On Monday, Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom threw five shutout innings against the Braves to extend his streak of consecutive scoreless innings to 30. The Mets ace last allowed an earned run on May 25, and so far in June, he’s allowed just five hits in 21 innings. As the season nears the halfway point, deGrom is putting together one of the greatest pitching campaigns ever, with every must-see start carrying impossible expectations that he somehow keeps living up to.
Consider some of the outrageous numbers he’s put up so far this season:
• He leads the majors in all sorts of stats, from standard ones like ERA, WHIP, strikeouts per nine innings, and batting average against, to more advanced ones like FIP and WAR. He’s allowing just 3.4 hits per nine innings; for comparison, the league average for runs per nine innings is 4.5. He’s throwing his four-seam fastball harder than any starter by a comfortable margin, at an average of 99.2 miles per hour (with speeds often reaching 101 and even 102), and he’s throwing the fastest slider, too.
• He’s not just leading the league in these categories; his numbers are historically good. His 0.50 ERA is the best through a pitcher’s first 12 starts since earned runs became an official stat in both leagues in 1913, and his 0.51 WHIP is the best ever in any 12-start span since at least 1901.
• How silly is he making hitters look? Against deGrom this season, opposing batters are striking out 47 percent of the time, with an on-base percentage of just 0.148. For comparison, pitchers throughout the league this season were striking out 45 percent of the time, with a 0.153 OBP, through Monday.
• His ERA+ — a way of comparing ERA to the league average, factoring in the differences between ballparks — is comically off the charts. By definition, an ERA+ of 100 is considered average, with anything higher considered above average. The second-best ERA+ this season belongs to San Francisco’s Kevin Gausman, at 265. The best ever over the course of a full 162-game MLB is 291, which Pedro Martinez pulled off in 2000. Right now, deGrom’s ERA+ is a preposterous 774, or 674 percent better than league average. Even in a season defined by pitcher dominance, deGrom’s numbers are off the charts.
• For good measure, deGrom has been a terrific hitter this year, batting 0.407 in 27 at-bats. He’s driven in six runs as a batter in 2021, two more than the number of earned runs he’s allowed as a pitcher. It’s almost as if, after years of lousy run support, deGrom learned how to hit as some sort of evolutionary survival trait.
It’s becoming clear, in fact, that the biggest threat to deGrom’s magical season may not be an opponent, all of whom seem powerless to slow him down, but rather the physical health of the man himself.
DeGrom missed two weeks earlier this season with “tightness” in his right side. Then, on June 11, he was removed from a game with right flexor tendinitis after throwing just 80 pitches in six one-hit innings. Five days later, he was pulled with right shoulder soreness after throwing three perfect innings with eight strikeouts.
Mets fans breathed a sigh of relief when it was revealed that deGrom’s exit against the Braves on Monday following five one-hit innings and just 70 pitches was merely precautionary. “I felt good,” deGrom said afterwards. “I think that is why we decided at that 70-pitch mark to say that was enough. I didn’t want to overdo it.” This type of handling — shorter outings, perhaps even extra days of rest between starts — could become the new normal. The Mets, who currently lead the National League East by 3.5 games, probably need deGrom to get to the postseason, but they also badly need him healthy if they make it there.
Cautionary tales abound. Injuries are up all over the sport, possibly in part due to the hypershortened pandemic season in 2020. And there’s a fear that pitchers — detached from their usual rhythms last year and now building up to pre-COVID innings levels while throwing harder than ever — are especially susceptible to getting hurt.
After his shortened June 11 start, Mets manager Luis Rojas said that deGrom would know if something was seriously wrong, calling him “a guy that knows his body really well, knows his arm really well.” What happens going forward — especially if various nagging injuries continue to dog deGrom — will put that to the test.
With apologies to Shohei Ohtani, in this deeply weird season of seven-inning doubleheader games, dumb extra-inning rules, pants-dropping pitchers, and ill-conceived sponsorship rollouts, deGrom is the best show in baseball as he cruises toward his third Cy Young Award and maybe even his first MVP. For the sake of baseball fans everywhere, here’s hoping the show plays through till the end.