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Cooperstown chances: Jacob deGrom makes up late start with all-time numbers

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Cooperstown chances: Jacob deGrom makes up late start with all-time numbers

Jacob deGrom is the best pitcher in baseball. It is an unofficial title, of course, but it is not in dispute. The Mets ace won the National League Cy Young in 2017 and 2018, then finished third in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

And you know what he’s done so far this year. Heading into his scheduled start Tuesday, his ERA is 0.95 through 14 starts. He has made 90 starts since the start of the 2018 season, and his ERA in those games is 1.93, with 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.12 FIP.

These are ridiculous numbers. Historical. Amazing. When you think of guys acting “like a Hall of Famer,” you think of what Jacob deGrom is doing right now. He’s up there with the best stages for Pedro Martinez, Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson, to name just a few legends.

But is your place in Cooperstown safe? We’ll see.

If he retired tomorrow, would he make it to the Hall of Fame?

No I would not. Technically, deGrom has yet to qualify. This is only his eighth season in the majors, and the minimum requirement is 10 years. He is 33 years old and didn’t make his MLB debut until he was just over a month away from his 26th birthday. More on that in a moment.

The Cooperstown Affair

We already mentioned his ridiculous numbers from the start of the 2018 season. But deGrom was not far behind before taking the mantle of BPIB (best pitcher in baseball) from Clayton Kershaw. He won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2014, made the All-Star team in 2015, and finished in the top eight in Cy Young voting in both 2015 and 2016.

Let’s divide your career into four-year periods.

2014-17 2.98 effectiveness 107 GS 3.07 FIP 9.7K / 9 4.15K / BB 15.9 bWAR
2018-21 1.93 effectiveness 90 GS 2.12 FIP 12.0K / 9 6.42 K / BB 24.9 bWAR
Career 2.50 effectiveness 197 SG 2.63 FIP 10.7K / 9 5.07K / BB 40.8 bWAR

Damn, it’s been brilliant, huh? Even her “before” period was outstanding.

Not that ERA is everything, but let’s take a look at E&R +, a stat that adjusts to allow for comparisons across the ages, for a pair of Inner Circle Hall of Fame pitchers: Lefty Grove, 3.06 ERA, 148 ERA + (1925-41), Bob Gibson, 2.91 ERA, 127 ERA + (1959-75) and Randy Johnson, 3.29 ERA, 135 ERA + (1988-2009). DeGrom’s 2.98 ERA and 130+ ERA slide right there, and that’s BEFORE he went from great to all-time.

If deGrom, who has been quite incredible since the beginning of his MLB career and epic the last four years, is not worthy of Cooperstown, why even have a Hall of Fame, right?

The Cooperstown Hesitation

DeGrom’s Cooperstown push is a total sprint, not a marathon. He didn’t make his MLB debut until he was 25 years and 330 days old, which was an enormously late start.

Pedro Martinez already had a Cy Young Award and a 23.5 bWAR in his career when he began his 26-year season. Nolan Ryan had 822 strikeouts in his career prior to his 26-year season. Jim Palmer had 79 career wins prior to his 26-year season. Tom Seaver had a Cy Young Award, a 2.49 career ERA and a 25.9 bWAR in nearly 1,100 innings prior to his 26-year season.

Let’s see it another way. The list of Hall of Fame pitchers who debuted in MLB later than deGrom is three players. Three. That’s.

Hoyt Wilhelm: He made his MLB debut at age 29, 267 days in 1952. He pitched until age 49.
Joe McGinnity: 28 years, 29 days in 1899. Launched until 1908 (246 victories)
Mordeci “Three Finger” Brown: 26 years, 182 days in 1903. He threw until he was 39

For most Hall of Fame players, the journey is a marathon, with extended sections similar to races. Not many guys who were solely sprinters.

That shows in the general numbers. DeGrom’s bWAR run of 40.8 ranks 160th in MLB history, a few ticks above Danny Darwin’s 40.3. Your JAWS number – detailed description here – is 42.1, ranking 130th in MLB history, just behind David Wells, at 42.4. The bWAR / WAR7 / JAWS average for a Hall of Famer: 73.3 / 50.0 / 61.7. deGrom: 43.5 / 40.8 / 42.1

How did we go from rubbing shoulders with elites like Pedro and Gibson to sharing space with good and bad guys like Boomer and Darwin? Yes, deGrom’s candidacy is complicated.

Some more Hall of Fame numbers from deGrom’s baseball reference page: Black Ink, 20 (Average HoF: 40), Gray Ink, 111 (Average HoF: 185), Monitor, 49 (Probable HoF: 100), Standards, 32 (mean HoF: 50). The short career so far is really working against him.

Similar hall of fame

Jacob deGrom’s career is not over. Of course. If we’re lucky, as baseball fans who love to see elite players perform at elite levels, deGrom will pitch into his 40s. So it wouldn’t be a question. Heck, it shouldn’t be a question after a couple more years.

For today, however, we are seeing how his career compares so far. You can’t really compare to the lads who debuted late, because Wilhelm was a reliever and Brown / McGinnity were boys of the turn of the century. Instead, we will see two other sprinters from Cooperstown: Sandy Koufax and Dizzy Dean.

Koufax took some time to figure out how to harness his incredible arm, but once he did, he was unstoppable for opposing hitters. The pain in his elbow ended his career. Dean was amazing from the start, but a broken leg in an All-Star Game forced him to change his pitching motion as he rushed back from injury, and that led to arm problems from which he never recovered. Koufax had nine seasons with 22 or more starts; Dean was only six. deGrom, at the moment, also has six.

Player bWAR WAR7 Jaws
Coufax 48.9 46.0 47.4
dean 46.2 44.1 45.1
deGrom 43.5 40.8 42.1

Close, but not quite. Until the 2020 season is taken into account, which was a peak year for Grom shortened by the pandemic. In 12 starts, he had 2.7 bWAR. Extrapolating that to a 32-start season, your bWAR jumps to around 7. Add that to your totals, and you’ll be right up there with Dean, still a little short of Koufax.

Non-similar Hall of Famer

This comparison bothers me. Not because it hurts deGrom’s case, but because it sheds light on what I consider massive oversight. As of July 6, deGrom is 33 years and 17 days old. Johan Santana pitched his last MLB pitch at 33 years and 157 days old. Injuries suck.

As we’ve talked about, deGrom has been brilliant in his first eight years in the majors (26-33 year seasons). Santana had an eight-year streak that was also magnificent (aged 24 to 31) until injuries ruined his career. He appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot as part of the 2018 class and did not receive the 5 percent necessary to remain on the ballot. If you’ve read my Hall of Fame writings, you probably know that I was one of the few who voted for him.

Let’s compare those eight-year peak spans.

deGrom 40.8 bWAR 2.50 effectiveness 2.63 FIP 157 ERA + 1,254 2/3 IP 1,013 Whip 7.0 H / 9 5.07K / BB
Santana 47.8 bWAR 2.89 effectiveness 3.31 FIP 150 ERA + 1,670 2/3 IP 1,067 Whip 7.4 H / 9 4.03 K / BB

Very similar, huh? I have to add this: deGrom has two Cy Young awards (on his way to No. 3) and three other top 8 finishes, while Santana had two Cy Young awards and another four top seven finishes.

The point is not to say that because Santana immediately dropped the ballot, deGrom doesn’t stand a chance. Of course not. Above all, the point here: Santana got screwed over the 10-person ballot. Aargh. Here’s hoping that the Modern Era Committee is right in the future.

Coopertown forecast

Enter Jacob deGrom, on his first vote. However, I have to admit that it’s a bit scary, the amount of times it came out starts this year with some kind of illness. Every time, just wait for good news. And so far, that has been the case.

Another Cy Young award almost certainly secures his spot, assuming he casts the two most years needed to reach 10 seasons. Stay healthy as well.

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