Jacob deGrom is the best pitcher in baseball, and he has been since 2018 when he posted a 1.70 earned run average, but he’s taken it to a new level in 2021.
In deGrom’s most recent start on June 5 in San Diego, he went seven scoreless innings of three-hit ball with 11 strikeouts. This is becoming a trend in 2021.
Jacob deGrom Impressive Across the Board
New York has seen deGrom pitch at least five innings in every game and he has yet to allow more than a single earned run in any of his nine starts this season. It’s early June and deGrom has only allowed four total earned runs, let that sink in for a moment.
After his brief stint on the injured list for side and back tightness, deGrom was on a pitch limit, so that contributed to his back-to-back starts of five and six innings against the Rockies and Diamondbacks.
In his first nine starts, deGrom has better numbers than Bob Gibson in his historic 1968 season and even better numbers than former Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez had in 2000n — often considered the two greatest seasons for a starter ever. deGrom has 58 innings, just 25 hits, eight walks, 93 strikeouts and a microscopic 0.62 ERA this season.
I try not to think about [the ERA],” deGrom told ESPN. “I try to go out there and put us in a position to win.”
Compared to Gibson’s first nine starts of 80.2 IP, 54 hits, 20 walks, 57 strikeouts and 1.34 ERA. Martinez had 68.1 innings pitched, 40 hits, 14 walks and a 1.19 ERA in his first nine starts.
Sure, it’d be nice to see deGrom go more innings, but newsflash, no starting pitchers throw the number of innings that Gibson or Martinez threw during their era. Pitchers are more protected now than they ever have been. In 2019, the most recent 162-game season, only 15 pitchers across Major League Baseball pitched at least 200 innings. In 2000, there were 37 starting pitchers to post at least 200 innings and in 1968 — when baseball didn’t seem to protect pitchers at all — 56 pitchers went at least 200 innings and four, including Gibson, went for more than 300 innings.
So don’t hold deGrom’s inning total against him when discussing his first start when comparing him to Gibson or Martinez. It’s a new era and he has little control of when the Mets decide to yank him out of a game.
What makes deGrom so unhittable is his incredible ability to command his pitches at various velocities. In his June 5 start against San Diego, he started the game with eight straight fastballs that averaged over 99 mph before striking Jake Croenenworth out with a 93 mph slider.
This season, according to Fangraphs, deGrom’s average fastball velocity is at 99.1 mph and his curveball up comes in at an average of 83.3 mph, while his slider and changeup both come in around 91 mph consistently.
He mixes the pitches effectively too, which keeps hitters guessing about what could come. He throws his fastball 43% of the time. His slider — deGrom’s best strikeout pitch — is thrown 22% of the time, but his change-up and curveball combine for just 20% of his pitches thrown.
Yes, strikeouts are up across the board in Major League Baseball, but the 93 strikeouts aren’t what is most impressive about deGrom’s first nine starts. It’s the number of scoreless innings he has been able to post.
Consider how difficult it could be for deGrom to post an ERA of lower than 1.12 this season. After throwing a complete game shutout against Washington on April 23, deGrom’s ERA stood at 0.31. In his next three starts, deGrom gave up just three total earned runs (one in each start) and saw his ERA swell to 0.80. But after two consecutive starts without an earned run, his ERA has sunk back down to 0.62.
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Mathematically speaking, the only way for deGrom to lower his ERA when he pitches is to have scoreless appearances. In Gibson’s 1968 season the most earned runs he allowed in a single start was four, on two occasions. A single poor start for deGrom could ruin his chances breaking what many think of as an unbreakable record.
Any way you slice it, deGrom is having the greatest start to a season — arguably ever — and if he is able to continually post scoreless innings, he might have a chance to break a record that has stood for more than 50 seasons.
So, deGrom may not want to talk about his ERA, but it’s impossible to not look at it and think that as of early June, and not realize that he is having the greatest start to a season in Major League Baseball history.