Jacob deGrom is forcing baseball’s hand. The New York Mets’ ace has been phenomenal this season, while his team…well, not so much. His individual statistics have been historically dominant, but he is still not a lock to win the National League Cy Young Award, which is given to the best pitcher in each league every year. In fact, he is not even a clear favorite to win the award. How is it possible, after making history and putting up league-leading numbers in nearly every category, that deGrom isn’t even the Cy Young favorite? One word: wins.
DeGrom keeps winning games for the Mets, and they keep losing games for him. As a result, he has an 8-9 record, despite leading the majors with the lowest earned run average (ERA). And so he, along with the terrible Mets, forces baseball’s hand. No pitcher, in the 62 years since its inception, has ever won the Cy Young Award with a losing or even record. It was a HUGE deal when Felix Hernandez won the award with a 13-12 record in 2010. But Hernandez’s Cy Young Award was not monumental. Sure, he barely eked out a winning record, but he still had a winning record. Jacob deGrom will likely end the season with a losing record, which will finally force the Baseball Writers of America to come to a long-overdue referendum on the pitcher win.
If baseball cheats deGrom of his Cy Young Award, it will be on the basis of his lack of wins. But the win in pitching is a flawed statistic. It is completely situational. If a pitcher lets up no runs but gets no run support from his own team, he cannot get a win. But if a pitcher lets up 10 runs, he can still get the win if his team scores 11. So did the pitcher who let up 10 runs have a better game just because he got the win? Of course not. Rick Porcello of the Boston Red Sox has a 16-7 record with a 4.27 ERA this season. Clearly the Red Sox often win when Porcello pitches, but nobody would consider Porcello a top pitcher this year, and rightfully so. His impressive record is not a result of consistently stellar pitching performances. It is merely a reflection of the strength of Boston’s offense, which scores just under six runs, on average, when Porcello pitches. This is compared to the Mets’ measly 3.5 runs per game when deGrom pitches.
Sure, using traditional statistics poses quite a compelling argument for deGrom to be the NL Cy Young. But advanced sabermetrics, which are used by all MLB teams to determine a player’s true value beyond classic statistics, illustrate just how dominant the Mets’ ace has been. deGrom’s ERA+, which adjusts ERA for the pitcher’s ballpark and league average ERA, is the best in baseball as well as his homerun rate (.4 per nine). His WAR (wins above replacement), which is how many additional wins a player provides his team over a league-average replacement, is second for pitchers and fourth overall at 8.6. DeGrom also recently broke an MLB single season record after going 26 consecutive starts in which he allowed 3 runs or fewer, a streak which is still going strong.
Baseball, despite its strong camaraderie, is more a game of individuals than a true “team sport.” Usually only one player is involved in every play. And unlike other sports, such as basketball where LeBron can carry his team to the NBA finals almost single-handedly, one player cannot take over an entire baseball game. A pitcher can only do so much before the game is out of his control. He relies on his teammates to score runs for him, so he can go out and win games for his club. What else should he do besides stop the other team from scoring? Go up to the plate and hit in runs for his team? Oh, yeah, deGrom has done that too, with five RBIs through 62 plate appearances, which is impressive for a pitcher.
In 2014, Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw won both the National League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Awards. His ERA that season was 1.77 with a 7.7 WAR and 239 strikeouts. deGrom’s 2018 is already even more impressive than Kershaw’s 2014, with three outings still remaining. The main difference? Kershaw went 20-3. So although it is unlikely considering just how little support the Mets’ have given deGrom this season, there is a legitimate MVP argument to be made as well.
DeGrom has truly been in a league of his own in terms of preventing runs this season. This should be more than enough to earn him the Cy Young. And for a game in desperate need of rejuvenation, baseball would be making a dire mistake by ignoring deGrom’s dominance and reinforcing the pitcher win. After all, America wants to see the game progress. If baseball does not evolve, younger fans will stop watching. But if deGrom is awarded the Cy Young, it will finally end the reign of one the most useless statistics in the game. And that is absolutely a step in the right direction.
Nick Keating can be reached at email@example.com.