If there was any debate about who the New York Mets’ ace of the pitching staff is prior to this year, right-hander Jacob deGrom has officially put that argument to rest. That’ll happen when you lead the league with a 1.70 ERA to go along with an 8.8 fWAR, 32.2% strikeout rate, and 5.5% walk rate in 217 innings.
While the definition may differ depending on the team, every squad needs an ace — someone the manager can run out on a consistent basis and feel good about their overall chances of coming away with a victory. Unfortunately, aces can’t always make an impact because of injuries or other extenuating circumstances.
Two staff aces that come to mind immediately when thinking about it in this light include Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner. They’ve been great while on the mound, but have each had their fair share of time on the disabled list in recent years. Noah Syndergaard is another hurler that falls into this category — he’s typically been brilliant when active, but has dealt with a number of ailments that have prevented him from taking the mound every fifth day from start to finish.
That’s never been a problem with deGrom, and we’re talking about more than just his terrific 2018 season.
A Noteworthy Trend
Yes, finishing with the second-most innings pitched in baseball off the strength of 32 starts displays reliability, but this is something that’s been typical of deGrom since debuting with New York in 2014.
This past year was already the third time he’s eclipsed 30 starts in his career. The two times he didn’t? Well, his Rookie of the Year campaign didn’t officially get started until May 15th, so that’s why the right-hander took the mound just 22 times. The other occurrence happened in 2016, when his season was cut short to repair nerve damage in his throwing elbow. Before that happened, though, he still made 24 starts.
When using 2014 as the starting point, Max Scherzer has accumulated the most games started (164) and innings pitched (1,098.2) over the last five years. Even with getting that late start, deGrom’s 139 appearances ranks among baseball’s top 30 starting pitchers, while his 897.2 innings pitched are within the top 20.
Plus, deGrom’s cumulative 24.9 fWAR isn’t as far off Scherzer’s 30.8 as one might imagine considering the large discrepancy in workload.
What He Does On The Mound
A lot of publicity was given to deGrom’s quality start streak, as he finished the year by going six-plus innings while allowing three or fewer runs in 24 straight appearances. But again, this is something that’s become more of the norm for the 30-year-old NL Cy Young frontrunner.
Here’s a quick look at how rare it’s been for deGrom to not reach the sixth inning throughout his short big-league career.
|Year||# Starts||# Starts > 5.0 IP|
We all know this level of consistency hasn’t necessarily helped him register the number of wins he deserves. For the most part, though — and over the last two seasons in particular — it’s been clear that New York’s bullpen doesn’t need to pick up too much slack when deGrom takes the mound.
This goes without saying, but his overall performance has also been incredibly consistent. Through all those starts and innings pitched, the Mets’ ace has put together a 2.67 ERA, 3.18 SIERA, 27.9% strikeout rate, and 6.2% walk rate in his MLB career.
Maybe Starting to Rub Off?
Watching a Mets player stay healthy from start to finish in any season has been a rarity these days, which is part of the reason why deGrom sticks out as much as he does in this regard. The 2017 season is a great example: he not only led the squad in games started (31) and innings pitched (201.1), but only he and Robert Gsellman started more than 20 games while collecting at least 100 innings (he threw 115.1 innings in 22 starts).
This past year was a lot better when speaking to the continuity of New York’s rotation. DeGrom once again led the way in both categories, but he was joined by four other pitchers (Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, and Jason Vargas) who started at least 20 games. Among that group, only Vargas failed to break the 100-inning mark, and outside of a couple disabled-list stints, it was because he struggled mightily for a significant portion of the season.
DeGrom can’t actually get his reliability and durability to rub off on his fellow starters — if he could, he should’ve done it years ago — but the tide is hopefully shifting with new voices and philosophies on the coaching staff.
Will the Mets end up contending in 2019? That’s anybody’s guess, and a lot of it will depend on what the front office does this winter to fix flawed areas of the roster. The whole reason New York didn’t sell off its most valuable assets prior to the non-waiver trade deadline, though, is because of the potential the front end of this rotation has. If they plan on punching a ticket to October for the first time since 2016, the Mets need Jacob deGrom to be a steady, reliable, and dominant presence to set the ton at the top of their pitching staff.
Unlike some other parts of the roster (like Yoenis Cespedes and his importance to the every-day lineup), past results can actually give us confidence that the trend we’ve seen unfold in recent years can actually continue moving forward.