Total deGrominance: 35 swinging strikes

Mets ace is this generation's version of the late Seaver

September 6th, 2020

NEW YORK -- pulled into 41 Seaver Way on Sunday fully aware of the weight of Mets lore. For years, folks have compared him favorably to Tom Seaver, the greatest player in franchise history. Like Seaver, deGrom won a National League Rookie of the Year Award and two NL Cy Young Awards within his first seven seasons. He has spent his time in Queens routinely accomplishing things that, in some cases, only Seaver had before.

Four days after Seaver’s death, with a black No. 41 patch affixed to his golden right shoulder, deGrom continued that mission. He struck out a dozen Phillies over seven innings of one-run ball in a 14-1 win at Citi Field, running his streak of consecutive starts with two or fewer earned runs allowed to 12. Only Seaver, Dwight Gooden and Johan Santana compiled longer such streaks with the Mets.

In extending that streak, deGrom lowered his career ERA to 2.58. The all-time franchise leader? Seaver, at 2.57.

“He should be a Hall of Famer,” Mets first baseman Pete Alonso said of deGrom. “The way he pitches is fantastic.”

Comparing pitchers across eras can be difficult, if not downright impossible, considering the profound ways in which the game has changed. In discussing Seaver after Sunday’s game, deGrom laughed at the absurdity of the Hall of Famer’s 231 complete games compared to his three. Seaver won more than 300 career games; deGrom won’t come close. Seaver, conversely, did not have the benefit of pitching in the "three true outcomes" era, which has allowed deGrom to strike out batters at a rate unheard of half a century ago.

Take Sunday, for example. After whiffing Jean Segura and Alec Bohm to open the second inning, deGrom allowed his only run on an Andrew Knapp homer. He then rebounded to strike out Neil Walker, permitting only one additional runner past first base the rest of the way.

The Mets supported their starter with a deluge of offense, relying on five home runs -- including two by Alonso -- as part of a season-high 17-hit attack, and deGrom did the rest. He generated a career-high 35 swinging strikes, tied with Clayton Kershaw and Danny Duffy for the most by a pitcher since league-wide pitch tracking began in 2008.

“He’s got three swing-and-miss pitches, and when you’ve got that, you’re going to have big strikeout numbers,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “His ERA for the last three years is that good because of the stuff he has. It’s not an accident.”

Since the start of the 2018 season, deGrom’s ERA is 2.01. Measuring by ERA+, which adjusts for factors like ballparks and league environments to normalize earned run prevention across eras, deGrom’s 2018 season was statistically more dominant than even Seaver’s best.

This year, deGrom owns a 1.69 ERA, which ranks second in the NL behind Chicago’s Yu Darvish. His 70 strikeouts lead the circuit, while his 48 innings rank ninth. If the season ended today, deGrom would be within reach of a third consecutive NL Cy Young Award -- something that even Seaver, who won three over a seven-year stretch with the Mets, never achieved. The only two pitchers who did were Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson.

“That’s a personal goal of mine,” deGrom said. “Winning two in a row honestly doesn’t even really feel like it’s set in yet.”

In the local court of public opinion, deGrom may already be the second-best pitcher in Mets history. He has a better ERA than Gooden did over his first seven spectacular seasons in Flushing, a far better adjusted ERA+, a higher strikeout rate and a significantly lower walk rate. Like Seaver, Gooden threw more innings, won more games and pitched more complete games than deGrom, but that’s as much a product of his era as his skill set.

Time will tell how deGrom adds to his resume from here. He is already 32 years old -- four years older than Seaver was at this point in his career, and seven years older than Gooden. But he is also, along with those two and Jerry Koosman, already entrenched on the team’s figurative Mount Rushmore. In terms of WAR, deGrom is clearly one of the six best players in franchise history, standing beside Seaver, Gooden, Koosman, David Wright and Darryl Strawberry.

deGrom is also the first to note that Seaver was Seaver -- a figure far larger than numbers on a page, as a week’s worth of memorials have well shown. Even if deGrom may be this generation’s version of that icon, his respect for those who came before is immense.

“It’s an honor to be compared to somebody like Tom and what he was able to accomplish in his career,” deGrom said. “Obviously, how he was appreciated here, how he treated the fans, he’s somebody that I definitely looked up to. But I think he’s probably got me beat.”