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Wednesday, 07 April 2021 00:41

Opening Day is a real eye-opener for deGrom

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Okay…stop…it’s ONLY ONE GAME. There are 161 more games to go. But the very first game of the season gives some real insight into what is different…and what is so wrong with baseball today.

I absolutely love the game of baseball because of the thought process. You had to think. You had to position yourself in the field, at the plate, decide which pitch to throw and why. Bring on the computer age. Sure…Davey Johnson was using a computer in the 80’s. But he also went with his gut. Would a computer put a guy like Kevin Mitchell at shortstop? Gil Hodges employed the McCovey shift back in 1969. But if a shift was employed, I recall many times when somebody would simply lay down a bunt…get on base…take what the defense gives you. Whatever happened to all of that? It’s better than striking out, isn’t it?

Jacob deGrom is a true victim in all of this nonsense. He was the least heralded…he really wasn’t heralded at all…among those elite five of Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and him. In fact…he is the only one of the five left. Syndergaard will hopefully be back from surgery this season and the other three are successfully (for a while anyway) toiling elsewhere.

If you go by the sabermetrics…deGrom should never, ever start an important game for the Mets…as a pitcher, that is. If you go by the sabermetrics…deGrom should be in the lineup as a hitter…because he seems to be the only clutch hitter when he is pitching.

For me…I feel like I am watching a Little League game. Remember when the team’s best player was the pitcher and shortstop and best hitter? That’s what it is like watching a game pitched by deGrom.

When you take a look at what deGrom has done statistically, what he has accomplished, he not only doesn't have very many wins to show for it...but the Mets are actually five games under .500 with a record of 36-41 when he starts a game. FIVE GAMES UNDER! So, again, going by the sabermetrics…why is he even starting a game?

deGrom’s sheer dominance has drawn comparisons to, of course, Tom Seaver, but also one Sandy Koufax. Seaver and Koufax each have three Cy Young Awards to their credit. deGrom, thus far, has two, and just missed a third.

The Seaver comparison is obvious because of his reputation as a Met. But the comparison to Koufax, that’s truly relative because of the quagmire deGrom finds himself in. Seaver was able to achieve the milestone of 300 wins over his career. Koufax, on the other hand, was not so fortunate. In fact, he didn’t even make it to 200 victories.

People talk about the last five years of Koufax’s career and how simply overpowering he was. But it even goes back a year earlier. Koufax made his debut at the age of 19 for the Brooklyn Dodgers during their World Championship season of 1955. He struggled to find his control during the first six seasons, very similar to the way Nolan Ryan struggled early in his career with the Mets. Koufax was also bounced between the starting rotation and the bullpen, making 80 appearances out of the pen during that time.

But starting with 1961, and for those next six season, Koufax was scary. He averaged 35 starts a season, threw 115 complete games, 35 shutouts, and averaged 285 strikeouts. Three times he won at least 25 games for a total of 129 wins during that period, and three times he through at least 300 innings with an ERA of 2.21.

Over his career, Koufax won a total of 165 games against 87 losses with an ERA of 2.76. His best season? It was the year he turned 30 years old, and it was his last year. Koufax led the National League with 27 wins an ERA of 1.73. He led the league with 41 starts, 323 innings pitched, 317 strikeouts and 27 complete games with five shutouts. Total domination.

Seaver was Mr. Met. The sheer professional. Pure master of his domain. He had the “It” factor. No doubt about it. His dominance began quietly, if only because the Mets were so very bad. He somehow managed to win 16 games in each of his first two seasons with an ERA of under 2.50 and threw a total of 32 complete games. But in 1969, he won 25 games with an ERA of 2.21, and his first Cy Young Award. And that was not even his best season statistically. That season was 1971 when he won 20 games, with a league-leading ERA of 1.76 and he also led the NL in strikeouts with 289 while tossing, gulp, 21 complete games. And he won his second Cy Young Award to boot.

Seaver won 311 games in illustrious career with an ERA of 2.86. He struck out 3,640 batters and pitched  a total of 231 complete games, notching 61 shutouts.

deGrom got a bit of late start, having not made his debut until his Age 26 season. So common sense and mathematics and science will tell you that deGrom is not going to compile the numbers that Seaver achieved. But what HAS he done?

deGrom has started 184 games for the Mets and has a won-loss record of 70-51 with a career ERA of a mere 2.60. He has struck out 1,366 batters in just 1,175.2 innings. That’s an average of 10.5 K’s per nine innings. Seaver? He averaged 6.8 K’s per nine innings. That’s right. He stopped going for the strikeout as he neared the end of his career. Koufax? He averaged 9.3 K’s per nine innings.

deGrom has had a three-year stretch where he has been the Sandy Koufax of his generation. In 2018, in a home run happy era, he was almost not human, leading the NL with a paltry 1.70 ERA and struck out 269 hitters in 217 innings. His record? Ten wins against nine losses…10-9…and he had to literally eek out the 10th win at the end of the season.

It’s really amazing how deGrom can’t get any support. He has had a couple of years where the Mets were not really a good hitting team. The year 2018 was one of those years. The team batting average was .234. But other than that, the Mets have had a power-packed lineup. No matter. They just couldn’t hit when deGrom was starting.

Think about what deGrom is enduring and it makes it even more incredible what Tom Seaver accomplished with the Mets during his career, winning 198 games, backed by horrible offensive teams. And Koufax, as evidenced by his complete games and shutouts, and pitching in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, had to do it almost all by himself. The Dodgers were not really known for their offensive prowess during those years.

deGrom has had to all too often do it himself, as he showed on opening night. He was his usual deGrominator on the mound, and he had two hits, driving in the second run of the game, only to, as usual, have the bullpen implode afterwards.

deGrom is so much like Seaver in that he is a true student of the game, and an artist on the mound. He makes you sit back and admire his work. He is dominant during this era in the way Koufax dominated in his era. deGrom has but three complete games in his career. He will never start 40 games and never pitch 300-plus innings in a season...never get 300-plus strikeouts in a season. Yet he still shows the kind of dominance exuded by Koufax, and the artistry displayed by Seaver. He deserves to be on a winner, of course. But how long is deGrom willing to go on like this…before he is ready to bust outta here on the first laundry truck?

Read 2298 times Last modified on Sunday, 12 May 2024 03:15
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Alan Karmin is an award-winning journalist and author. He was born in Brooklyn, New York and spent most of his life growing up in the New Jersey suburbs. Alan's family were avid Brooklyn Dodgers fans and when the Dodgers moved west, the Mets became the team to root for. The Mets have always been a true focal point, Alan even wrote a term paper in high school to analyze what was wrong with the Mets. While at the University of Miami, Alan honed his craft covering the, gulp, Yankees during spring trainings in Fort Lauderdale for a local NBC affiliate, as well as the Associated Press and UPI. He broadcasted baseball games for the University of Miami, and spring training games for the Baltimore Orioles and Montreal Expos. New York Mets Mania is a forum for Alan to write about his favorite team and for baseball fans to chime in and provide their thoughts and ideas about New York's Amazin' Mets.