NEW YORK -- By the time Jacob deGrom received the 2018 National League Cy Young Award in mid-November, he was already well into his '19 preparation, playing catch daily with his father, Tony, in his Florida hometown. Although deGrom was overwhelmed and emotional, he spent little time reflecting on the honor. Another season was approaching.
Having completed that campaign with a 2.43 ERA and 255 strikeouts in 32 starts, deGrom is again a heavy favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award. Doing so would make him one of just 11 players to receive the award in consecutive years, keeping in line with a recent progression: deGrom, who is already unquestionably one of the four most accomplished pitchers in Mets history, is trending toward becoming an all-time franchise great.
“You look at the names that are mentioned in winning back-to-back Cy Youngs, I would have never thought that my name would ever been mentioned in that,” deGrom said. “I’ve said before it was a goal to win one, but to think about winning two is honestly kind of crazy to me. It would be an honor.”
It would be the capstone to a season that saw deGrom follow up his Cy Young campaign with slightly lesser numbers than a year ago, but still finish with statistics comparable to those of anyone in the National League. deGrom ranked first in strikeouts, second in ERA and third in innings. He’ll learn on Nov. 13 if another Cy belongs to him.
Award or not, there is little question at this point where deGrom stands in franchise lore -- somewhere behind Tom Seaver, but comparable to Jerry Koosman and Dwight Gooden. Seaver has his number retired at Citi Field. Koosman will join him in a ceremony next season, in a relaxing of standards that could end with Gooden receiving the honor as well.
Start playing the comparison game, and it’s easy to see deGrom’s No. 48 one day hanging on the left-field roof as well. Already, he ranks first in franchise history in WHIP, second in ERA and fifth in strikeouts. Sometimes, when he is in the outfield shagging fly balls during batting practice, deGrom glances up at the scoreboard and sees some statistic comparing him to Seaver, Koosman or Gooden.
“To think that I’m mentioned in that same sentence is honestly crazy to me,” deGrom said. “Sitting down and reflecting on it, I don’t know if it’s really set in yet because I feel like I’m constantly getting ready for the next. Like, this year’s over, but I’m already thinking of how to be ready for next year, and what I need to do. That’s just kind of my mindset. I think it’s just being competitive and wanting to maintain the same level of competitiveness that I haven’t really been able to sit down and try to take in what I’ve been able to do.”
Someday, deGrom says, he will. Until then, he will work to maintain this level of production. On the final day of the regular season, Marcus Stroman approached deGrom with a piece of memorabilia for him to sign. He asked deGrom to write “2018 Cy Young” on it. Then he half-jokingly asked deGrom to write “2019 Cy Young” on it, also.
deGrom laughed, unwilling to go there quite yet.
“When somebody asks you to sign something and they’re like can you put the Cy Young on it, that’s really cool,” he said. “When you’re able to write that down and you’re in the group of guys who have won that … it’s forever. And I think that’s really cool.”
What Went Right?
Much as he did a year ago, deGrom saved his best pitching for the second half of the season. Relying increasingly on his slider as the summer progressed, deGrom figured out how to maintain his standing as the NL’s best pitcher.
What Went Wrong?
Ask deGrom, and he’ll say a lot. In reality, not much. Three rocky starts in late April pumped deGrom’s ERA as high as 4.85, at which point thoughts of his 2018 successes -- and a fear of being unable to repeat them -- started creeping into his mind.
“I think that took me a few times through, like OK, this is [a new] year, you’ve just got to go now,” deGrom said. “Do what you can do now.”
From that point forward, deGrom went 9-5 with a 2.07 ERA.
Entering September, deGrom found himself in a tight Cy Young race with Hyun-Jin Ryu and Max Scherzer. As those two struggled to stay consistent, deGrom reeled off 23 consecutive scoreless innings to end the season. He went seven scoreless in each of his final three starts to become the presumptive Cy Young favorite.
Had deGrom not inked a new five-year, $137.5-million contract in March, this might have been a stressful offseason for him. As it is, deGrom will return in 2020 amidst expectations that he will continue to anchor the Mets’ pitching staff for years to come. Particularly since David Wright’s retirement, deGrom has developed into a clubhouse leader as well as an ace. The Mets expect him to continue growing in the former role, while maintaining his success in the latter.