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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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Jake News: DeGrom Wins Ashburn

Richie Ashburn, someday to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, was voted an honor nearly as historic as he neared his retirement as an active player. The writers who covered the 1962 Mets chose him as the franchise’s first-ever Most Valuable Player. The 1962 Mets lost 120 games, calling into question the concept of the award at hand. As wise old Whitey himself wondered aloud, “Most Valuable Player on the worst team ever? Just how did they mean that?”

Ashburn played 135 games on 35-year-old legs, batted .306 for a club that averaged .240 and stoked the legend of Marvelous Marv Throneberry for a pack of beat reporters whose opportunities to author stirring stories about uplifting victories were few and far between. The clubhouse favorites even managed to give those writers one more anecdote to disseminate as their act was coming to a close. For winning MVP, Ashburn, straight out of Tilden, Neb., was presented with a really nice boat So was Throneberry, courtesy of Howard Clothes, the sponsor of a contest that inaugural year at the Polo Grounds. Whichever Met hit the Howard sign on the outfield wall the most was deemed seaworthy by the clothier. Throneberry struck out 83 times in 1962, but intentionally or otherwise found Howard’s target more than any of his teammates. So he got a boat…and was soon informed a certain federal government would count it as earned income. Marv did not find that news so marvelous.

Richie’s boat was interpreted as a gift, so he didn’t have to do any additional giving. But given that he was heading back to Nebraska after the season, you couldn’t blame the guy if he looked the gift boat in the mouth, for what was he gonna do with a boat in the middle of the country nowhere near water? He decided to dock it in the waters off New Jersey.

It sank. Word was nobody bothered to install a drainage plug.

Like that boat, the Mets lacked their share of necessary components in those early days, but tellable tales were as plentiful as lopsided losses. Look at us, we’re still telling them. Thus, in recognition of the 1962 Mets proving how much value can be mined from every Mets season, whatever its bottom line, Faith and Fear in Flushing is rededicating the MVM honor it announces in this space annually as the Richie Ashburn Most Valuable Met award. We have no boats. We have no plugs. We have only appreciation to dispense.

For 2017, Faith and Fear celebrates Jacob deGrom as recipient of the Ashburn, making him the most valuable player on the worst Mets team in many years.

Just how do we mean that? Only in a good way, we can assure Jake. As difficult a time as we had watching the 2017 Mets sink toward the bottom of the National League East, selecting deGrom as our Ashburn winner for the second time in four seasons couldn’t have been more of a sea breeze. What little positional-player competition Jacob had either got injured (Michael Conforto compiled a .939 OPS in 109 games, the last of them on August 24) or traded (Jay Bruce and his 29 homers were shipped to Cleveland on August 9), leaving him the openest of fields on which to claim his prize.

That he did, convincingly. The numbers themselves were more than solid. In the classic pitching shorthand, deGrom went 15-10 for a 70-92 ballclub. His strikeouts piled up impressively to 239, the ninth-most by any Met in a single season and the most by any Met in twenty-six seasons. His earned run average was 3.53, not the stuff of Seaver and Gooden in their prime, but far more than decent in contemporary terms. He cracked 200 innings and passed 30 starts.

Within the context of his contemporaries, deGrom ranked as a top-tier National League pitcher. Those 239 Ks were second only to Max Scherzer’s 268. That 3.55 ERA slotted tenth, in line with where his 119 ERA+ stood. He finished seventh in FIP, eighth in WAR and eighth in WHIP, and totaled sixth-most Ws and fifth-most IP. Acronym it any way you like, JdG was good enough for CYA consideration. In a year when the Mets faded from sight, Jake wound up eighth in Cy Young voting, the only member of the Mets to materialize on any BBWAA ballot for anything. Jacob’s couple of points served as a pleasant mid-November reminder that we actually existed in 2017.

Within the realm of what we’re awarding him with here, deGrom was so much more valuable than every other Met, Met pitcher or Met starting pitcher that it wasn’t funny. What it was was historic. Jake was healthier, sounder and better than everybody in uniform to an extent rarely seen in any Met season.

Nobody besides deGrom and Jerry Blevins wore the Mets uniform as an active player in 2017 from beginning to end without interruption. Nobody within the ranks of what passed for a rotation came close to Jacob in anything. “DeGrominant” wasn’t just what he was against opposing batters on his (many) best days. He overwhelmed his comrades in arms.

Here is how deGrom compares to the next-closest runner-up in various categories among Met starting pitchers (statistics from Baseball-Reference):

DeGrom 15
Gsellman 7

DeGrom 201.1
Gsellman 119.2

DeGrom 239
Montero 114

DeGrom 119
Lugo 90

DeGrom 4.4
Lugo 0.9

One more item indicating how 2017 Mets starting pitching amounted to deGrom and pray against pogrom comes from Game Score, the metric Bill James designed to express just how overpowering a given start is. A really great one — lots of strikeouts, few walks or hits, going very deep, preferably not allowing runs earned or otherwise — would add to up over 90. Our Mets didn’t have any of those. A very good one would clock in around the mid-80s. The Mets didn’t have any of those, either. But what they did have, they got almost exclusively from deGrom.

The best Game Score any Met starter managed in ’17 came via the right arm of Rafael Montero, namely the 81 he notched in eight-and-a-third shutout innings against Cincinnati in late August. The second- through ninth-best from Met starters were courtesy of Jake, scores bunched between 75 and 78. No. 10 was a product of Seth Lugo’s crisp six innings (2 H, 0 BB, 0 R) versus Atlanta in late September, good for a Game Score of 75. Then the next three were deGrom (74), deGrom (74) and deGrom (73).

Picture it this way:

1. Montero
2. deGrom
3. deGrom
4. deGrom
5. deGrom
6. deGrom
7. deGrom
8. deGrom
9. deGrom

10. Lugo
11. deGrom
12. deGrom
13. deGrom

Eleven of the thirteen strongest Met starts on the season were pitched by Jacob deGrom. He essentially had no peers in this regard, and that made his one-man stand against mediocrity practically unprecedented in Mets history.

During Tom Seaver’s awe-inspiring 1971 (20-10, 289 SO, 1.76 ERA), the ace of aces topped 90 five separate times, the five best starts from any Met that year. But he was followed in the next four slots by Nolan Ryan, Gary Gentry, Ray Sadecki and Gentry again. Amid Doc Gooden’s legendary 1985 (24-4, 268 SO, 1.53 ERA), Gooden filed the top six starts on the Met staff, along with Nos. 8 and 9, but Ron Darling slipped in at No. 7, and Sid Fernandez took the tenth and twelfth spots and a rare Terry Leach outing ranked eleventh. Plus in ’85 you had a wonderful team winning 98 games and several everyday stars blowing your mind.

Even in dismal Met years when you had a starting pitcher carrying the load in deGromulent style — Swan in 1979, Dickey in 2012 — there was somebody else doing something else worthwhile. Lee Mazzilli batted .303 in ’79 and rated his own Poster Day; David Wright finished sixth in NL MVP voting in ’12…and a fella named Johan Santana made a memorable (if short-lived) comeback culminating in the First No-Hitter in New York Mets History. Johan, as long as we’ve invoked his Hall of Fame-eligible name, easily outshone his rotationmates in contention-laden 2008, but Mike Pelfrey at least showed up and won 13 games, or only three fewer than Santana.

The win gap of seven between deGrom and Gsellman has been exceeded only four times among Mets starting pitchers. Jacob’s wins represented 21.4% of all Met victories, placing him within the upper third in franchise history when it comes to proportional representation. The chasm between his ERA+ (which is ERA adjusted for park and league effects) and Lugo’s ranks thirteenth-highest between the Mets’ best and second-best starters (minimum 10 starts for pitchers who appeared more as starters than relievers). The WAR gap of 3.5 is eighth-best. And, much as Jake wore the star-of-the-game crown frequently, he put together a team triple crown season (the twenty-fourth in team history): most wins among Mets pitchers; most strikeouts among Mets pitchers; and lowest ERA among qualifying Mets starting pitchers.

He was also the only Mets starter to qualify for the league’s earned run average title. You have to throw one inning per every game your team plays. Only Jake did that.

There was something about the needle that deGrom threaded in 2017 as an outstanding pitcher on a crummy team on which nobody else produced very much for very long that felt valiant, substantial and fairly extraordinary. When deGrom pitched, attention was merited. When deGrom didn’t start, the three hours that followed were left to your discretion. In the spirit of Richie Ashburn’s reluctance to be recognized for his contributions to a 40-120 enterprise, we will declare on Jacob deGrom’s behalf that you can be a most valuable player on a distant fourth-place finisher. Without deGrom, you get the feeling the 2017 Mets wouldn’t have finished at all — and who would have wanted last season to have just kept going?

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
2014: Jacob deGrom
2015: Yoenis Cespedes
2016: Asdrubal Cabrera

Still to come: The Nikon Camera Player of the Year for 2017.

6 comments to Jake News: DeGrom Wins Ashburn

  • Kevin From Flushing

    AND he even knocked his first career HR to help beat the Nationals at home on a Sunday (quite a day)!

    This is much deserved. The ERA+ gap is frightening but entirely believable.

    Thank you for continuing to do this year after year, Greg! And I fully support the new name.

  • Dave

    Always a winter highlight to be reminded of what went right during a Mets season, perhaps especially following those seasons in which so little actually did. Although one of the more obvious choices in recent years. Jacob may have received all of the first place votes, I suppose. Now it remains to be seen whether his haircut, much lamented in my otherwise all-female household, has any impact on his performance.

  • Gil

    And he’s got a new, clean-cut look! Look out 2018 NL East batters.