add a little speed to his fastball. We think.
Whatever it did or didn’t do, deGrom’s 2018 wasn’t just off the chart, it was somewhere beyond the Delta Quadrant:
* Batters hit .198 off him.
* He led the entire Show with his 1.70 earned run average and his 1.99 fielding-independent pitching rate. (Once again: that’s your ERA when the defense behind you is taken out of the equation.)
* His 216 ERA+, which adjusts to all the parks in which he pitched last year, also led the Show, as did his rate of 0.4 home runs surrendered per nine innings.
* He was only the second pitcher in baseball history to post an ERA under 2.00, strike out 250 or more batters, and walk fewer than 50 batters in a season, since ERA became an official statistic in 1913. The first? You guessed it—Pedro Martinez.
* If you consider that surrendering three earned runs or less in a game equals pitching well enough to win, deGrom had 29 consecutive starts in which he did that, and he only surrendered three or more earned runs five times all season.
* Along the same criteria of pitching well enough to win, deGrom had twelve starts in which he didn’t earn a decision and in only two of those did he surrender as many as three earned runs. If the Mets had won those games while he was still the pitcher of record, deGrom’s won-lost record would have been 22-9.
* Bizarrely, deGrom wasn’t charged with his first loss until after he’d been credited for four wins over his first twelve starts. In only one of those starts did he surrender more than three runs, and in only one other of those starts did he surrender as many as three.
* The Mets went 14-17 in deGrom’s 2018 starts and his ERA in the losses was 2.13—according to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time any starting pitcher’s ERA in his team’s losses over a full season was lower than 2.35. (DeGrom’s ERA in the nine losses he was charged with: 2.71.)
* I told you all that without mentioning wins above a replacement-level player. It isn’t a particularised statistic but, rather, a value developed to determine to the best extent possible a player’s total contribution to his team. DeGrom’s 10.1 led everyone in baseball last year except for Mookie Betts (10.9 and the American League’s Most Valuable Player award winner) and Mike Trout (10.2 despite missing time with a thumb injury). Come to think of it, four National League pitchers had more WAR than the league’s MVP winner Christian Yelich: deGrom, Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola (10.0), Washington’s Max Scherzer (9.5), and Colorado’s Kyle Freeland (8.2)
P.S. Only one first place National League MVP vote didn’t go to Yelich. Three guesses who got that vote.
I wrote it when deGrom won the Cy Young Award but it’s worth repeating: In 2018 he was Pedro Martinez 2000, Bob Gibson 1968, Sandy Koufax 1966, and the Mets treated him like the late Anthony Young 1992-93, when that hapless but courageous righthander was hung with losses in 27 consecutive decisions.
DeGrom’s run support per game while he was actually on the mound last year: 2.9. (For the entire games in which he started, the Mets averaged 3.5 runs.) The Mets should have been grateful he didn’t haul them into divorce court on charges of non-support. And deGrom still wanted to talk about staying a Met.
He got his wish, for this season and for the four to follow, five if the Mets pick up that 2024 option, which could make the total value of his new deal $170 million. And he gets to tangle with Scherzer on Opening Day while he’s at it. Jacob’s Ladder is going to be a lovely ladder to continue climbing. It would be even lovelier if the Mets, at last, field a team their best pitcher can be proud of.