The following paragraphs will contain some blasphemy. There will be “what ifs”, and optimistic projections. All in an intellectual exercise to examine where Jacob deGrom lies within the New York Mets Pantheon.
For Christmas, Bill Madden’s latest book on Tom Seaver made its way to Mets fans across the country. Seaver is arguably the best right-handed pitcher of all-time, and thus certainly within the framework of the Mets franchise, he is The Franchise. He is appropriately afforded a level of love and respect his stature calls for. That was not always so, but everyone has come around on Tom Terrific.
Seaver pitched for the Mets for 12 seasons (11.5, grrrr). 400 games, 200 wins, 3000 innings, 2.57 ERA, 2500 strikeouts, 76 WAR. The top pitcher, the top player, for the Mets by wide margins. Seaver’s rotation partner, Jerry Koosman, is largely unheralded, but his accumulated stats in Mets history would be top tier on many teams without Seaver.
You may be saying, “Where are you going with this?”
deGrom started his career at age 26. That is quite late for a player that appears to be the best around. As a result, his career, to date, is approximately 40-45% of Seaver’s, but deGrom has some advantages.
deGrom is currently fourth in career WAR, passing Koosman in the abbreviated 2020. He is 3 WAR behind Dwight Gooden (11 seasons), and 11 WAR behind David Wright. You read that right – deGrom is a season and a half from placing himself as the second greatest Met of All Time. Sure, Ed Kranepool played 18 years with the Mets, but the best players have played 11 or 12. Wright is listed at 14 seasons, but we all know about his last three.
If deGrom plays out his current contract, four more seasons, he will pass Wright and Gooden handily, and be within a few seasons of Seaver’s WAR and Ks. If, like Seaver, he decides to finish his career with the Mets, and the Mets, now Wilpon-less, value deGrom and want to reward his greatness, offer him a two- or three-year extension to finish his career, deGrom will pass Seaver in those key categories, and be remarkably close in games and games started. Due to deGrom’s famously poor win rate, beyond his control, he is not likely to even approach Seaver in wins. deGrom could get closer if he can break out of his luck and win 20 for a couple of seasons.
When Gooden was so dominant, people wondered if he could supplant Seaver, but there are many obstacles – injuries, distractions – for any “next great player”. deGrom has dodged those by arriving to the majors late.
One statistic ignored thusfar is ERA. Seaver’s Met ERA was 2.57. deGrom’s is 2.61 and dropping significantly the last few seasons. After 2021, deGrom is likely to pass Seaver in ERA.
In five years, will we have to reconsider the greatest Met?
deGrom’s greatness is not limited to Mets superiority. In the “Wild Card Era” (since 1995), deGrom is second in ERA to Clayton Kershaw and third in ERA+ to Kershaw and Pedro Martinez. Expanding the era, and deGrom stays in second, whether is it is “Divisional Era” (1969), “Expansion Era” (1961), Integration Era (1947), or even “Live Ball Era” (1920). He is second in FIP, only behind Sandy Koufax. He stays third in ERA+. The caveat is deGrom has not hit his decline phase yet – Seaver’s ERA was 2.57 as a Met, but 2.86 for his career. We can expect deGrom’s last few seasons will be above his current rate, so he will have to drive his ERA down in the next few seasons to minimize the overall impact.
deGrom is more dominant than any of his peers, save Clayton Kershaw. He is definitely on pace for the Hall of Fame, and the Mets should keep him and pay him what it takes to become the next Tom Seaver.