It is time for my annual baseball post. Over this long, difficult year, I’ve developed a sporting hero, and it is Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom. Unlike my previous Mets hero, R.A. Dickey, deGrom is no clubhouse nerd-philosopher, but he did just put together one of the greatest seasons in modern pitching history, with a minuscule 1.70 ERA (that’s earned run average) and 269 strikeouts. These are stunningly brilliant numbers for anyone, but deGrom’s win/loss record was a paltry 10-9. But deGrom’s perseverance, focus and dedication that he showed to get there that inspired me.
For you see, he is a New York Met. And they just couldn’t make it easy.
Sean Newcomb is done after five scoreless. The 32 opposing starters against Jacob deGrom this year combined for a 2.45 ERA in 173 innings. The only National League pitcher with a better ERA is Jacob deGrom.
— Tim Britton (@TimBritton) September 27, 2018
If you’re not into baseball (in which case you probably aren’t even reading this) this stat may not have the impact it should so let me try to explain. Basically nearly every time he went to the mound, deGrom allowed only a run or two, an amount that a decent team should have been able to overcome.
Instead, the Mets –not a great hitting team to start with as their slugger Cespedes is out forever with tight hammies and calcium in his heels whatever that is – became flustered and tried so hard to score runs that instead they would just whiff helplessly at the ball. Some stats:
Over his 32 starts, deGrom received an average of 3.53 runs of support per outing, second-worst in the majors. Only Cole Hamels had worse and he ended with a 9-11 record despite a far worse 3.87 ERA.
Of the 21 times this year he allowed one run or fewer, deGrom was laden with a no-decision 10 times and with a loss twice.
If the Mets scored four runs in each of deGrom’s starts, which is still below the MLB average of 4.45 runs per game, his record would have been approximately 20-4 this season.
DeGrom would go out in every game, and allow a run or two, but his team would refuse to score, meaning he pitched the entire season at an insanely elite level under the pressure of knowing even a minor mistake would cost the game.
It got so bad at one point that deGrom, a former shortstop, started taking ferocious at bats. There were two games where he gave up early runs and actually had to get clutch hits just to tie the game so he wouldn’t lose.
And then the bullpen would come in and blow the game anyway.
Let’s put this in human terms. You have the Mets, 24 other humans, who know they have a rare gem having one of the great seasons, and they are anxious to help him out. They got so anxious to hit that instead they fell to new lows of offensive ineptitude. It was clearly psychological as in games where deGrom did NOT pitch the would score four or five runs, a normal amount.Embed from Getty Images
Pitching in major league baseball is a high pressure, lonely job. DeGrom, although unflappable on the mound, showed signs of temper in the past, throwing his glove in the dugout after giving up home runs, and so on. He could have gotten frustrated at this cosmic injustice and lost his focus and become a mere mortal.
Instead, as he said in post game interviews, he let go of things he could not control, like his teammates choking, and just threw each pitch as well as he could. The results were sublime.
And it worked. DeGrom is considered a shoo-in to win this year’s Cy Young Awards, the highest accolade a pitcher can achieve,
I was fortunate enough to see deGrom’s final game of the season on Wednesday, a mesmerizing two-hitter that was perhaps his best outing of the year. Luckily the Mets eked out 3 runs, and the ace’s win loss record crept above .500. There have been legendary pitching seasons – Bob Gibson in ’68, Dwight Gooden in ’85, Pedro Martinez in ’99. I feel like I got to witness one of those epic performances.
What is the lesson here? Some people have it and others don’t – nothing can change that. But we can all do our best by focusing on what we can control. It’s kind of a world of shit out there. I can’t imagine having the focus and intensity of a Jacob deGrom to do my best, but it’s something to aspire to.Embed from Getty Images