As Mets ace Jacob deGrom was toying with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night, unleashing triple digit fastballs while mixing in his hellacious slider and even throwing his first curve of the 2021 season, the possibility of perfection crept into his mind along with every fan who was watching.
And while deGrom didn’t achieve history on Monday, what he is doing so far this season has been otherworldly.
Has it been so otherworldly that he should be the current favorite for the National League MVP award in addition to already being the runaway favorite for the National League Cy Young award?
Let’s dive in…
Through eight starts over 51 innings, deGrom has a 0.71 ERA (1.08 FIP) and 0.57 WHIP with 82 strikeouts (a career-best 14.47 per 9). DeGrom’s walk rate (1.24 per 9) is also the best of his career.
DeGrom’s 0.71 ERA is the lowest any pitcher has had entering the month of June since 1945.
Meanwhile, his 0.57 WHIP is the lowest by a pitcher through his first eight appearances since the mound was set at its current distance in 1893, per the Elias Sports Bureau.
In what is becoming another Year of the Pitcher just over a half century after the carnage that was unleashed by Bob Gibson and others in 1968, deGrom’s league-leading ERA is more than a half run better than the second-best (Brandon Woodruff‘s 1.27).
If you want to compare deGrom to the pitcher with the best ERA in the American League (Gerrit Cole), he is more than a run clear of Cole’s 1.78 mark.
A look at deGrom’s advanced numbers show that he is in the top one percent of baseball when it comes to strikeout rate, chase rate, xBA, xERA, xwOBA, and fastball velocity. He is also elite when it comes to walk rate, xSLG, and whiff rate.
His stuff is insane, with his fastball maxing out at 102 mph and averaging 99.1 mph. He’s dialed his slider back a bit, averaging 91.6 mph after it averaged 92.5 mph in both 2019 and 2020.
Simply put, this is the best version of deGrom we’ve ever seen. And the prior versions of deGrom won the Cy Young in 2018 and 2019 and probably would’ve won it again in 2020 had there been a full season.
As deGrom has started his season in historic fashion on the mound, San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. and Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. are off to ridiculous starts at the plate.
Tatis is slashing .299/.393/.708 with 16 home runs in 38 games. He is on pace to finish the season with 55 homers.
Acuña is slashing .283/.380/.618 with 16 home runs in 47 games. He is on pace to finish the season with 51 homers.
If Tatis finishes the season with a slugging percentage over .700 and more than 50 homers, it’s hard to imagine him not having an easy case for MVP.
But considering no one in either league has eclipsed a .700 slugging percentage in a full season since Barry Bonds in 2004 (while Bonds was pharmaceutically aided), it’s hard to see Tatis keeping his torrid pace up.
It’s also close to impossible to imagine deGrom finishing the season with a sub-1.00 ERA.
So what exactly is deGrom’s ceiling?
His best ERA was 1.70 in 2018 and he’s been basically a run better than that so far this season. And if deGrom finishes the 2021 season with an ERA lower than the 1.70 he posted in 2018 — to go along with the ridiculous peripherals he’s been putting up — it could be hard to deny him the MVP.
The last pitcher to win the Cy Young and MVP in the same season was Clayton Kershaw, who pulled it off in 2014 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That season, Kershaw — in the midst of one of the most dominant six-year stretches in the history of the sport — had a 1.77 ERA (1.81 FIP) and 0.86 WHIP with 239 strikeouts in 198.1 IP over 27 starts.
In 2014, Kershaw’s fWAR of 8.4 was the best in the NL, edging Jonathan Lucroy (8.2) and Buster Posey (7.6).
Things are different for deGrom in 2021, against the backdrop of a historic downturn in offensive production and with his likeliest competition for MVP being two of the brightest, most dynamic young stars in baseball.
So will deGrom be able to pull off the rare feat of Cy Young and MVP in the same season?
The first thing that needs to happen is for him to stay healthy.
DeGrom has already missed three starts and if he misses a few more, things will start to get dicey.
If he can stay on the mound, though, it’s hard to bet against deGrom, who should now be fully unleashed after making his last two starts on pitch count/inning limits following his IL stint.
He shows little emotion and is guarded when speaking during news conferences, but deGrom — who said a few months ago that he wants to be an inner circle Hall-of-Famer — clearly has all-time greatness on his mind.
Now it’s a matter of seeing just how great deGrom can continue to be in 2021.