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Mets of the 2010s: Jake’s the 1

Welcome to the eleventh and concluding chapter of Faith and Fear’s countdown of The Top 100 Mets of the 2010s. An introduction to the series is available here [1]; you can read the most recent installment here [2]. These are the more or less best Mets we rooted for as Mets fans these past ten years. Since a decade is coming to a close, we thought it would be fun to round them up and recall a little something about them.


It’s no fantasy. Jacob deGrom is all ours.

1. JACOB DeGROM, 2014-2019
In early 2019, in the third start of his sixth major league season, Jacob deGrom was hittable, and for that, I apologize. There was some talk after that frigid Tuesday night versus the Minnesota Twins at Citi Field that maybe Jacob had been tipping his pitches, or perhaps it was simply inevitable imperfection catching up to a pitcher who had just strung together a record 26 consecutive quality starts, including the two scoreless outings with which he commenced defense of his Cy Young status. But I truly believe it was at least partly my fault, because as he went about mowing down the Marlins in the 26th and maybe best of those golden games six nights prior in Miami (7 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 1 BB, 14 SO, plus he hit a home run), I heard myself think a thought that couldn’t have worse karma attached to it had it been manufactured to adverse specifications:

“Geez, I’m running out of ways to write ‘Jacob deGrom was great again.’”

You’d think, after so many outings when we reveled in Jacob’s deGrominance in 2018, that I could have set our blog software every fifth day so it would automatically sprinkle superlatives like “spectacular,” “superb” and “scintillating” into my copy. Instead, I had to strain to keep up with deGrom. I mean, really, after a while you do run out of ways to write ‘Jacob deGrom was great again.’ Against the Marlins, I found an angle I liked [4]. Against the Twins, I found an angle I didn’t want [5]. Then, for a spell, that angle — deGrom as something less than spectacular, superb and scintillating — didn’t go away. Ohmigod, I fretted, I ruined Jacob deGrom’s career, all because I found blogging the most brilliant Met of our time a little challenging.

Fortunately, as Jacob does for his team more than his team does for Jacob, the ace of the staff came to my rescue. His career was stronger than the nehora I’d unintentionally put on him. Jacob deGrom is, I should have known after five seasons following him to the peak of his profession, the personification of a kinehora, the Yiddish phrase uttered to ward off the evil eye or, in our case, the potentially dangerous bats of opponents. All opponent bats are potentially dangerous, I was reminded between April 9 and April 26 (Jake’s ERA in three starts: 9.69). But by May 1 and all the way to September 25 (Jake’s ERA in twenty-seven starts: 2.07), I was reminded deGrom will not easily allow himself to be classified an endangered species.

Before we get carried away with metaphors piled on top of Met-aphors, let us explicitly state Jacob deGrom is Faith and Fear in Flushing’s Tom Seaver Met of the Decade for the 2010s, joining Mike Piazza [6] in receiving our decennial recognition of Metsian excellence. We’ve named the award for Tom Seaver because, well, why wouldn’t we? Tom Seaver is the greatest of Mets, and if we’d been around to conceive and present awards in the 1960s and 1970s, we’re absolutely certain Tom would have been our Met of the Decade both times.

DeGrom’s designation as FAFIF’s TSMOTD was never in doubt once the subject came to mind, which was after the 2018 season, deGrom’s most masterful masterpiece to date. The decade was nine-tenths over, Jacob had just won his third Richie Ashburn Most Valuable Met award (Jake’s ERA in thirty-two starts: 1.70 ERA) and it occurred to the awards committee that he held an almost insurmountable lead over every other Met from 2010 through 2018, pending 2019. Twenty Nineteen only deepened the committee’s commitment to this incredibly obvious choice.

We are declaring deGrom the Met of our decade a few days after Eddie Murphy hosted Saturday Night Live, which I mention because Eddie Murphy and Jacob deGrom share something in common, at least if you’ve repeatedly read (as I have) the book Saturday Night by Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad, a history of the show’s first ten years. In discussing the rocky transition from the original Lorne Michaels program of 1975-1980 to the doomed Jean Doumanian version of 1980-1981, the authors explained the new executive producer instructed set designer Leo Yoshimura that she wanted her iteration of SNL to transmit “the look of the Eighties”. Not surprisingly, Yoshimura had no idea what that nebulous direction implied, but he went about searching for an answer while Doumanian concentrated on casting the group that was supposed to somehow succeed the legendary Not Ready for Prime Time Players. Her starting lineup consisted of Charles Rocket, Joe Piscopo, Ann Risley, Gail Matthius, Denny Dillon and Gilbert Gottfried. Almost as an afterthought, she also hired a 19-year-old comic from Long Island, not as a full-fledged member of the company, but as a lesser-billed featured player.

“The real look of the Eighties,” Hill and Weingrad wrote of Eddie Murphy the last time he’d go unnoticed, “was about to slip in through the back door.”

Here, then, is the first mention Faith and Fear made of the player we would, nearly six years later, rank as the No. 1 Met of the Teens, from February 6, 2014:

Jacob deGrom ascended three minor league levels last year and could develop into a Gee type starting this year.

Mind you, this was at the end of a paragraph that stoked anticipation first for Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero, neither of whom had yet pitched for the Mets but were both generally rated as comers, then confirmed that while we waited for Matt Harvey to return from Tommy John rehab, we also had Zack Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Famila to look forward to among enticing young Met arms.

Then deGrom.

During Spring Training, the collective expertise of FAFIF focused fleetingly on deGrom twice. Once it was because his name was adequately melodic in context [7]; and once it was to complete a thought assessing a future featuring other, more highly regarded pitching prospects:

After enduring five years of nothingness in the standings and staring at six months that will (very likely) refuse to include a single Harvey Day, I want to be Syndergaarded and Monteroed and perhaps deGromed as soon as possible, never mind Wheelered as much as possible.

Eddie Murphy’s first appearance on Saturday Night Live was as an extra, sitting on a couch with no dialogue. That was pretty much the role we gave Jacob deGrom. We knew his name, but we didn’t process much more — and we weren’t alone. The prospect industrial complex that assiduously tracks every minor league movement like it’s your online shopping habits didn’t seem to place much priority on this deGrom fellow heading into what would become his rookie season. Nobody among Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Amazin’ Avenue or Mets Minor League Blog listed him higher than tenth when ranking Mets prospects.

We didn’t even know for sure that 2014 would be Jacob deGrom’s rookie season. He started the year at Las Vegas, and not necessarily to stiff him on service time. The Mets didn’t seem to have any better handle on their own personnel than those who cover them for fun, profit or anything else. Jacob, then 25 and three years removed from his Tommy John rehabilitation, had gone 4-0 in seven starts for the 51s, but he was en route to Flushing only to fortify the Mets’ bullpen once it was determined Gonzalez Germen had contracted a virus that would force the reliever to the DL. We were so excited by the righthander’s impending promotion, that this is how we heralded it on May 13:

The Mets announced plans to promote Jacob deGrom…

As understatement goes, this was right down there with the Times reporting, in April of 1966, that the Mets had prevailed in a drawing that allowed them to sign “a right-handed pitcher from the University of California” whose contract with the Atlanta Braves had been voided by the commissioner. The pitcher, according to the Paper of Record, was named George Feaver [8]. You might know him better as George Thomas Seaver. (They also got his college wrong.)

Forty-eight years later, rumors of Jacob Anthony deGrom’s immediate destination proved similarly inaccurate, though that wasn’t the fault of shoddy reportage. Between the time Germen was diagnosed, on a Monday, and Dillon Gee’s next scheduled start, on a Thursday, Gee was directed to the DL as well, having strained his right lat muscle in his previous start. Thus, deGrom wasn’t going to work out of the bullpen. He was going to take the ball against the Yankees in the 2014 Subway Series finale. On the eve of Jacob’s first major league pitch, one night after Rafael Montero’s maiden voyage, our enthusiasm for his presence was so intense that we framed it this way:

Overall, there was enough [from Montero] to make you want to see more, which is all you can ask of a recalled rookie. We have another one of those tonight, as Jacob deGrom earned a promotion from reliever to starter by being on the premises when it was learned Dillon Gee was going to the DL with a strained right lat muscle. That’s not supposed to be a serious injury (also, Ryan Church is well enough to fly cross-country with a concussion), so I’m willing to believe Gee’s misfortune is temporary and the opportunity it grants deGrom is a bonus.

In one sense, we nailed our forecast, in that Gee, who the Mets thought might miss only a couple of starts, wasn’t back until July. Otherwise, our case of deGrom Fe(a)ver didn’t exactly burn with prescience. When he got his chance to pitch, he immediately generated results that translate today as vintage Jake: seven innings of one-run, four-hit ball in a 1-0 loss that encompassed Derek Jeter’s final Subway Series appearance. Oh yeah, that. Even with us, the farewell to the all-time crosstown Met nemesis rated co-billing with the elevation of the latest Met pitcher. Jeter was kind of hard to ignore, no matter how we would have liked to once Interleague play began.

Under the headline “Hello Jacob, Goodbye Jeter,” we wrote the following of the former:

Gazed upon with Collector’s Cups half full, these are the days of Jacob deGrom and Rafael Montero, which produced two days of good sidebar news in a pair of senses. One, of course, is that two reasonably highly touted rookie pitchers were promoted and matched their hype, at least on an introductory basis. DeGrom exceeded it, actually, doing everything he could to win his debut. Not only did he throw seven innings and give up but one run — the product of shaky defense, mostly — but the kid ended the notorious hitless-by-pitchers streak at last. Jacob singled in the third and somewhere, I’d like to believe, Tom Seaver stood on first base snapping his warmup jacket shut as he looked to Eddie Yost to see if the hit-and-run was on. DeGrom also laid down a beautiful bunt, proving the young man was born under the sign of Chub Feeney…or at least the former National League president’s signature on a Spalding baseball.

Of course it’s wonderful that deGrom pitched (and hit) well and Montero pitched well. Of course it will be wonderful when Zack Wheeler settles down a bit and Noah Syndergaard Super 2’s his way up and Matt Harvey recovers and Steven Matz maybe keeps coming. Take those guys, mix in Niese and Gee and whoever else is bubbling under the Hot 100, and you know what you might very well have in the not-too-distant future?

A genuine pitching surplus. And you know what you can do then? Trade for some hitting, because Jacob deGrom and his hurling brethren can’t do it all alone. You can never have enough starting pitching, but you also can never ask your starting pitching to bear the burden of getting outs without somebody on his side getting runs for him.

Well, we certainly intuited that the Mets might make a habit of not scoring for Jacob deGrom, and we definitely gauged correctly that the rookie had a Seaverian knack for helping his own cause. Hey, we even invoked Tom Terrific, quite possibly if unconsciously predicting the day that we’d be naming an award for the old master and presenting it in print to a heretofore unknown who would prove every bit as Cyworthy.

But don’t give us that much credit. DeGrom was just another young pitcher to us, one we couldn’t mention without mentioning like a half-dozen other guys — and we made him share his first FAFIF headline with Derek Fucking Jeter. For all we knew in the aftermath of May 15, 2014, good ol’ Dillon Gee was gonna be fine soon and maybe it would be enough that deGrom could lend a hand in that chronically shaky Mets bullpen.

Yet, as mentioned (and as was predictable), Gee was out a while and the Mets were wise enough to keep letting deGrom make starts for them. Except for a few precautionary DL/IL trips and a month at the end of 2016 when an ulnar nerve problem sidelined him, deGrom has kept making starts for them and for us ever since. He’s been less a mid-rotation Gee type and more an ace-for-the-ages Seaver type. Mostly, he’s been a deGrom type, which we can now define as the top type in the National League at present, never mind on the Mets of the 2010s.

He brings us confidence and serenity, no matter that he inadvertently inspires his teammates to lean back, relax and not score jack on Jake’s behalf. We know that even without the traditional (if somewhat inane) metric of pitcher wins weighing in heavily on his behalf, Jacob went on to be voted Rookie of the Year in 2014 and awarded Cy Youngs in 2018 and 2019. We’ve seen him named to All-Star teams three times. We know the Mets, who don’t always seem to grasp the essentials about their personnel or product, understand the importance of Jacob deGrom. We know they signed him to a long-term extension to keep him pitching for us well into the 2020s. We also know, because we’ve published them alongside previous installments of this series, that the Mets have placed deGrom’s image on the cover of every one of their Official Yearbooks since he broke in with minimal notice.

We watched Jacob dominate the Dodgers in the Mets’ first postseason game in nine years in 2015 and, four games later, we watched him persevere with lesser stuff and keep his and our team alive so they and we could win that Division Series and progress toward a World Series. We’ve seen Jacob deGrom regularly pitch brilliantly without support, suck up a plethora of undeserved NDs and Ls, and pitch brilliantly some more. We’ve seen him brandish every tool we associate with the most talented of position players. Jacob can, within reason, hit; hit with power; run; field; and, oh yes, he can throw. Four-seamers, sliders, changeups…he throws them all and he throws them to the dandiest of effect. Among the cohort of Met pitching prospects in which we used to lump him when we thought to lump him at all, he’s either outlasted or outclassed every one of his contemporaries. At the risk of once again incurring the wrath of the evil eye (kinehora!), he may be the first Met pitcher since Seaver neither encumbered nor defined by discernible flaws. We’re not swearing he’ll be spectacular, superb and scintillating without pause for the rest of his career. But we will testify that he’s been pretty much all that the entire time we’ve seen him in the 2010s.

Jacob deGrom may have filtered into our consciousness through nothing more auspicious than a side entrance, but he’s where we start when we think about the Mets these days, and he’s where we finish when we think about the Mets in this decade.