Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the 2021 MLB season will start on time – and that we’ll see live baseball in the ballpark this year.
Meanwhile, Buster Olney continues its annual ranking of the top ten players in each position for the upcoming season, based on input from industry experts. It starts with pitchers – the ten best starters and the ten best relievers. It will be followed by the insiders on Wednesday, the outsiders on Thursday and the teams on Friday.
Trevor Bauer sometimes comes off the mound, and Marcus Stroman could be a cam pump. By his criteria, Jacob deGrom is outwardly stoic. But if you look closely, you can see an extraordinary intensity in deGrom’s work, even as he hosts a bull run where the only spectators are New York Mets coach Jeremy Hefner and the bulls’ receiver.
If deGrom throws a pitch and he misses it by an inch – maybe even less – deGrom will stop and look up at the sky, the briefest of pauses, while he thinks about what went wrong and why he blew it. He’s the best pitcher on the planet who challenges himself. It’s at a very, very high level, Hefner said.
But more often than not, deGrom can channel these emotions onto the underdog, and it’s like he’s a young Mike Tyson seeing the fear and defeat in his opponent’s eyes and moving to finish the job. Maybe killer instinct isn’t the right word these days, Hefner said, but it’s like he thinks: I am ready to pounce on this prey and not be defeated, not let it escape. He’s funny, he likes to joke around, but when it comes to work, he’s very serious.
Of course you do. DeGrom went from a very good pitcher to a superstar during the 2018 season, and his production over the last three years has been impressive: 2.10 ERA, with 628 eliminations in 489 innings and only 36 homers allowed in 76 starts. He won two Cy Young Awards and finished third in another, and with an adjusted ERA+ of 188 – better than Sandy Koufax in the last three incredible years of his career in this Hall of Famer. Koufax had a modified ERA+ of 176 from 1964 to 1966.
It’s ridiculous to compare the 2020 season to a previous year because the extenuating circumstances of last summer were so different. There was no fatigue or pain for 200 innings, but on the other hand, the pitchers had to work without the adrenaline they could borrow from the fans in the stands. As an example, Adam Ottavino cited the two-shot applause that occurs at Yankee Stadium and elsewhere every time a batter hits a hole, which reinforces the batter’s defensive posture and puts emotional pressure on the pitcher. Launchers like theGrom didn’t have that option.
But it didn’t matter to the Mets’ aces. In a way, DeGrom was the perfect pitcher for the year, with no fans in the stands, because he could focus on the crunch and play the hitter physically – with his own tricks – and emotionally. She has an aura about it, Hefner said. He’s in competition with the game, he’s in competition with himself. A lot of other things don’t matter – the fans or not, who’s in the box, whether it’s a playoff game or a non-playoff game. He thinks: I’m gonna win tonight.
Over the past three seasons, DeGrom has more than three wins in just six of his 76 starts. In 61 of those starts, his opponents scored two runs or less. He has become a role model for what many other pitchers aspire to become.
Top 10 starting pitchers according to industry evaluators’ data:
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