Welcome to the New York Mets, where the run support is made up and the wins don’t matter.
Yeah, it’s so bad in Queens that I can use a Whose Line reference and still have it be less comical than the Mets’ performance this season. It’s no secret that the NL Cy Young race is incredibly tight right now, and if you drew the three contenders’ names out of a hat, any one of them would be a good choice. Max Scherzer leads the majors in strikeouts (249) and leads the NL in K/9 (12.0) and K/BB (5.53). Aaron Nola has the highest pitcher bWAR in the NL at 9. 2.
However, there’s only one correct choice. And that’s Jacob deGrom.
It doesn’t matter that his record is 8-8. He has the lowest ERA in the major leagues at 1.68, which is a little more than 30 points higher than the next closest contender, Chris Sale (1.97). For comparison, Scherzer’s ERA is currently at 2.22 and Nola’s is at 2.10. ERA is the best way to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness at limiting runs, and that’s the whole point of a pitcher’s job, isn’t it? But say you’re not a fan of ERA. Maybe you’re a fan of FIP, which measures a pitcher’s effectiveness at limiting homers, walks and HBP’s while causing strikeouts. DeGrom leads the pack at 2.02, while Nola and Scherzer sit behind at 2.62 and 2.72, respectively.
Then there's fWAR, which is Fangraph's way of measuring Wins Above Replacement that doesn't take into account balls in play because, well, pitchers have little to no control over what their defense does. DeGrom is certainly a ground ball pitcher more than anything, so fWAR helps take that factor out of the equation to look at how he alone compares to other pitchers. And he is far and away the best in this category at 7.3 (Scherzer is at 5.8 and Nola 5.7).
But maybe it all doesn’t matter. If a pitcher was really good enough, they’d be able to get their team a win no matter what, right? Well, it’s time for you to meet the Mets. New York is 11-16 when deGrom pitches, and he’s received 11 no-decisions in 27 starts. And deGrom hasn’t allowed three or more runs in a start since April 10, which is 24 consecutive starts, tied with Doc Gooden in 1985 for the longest streak in the majors since 1913. He’s pitched eight games in which he’s gone seven or more innings and allowed one or less runs but did not receive a win. If the Mets won every time deGrom had a quality start, they’d be 72-60. But instead, they’re 58-74. The Phillies are 19-8 when Nola starts and the Nationals are 19-9 with Scherzer, and unsurprisingly both the Phillies and the Nats are infinitely better teams than the Mets, even with the Nats’ disappointing 2018.
But hold on, it gets worse. The Mets have scored three or fewer runs in 18 of deGrom’s starts and scored one or zero runs in eight of them. They have the second-worst zone total fielding runs above average and defensive runs saved in the NL. And sure, Nola’s Phillies are horrid on defense as well and their bullpen specializes in spectacularly blowing games (they have 17 blown saves, the Mets have 15), but the Mets rank fourth-to-last in the MLB in overall bullpen stats (ERA, BA, H, ER, BB, K), while the Phillies are in the middle of the pack at No. 17.
It's easy to get caught up in statistics, and if you still value the win stat, chances are you don't care what anyone's RA9-WAR or RAR is. Sometimes, the best way to tell is the simple eye test, and just by watching him pitch, deGrom is something special. He’s not dominant in the traditional fashion of lots of one-hitters, a ton of strikeouts and complete games. He falters, but the key difference is he always gets himself out of any mess he puts himself in. There was that one-inning start he had against the Phillies on May 13 coming back from injury where he walked the first three batters and then got two ground balls and a strikeout to keep the Phillies off the board (the Mets, of course, lost that game 4-2). He routinely gets himself out of jams, even if he puts himself in them in the first place.
He deserves a special award for not physically assaulting his teammates when they score zero runs for him in 11 innings (deGrom was the only Met with an RBI that game) and then turn around the next day and score 10 runs for Jason Vargas, or when he goes 7.1 innings with 12 strikeouts and the bullpen proceeds to allow six runs in the top of the eighth and lose the game after a spectacular start (that game was the official start of the Mets’ collapse way back on April 16). Watch any deGrom start and it becomes clear that the incompetence of the team behind him is the reason for his win-loss record.
It seems contradictory to list out a bunch of horrible stats about the Mets to try and prove why deGrom is so great, but the point of emphasizing just how bad the team around him is hopefully serves to invalidate the win stat, which would all but become obsolete should deGrom win the award. It was a big deal when Felix Hernandez won the AL Cy Young with a 13-12 record in 2014, but it’s more than likely that deGrom won’t even reach double-digit wins this year despite having one of the best seasons baseball has ever seen. It speaks volumes that Zack Wheeler (3.46 ERA) and Noah Syndergaard, who has missed chunks of time with finger injuries and a children's disease, both have more wins that deGrom (nine). Robert Gsellman, the team's best reliever, has six. Even Jason Vargas and his 6.56 ERA has five wins.
Pitcher wins are stupid. Pitcher wins means nothing. One arbitrary stat should not blind you from seeing that Jacob deGrom is not only the best pitcher in the NL, but the best pitcher in baseball right now. Give this man the Cy Young, because with the way the Mets are wasting his prime, it’s the least he deserves.