Mets ace Jacob deGrom has enjoyed a brilliant start to his MLB career and could go down as one of the greatest hurlers of his generation, but his relatively late arrival means his Hall of Fame journey will continue to be an uphill climb, albeit one he may be equipped to make.
Selected by the Mets in the ninth round of the 2010 MLB Draft out of Stetson University, deGrom took four years to reach the Majors, his trajectory delayed by Tommy John surgery. He underwent the procedure after just six Minor League games and missed all of 2011. The righty returned the next year and posted a 3.48 ERA in the Minors over 2012-14 before getting the call to join the big league club.
deGrom went on to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award in what was his age-26 campaign. Now 32 years old, he has recorded a 2.62 ERA with a 1.05 WHIP, 1,255 strikeouts and 266 walks in 1,101 2/3 innings over his first six seasons.
During his consecutive NL Cy Young Award-winning campaigns in 2018-19, deGrom checked in with a 2.05 ERA (189 ERA+), a 0.94 WHIP and a 524-to-90 K/BB ratio in 421 frames. He’s one of 21 pitchers to win multiple Cy Young Awards, and the 11th to do so in consecutive years.
deGrom already ranks among the most accomplished starting pitchers who debuted in their age-26 season or later. He’s fifth in Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball-Reference, among such hurlers since the start of the Live Ball Era in 1920. Each of the pitchers ahead of deGrom debuted before integration in 1947, and all played for at least 13 seasons. deGrom has reached fifth on the list in just six years.
Career bWAR, SP who debuted in age-26 season or later
Live Ball Era (since 1920)
1. Claude Passeau (1935-47), 45.1
2. Rube Walberg (1923-37), 36.6
3. Curt Davis (1934-46), 39.0
4. Fritz Ostermueller (1934-48), 35.9
5. Jacob deGrom (2014-present), 35.5
With regards to the Hall of Fame, however, history is not on his side.
Only 10 starting pitchers have been enshrined in Cooperstown after debuting in their age-25 season or later. Nine -- Old Hoss Radbourn, Joe McGinnity, Jack Chesbro, Eddie Plank, Mordecai Brown, Red Faber, Lefty Grove, Carl Hubbell and Bob Lemon -- debuted before integration. The other, Phil Niekro, was a knuckleballer who made his debut in 1964 and pitched until he was 48. Among those 10, only Radbourn, McGinnity and Brown debuted in their age-26 season or later.
Due to his late start, deGrom doesn’t have much of a shot to reach major statistical benchmarks such as 200 wins or 3,000 strikeouts, and he’s still only about halfway to 2,500 K’s -- a milestone 38 pitchers have achieved all time. deGrom also needs another 37.8 WAR to reach the average among Hall of Fame starting pitchers (73.3).
That said, there’s still a clear path for deGrom to earn enshrinement. The quickest way he can cement his place in Cooperstown? Win another Cy Young Award.
A total of 10 pitchers have won at least three Cy Youngs, and seven -- Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, Greg Maddux, Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, Jim Palmer and Tom Seaver -- are in the Hall of Fame. Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer are still active, but both should one day have a bronze plaque. Then there’s Roger Clemens, the all-time leader with seven Cy Young Awards. On statistics alone, Clemens deserves a place in the Hall, but PED questions have kept him out so far.
It’s more of a toss-up with pitchers who received the honor twice, as Bob Gibson, Gaylord Perry, Tom Glavine and Roy Halladay are in the Hall of Fame, while Denny McLain, Bret Saberhagen and Johan Santana are not. Tim Lincecum isn’t eligible yet, but he’s unlikely to be elected. Meanwhile, Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber are still active, along with deGrom.
If deGrom doesn’t get another Cy Young Award, there’s a chance his career will look awfully similar to Santana’s. In 12 seasons, the left-hander finished with a 3.20 ERA (136 ERA+), a 1.13 WHIP, 1,988 strikeouts and 51.7 WAR to go with his two Cy Youngs. He also placed third twice and fifth once in the Cy Young voting.
Despite his impressive accomplishments, Santana fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after receiving a mere 2.4% of the vote in 2018, his first year of eligibility. There are a few ways deGrom can avoid the same fate when he reaches the ballot, assuming he doesn’t win a third Cy Young.
One of them is getting to 2,000 K’s, which seems like a lock. deGrom will enter the 2020 season 745 strikeouts away from that milestone, and he could knock 100 or so off the total during the 60-game schedule, leaving him roughly another three full seasons away from 2,000.
Finishing with fewer than 2,000 strikeouts could leave deGrom on the outside looking in, as the Baseball Writers’ Association of America hasn’t elected a starting pitcher with fewer than 2,000 K’s since Lemon in 1976. But 2,000 K’s and two Cy Youngs? Now we’re building a case.
deGrom’s case would get even stronger if he can keep his ERA+ at 140 or better, something only nine pitchers with at least 1,500 innings in the Modern Era (since 1900) can claim. Six of the nine are in the Hall of Fame, two are still active, and one is Clemens.
deGrom has recorded an ERA+ of 148 in his career, which ties him with Grove for fourth among those with at least 1,000 frames.
Highest ERA+ in Modern Era
(Min. 1,000 innings)
1. Mariano Rivera (1995-2013), 205
2. Clayton Kershaw (2008-present), 157
3. Pedro Martinez (1992-2009), 154
4-T. Lefty Grove (1925-41), 148
4-T. Jacob deGrom (2014-present), 148
6-T. Walter Johnson (1907-27), 147
6-T. Hoyt Wilhelm (1952-72), 147
8-T. Smoky Joe Wood (1908-20), 146
8-T. Dan Quisenberry (1979-90), 146
8-T. Ed Walsh (1904-17), 146
Alone, having two Cy Young Awards, 2,000 K’s or a 140 ERA+ might not guarantee enshrinement, but together, the package could be good enough to get deGrom elected.
Thomas Harrigan is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @HarriganMLB.