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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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He's Gonna Make It After All

In the spirit of one Miss Mary Richards, a spunky Minneapolis television news producer who probably rooted for the Rod Carew Twins if she rooted for any baseball team between 1970 and 1977, we offer a pressing two-part question.

1) Who can turn Mets fans on with his smile?

2) Who just took a nothing year and suddenly made it all seem worthwhile?

Well, it’s Jacob deGrom, folks — and he should know it; with each pitch and every little movement he showed it. Now the National League Rookie of the Year should know something else, namely that he is Faith and Fear in Flushing’s Most Valuable Met of 2014.

Cue toss of Mets cap in air.

In a season that needed a Jacob deGrom, we got a Jacob deGrom. We got a really good pitcher who got on a really great roll and we got a really good story that captivated us with really little advance notice. You put it all together, as Jacob did between the time he came up in May and the time he mowed down batters in September, you’ve got a Met who put an indelible imprint on a campaign that was otherwise drifting toward all too familiar oblivion.

You’ve also got a pitcher who’s got spunk. And we love spunk.

DeGrom defined the Mets season when it lacked meaning. Definitive deGrom came to stand for something special.

• For strikeouts. Most notable were the record-tying eight in a row he reeled off to commence his September 15 outing against the Marlins, the night that won deGrom the full and focused attention of the baseball world (even if his bullpen eventually lost the game). In all, deGrom struck out 144 batters in 140⅓ innings, including 23 in 13 over his final two starts.

• For consistency. Between July 8 and September 21, Jacob made 12 starts and all but one of them was “quality”: six innings or more, three earned runs or less…usually less. His ERA in the deGrom dozen: 1.90. The Mets won nine of those twelve; the pitcher won eight of nine.

• For story. What wasn’t there to love about Jacob deGrom? If he wasn’t the total package, his contents were increasingly intriguing the more we saw of them. The unconventional spelling of the last name. Those flowing and luxurious locks. The ability to hit like the position player he’d been in college a scant four years earlier. The hypelessness of this great, righthanded hope.

Some of it you could see right away, but maybe the best part of deGrom’s 2014 is that most of us didn’t see it coming at all. Baseball America ranked him 10th among Mets prospects entering 2014; Baseball Prospectus didn’t have him in its Top 10; Amazin’ Avenue placed him 15th out of 25; Mets Minor League Blog 16th of 41. When you heard him mentioned, as late as March, you thought there was an extra syllable to him, as in “and deGrom”. He was generally the last Triple-A pitching prospect rattled off, after Noah Syndergaard, after Rafael Montero, after nobody else was readily available to take a Subway Series start in mid-May.

DeGrom made his major league debut at Citi Field against the Yankees and impressed: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 1 ER, 6 SO. There was no going back to Las Vegas and no detour to the bullpen. His first win required an eighth start and seven innings of shutout ball in Miami, but once he scaled that hump, he was on his way to pretty much excelling every fifth day. Inexperience didn’t stop him. A second trip around the league didn’t stop him. The briefest of DL stints didn’t stop him. Like the Mets down their version of the stretch (17-11), he only got better.

Yet even hindsight doesn’t indicate we saw him coming. Matt Harvey in 2012 and Zack Wheeler in 2013 were not only seen coming, their every step along the way was tracked, detailed and heralded. DeGrom, conversely, was no hot child in the city. He just showed up and pitched like a phenom without attendant phenomenal publicity, which probably made his success that much more delicious.

If the core of our Mets rotation of dreams — Harvey, Wheeler, deGrom, Syndergaard, and the survivor among Montero, Matz, Niese and Gee — becomes reality, it will always be true that only one showed up simply when he showed up and performed without expectations. Pending any further hardware earned by Syndergaard, Montero or Steven Matz, we know that the one who arrived without as much as elevator talk about how good he was going to be was good enough to win Rookie of the Year.

Which is something you can win only once, and deGrom won it. When he did so earlier this week, it felt unprecedented in modern Mets history, probably because it was. Four previous Rookie of the Year awards are displayed among the Mets’ most cherished mementoes, of course, but none had been captured in thirty years. There was Seaver in ’67, Matlack in ’72, Strawberry in ’83, Gooden in ’84…and then the procession stopped cold. Even the near Met misses over which some of us still grip grudges — Hunt/Rose 1963, Koosman/Bench 1968, Henderson/Dawson 1977 — were ancient.

Whatever became of Mets Rookies of the Year?

Farm systems ebb and flow. The Mets’ ebbed a whole lot between Gregg Jefferies’s splashy debut (he won ROY votes in both 1988 and 1989) and Jay Payton’s long-delayed breakthrough in 2000. Between their respective third-place finishes, freshman Mets garnered only scattered support in the 1990s, with Bobby Jones, Jason Isringhausen and Rey Ordoñez finishing out of the money in their respective neophyte seasons’ voting.

To paraphrase Cubs fans regarding their fallow century, anybody can have a bad decade. But after Payton, ROY things appeared no more promising for the Mets. The award that signals something good is about to happen stayed well out of their grasp. From 2001 to 2013, Ty Wigginton, Jose Reyes, Kaz Matsui and Ike Davis combined for five points’ worth of third-place votes. Harvey, Wheeler and David Wright combined for zero, or one less than the one point apiece Jeurys Familia and Travis d’Arnaud pulled down this year.

The overall story of the Mets from Reyes in 2003 and Wright in 2004 to Harvey in 2012 and Wheeler in 2013 was a lack of rookie talent good enough to gain award consideration. But the subtext, particularly in recent years, was the Mets, probably without meaning to, avoided the chance to have a night like they did with deGrom this past Monday. Wheeler had to be confined to the farm so his service-time clock didn’t start ticking. Same for Harvey. Same for Davis, come to think of it. The Mets were keeping a farsighted eye on the future but demonstrated a crying need for corrective lenses where seeing what was right in front of them was concerned.

Super Two was a big subject for their big prospects in 2012 and 2013. It was a prominent topic in 2014 when the promotion of their biggest prospect, Syndergaard, was broached. DeGrom? Not a big prospect. Nobody mentioned Super Two on May 15 when he was handed the ball and asked to hold the Yankees in check. Nobody gave a second thought to how his arbitration and free agency eligibility would be affected when he struck out eleven Phillies on May 31. Nobody groaned about how much it might cost the Mets when he was taking care of the Braves, the Marlins, the Mariners, the Brewers and the Giants in successive starts in July and early August. The only issue that concerned us was how did Billy Hamilton’s speed and defense stack up against Jacob deGrom’s win after win?

We were thinking about a Met being Rookie of the Year for the first time since, really, Gooden. Doc had no genuine competition in 1984. DeGrom’s only authentic foe was Hamilton, unless you counted time. Hamilton had been up with the Reds from Opening Day onward. He had hype. He had numbers in April while Jacob had a month in Vegas. But Hamilton stalled, deGrom blossomed and all those strikeouts in September put our guy over the top.

It was invigorating for a Met to not only be a part of that conversation let alone on top of that conversation. I don’t know how tangible a Rookie of the Year award is in terms of franchise value, but I have to believe having one in the middle of your immediate future plans is worth whatever the Mets might have to cough up to pay deGrom when he’s eligible for arbitration in 2018 and/or becomes a free agent in 2021. The last line of the announcement the Mets sent to their fans after the prize became Jacob’s included an invitation to “catch Jacob deGrom and the rest of the 2015 Mets with a Season Ticket Plan,” so it certainly seems marketable.

Winning usually is.

FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS MOST VALUABLE METS

2005: Pedro Martinez
2006: Carlos Beltran
2007: David Wright
2008: Johan Santana
2009: Pedro Feliciano
2010: R.A. Dickey
2011: Jose Reyes
2012: R.A. Dickey
2013: Daniel Murphy, Dillon Gee and LaTroy Hawkins

Still to come: The Nikon Camera Player of the Year for 2014.

13 comments to He’s Gonna Make It After All

  • I just plunked down a tidy sum for Friday Plan tickets in my Pepsi Porch perch to watch award-winners deGrom and Juan Lagares defend their titles, Matt Harvey reclaim his and Michael Cuddyer cement his rapport. On my day off, I listened to John Smoltz tell us the “Mets will be in the playoffs…in the playoff mix” in 2015. I heard Matt Vasgersian and Harold Reynolds ask “Why not the Mets?” in the NL East.

    With straight faces.

    2015 is feeling slightly 1984-ish, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

    To paraphrase Forrest Gump, marketable is as marketable does…

  • dmg

    let’s not forget he was so obviously a big draw that by august, the mets were offering degrom ticket packages, 4 tix for $48.

  • Dave

    That the two young 2014 award winners were more or less afterthoughts by this organization tells us a few things. One is that the top x number of prospects lists created by those who deem themselves fit to create them are no sure thing. Don’t recall anyone drooling in anticipation of Lagares’s promotion to the major leagues either, so perhaps there are more hidden gems in the system. So that’s good.

    The other thing it tells us is not so good…that sometimes the guys in charge of talent assessment don’t get it right, or if they do it’s by accident. If den Dekker hadn’t been injured in spring training in 2013, would Lagares still be languishing in Triple A or DFA’d? Or if Gee hadn’t gotten hurt, would Billy Hamilton be ROY while deGrom would’ve been called up in September alongside Dario Alvarez and Eric Goeddel and pitched a few innings of mop-up work?

    • Rob

      It’s not just the Mets, it’s everyone. After the season I went back and re-read the books that come out pre-season, and not one of them pegged deGrom as a top prospect…not Baseball America, not Baseball Prospectus, not CBS or ESPN, not Ron Shandler…NOBODY. Baseball Prospectus actually saw some upside there and noted his development and said his stuff would play in relief if he didn’t develop as a starter, but he didn’t even make their Top 100 prospects list.

      Sometimes guys just come out of nowhere or have some kind of unforeseen epiphany and it makes organizations (and analysts) look bad, but it’s not necessarily an organizational breakdown when these guys fall through the cracks. Good for us in this case, and I don’t think it signifies any kind of red flag.

  • Mets Fan 60

    And which Mets pitcher gets a Garden Gnome Day like deGrom on 5/2nd in 2015?? Nobody, only Jacob.

  • Kevin From Flushing

    Congrats to Jacob on ROY and MVM. Another year, another individual accomplishment for the Mets. Let’s hope management or health doesn’t send deGrom elsewhere in 2015 so he can help the ballclub achieve a team accomplishment. LGM!

  • open the gates

    Agree with Rob that scouting is, by definition, a very inexact science. I’m remembering, early 1987 – just off the WS win – all the great young pitchers – Doc, Darling, El Sid, and Aggie…who could have imagined that, of all the Mets pitchers, the one who would come closest to Hall of Fame consideration would be the recently acquired David Cone, whom no one had even heard of then? Back then, according to the scouts, the Next Big Thing for Mets pitching was young David West. We all remember him, right?

  • Dave

    Ok, change the subject a bit, but still related to post season awards. In the category of “words in the English language I never thought would be strung together,” how’s this:

    The only New York baseball player to receive any MVP votes was Lucas Duda.