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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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The Incomparable Jacob deGrom

“Don’t ever embarrass anybody by comparing him to…” might read as the beginning of a familiar quote from Reds manager Sparky Anderson, uttered at the conclusion of the 1976 World Series. Thurman Munson of the losing Yankees hit .529 in the four-game Cincinnati sweep. His catching counterpart, Johnny Bench, hit .533 and won Most Valuable Player honors. Anderson had been asked to compare the two great catchers of their day. Sparky called Munson “outstanding,” but wouldn’t brook a direct comparison between any other catcher and his own all-world backstop. Naturally, the above quote ends with “…Johnny Bench.”

I thought of Anderson’s frank assessment Friday night as the incomparable Jacob deGrom went about his usual business of being routinely brilliant…except more so. The strength of the Nationals’ batting order certainly merited no comparison to that of the Mets’ starter. The Nats came to bat 29 times at Citi Field against deGrom. They collected two hits, didn’t otherwise reach base, struck out fifteen times and never scored. Come to think of it, they were overmatched as well by deGrom the hitter. Jacob went 2-for-4 at the plate; broke a scoreless tie by driving in the only run he’d need; and scored two others, presumably to keep his legs limber.

DeGrom the .545-average hitter — wisely slotted in the eight-hole Friday — is a delicious side dish: a testament to a competitor’s determination to be skilled at all facets of his craft and a counterpoint to all the folderol about the desirability of the DH on a team that lately has more bats than gloves. But that, like Brandon Nimmo’s oh-by-the-way homer and four-RBI night, was served up merely to complement the 6-0 Mets win. The main course consisted of Jacob deGrom the 0.31-ERA pitcher throwing what appeared to be the most effortless 15-strikeout shutout in human history. No doubt he invested effort in his outing. There’s preparation of a physical and mental nature. There’s work in the bullpen. There’s data from the analytics department. There are discussions with catchers and coaches. There is an inherent degree of exertion that comes with releasing from one’s right hand 109 pitches — 84 of them strikes — across nine innings.

Yet he makes it look so damn easy. Late in the game, I kept an eye peeled to see how many pitches he’d thrown. I saw the number “98”. It was the miles per hour of his most recent delivery…which was also the number of pitches he’d delivered to that point.

He was throwing 98 MPH upon his 98th pitch. From a safe televised distance, it looked like a breeze. In whatever seats are permitted to be filled in the vicinity of home plate, the breezes created by National bats must have felt delightful.

Jake’s fifteen strikeouts, compiled in service to somehow his first-ever home shutout, were a career-high. The fifty strikeouts he’s racked up in his four starts thus far this season established a major league record for most strikeouts in the first four starts of any season. That’s one of those records you don’t realize exists except when someone motivates its revision.

Statistics have their own vocabulary to deal with deGrom. The English language should be so lucky. When Jake pitches, the words that fly around include “disgusting”; “stupid”; “insane;” and “sick”. Those are compliments, mind you. They must have been coined in this realm by batters who couldn’t bear to label pitching that utterly defeats them as something “sublime” or “exquisite”.

Give it the least mellifluous adjectives you can think of if you must. No matter how you say it, you’re likely muttering it from the dugout.

To be fair, we all grope for a proper context in which to discuss deGrom. He’s rendered obsolete “one of” as a precursor to “the best”. Are there others in the game currently who match up to Jake? Sparky Anderson’s already Benchmarked our answer. We are convinced Jacob has no peer in the here and now. Our recency bias isn’t so recent, either. Granted, 2020 was short and 2021 has barely begun, but Jacob deGrom has been on an ethereal roll for the length of four seasons, and he fit plenty comfortably within the outdated category of “one of the best” for the four seasons before that.

Among deGrom’s many achievements Friday night was lowering his career earned run average to 2.55, the best for any Mets pitcher who’s logged a minimum of a thousand innings. Let’s repeat that: Jacob deGrom has the best Mets career ERA ever. Better than everybody who’s ever pitched for the Mets.

Which is to say better than Tom Seaver.

Now let’s caveat the bejeesus out of that, because the phrase “better than Tom Seaver” doesn’t dare articulate itself casually in these parts. Jacob deGrom has thrown 1,198.2 innings. Tom Seaver threw, for the Mets, 3,045.2 innings. So that’s more. A lot more. Seaver’s Met ERA was 2.57, or a speck more than where deGrom’s stands at present. Also, it includes Tom’s 1983, which was his age-38 season, six seasons removed from the Franchise’s initial departure from the franchise. Seaver’s ERA in 1983 was an unsightly (for him) 3.55. It’s on his ledger in permanent ink, so, OK, it counts. But the Seaver who’s Seaver to us is the Tom who debuted on April 13, 1967, and barely missed a start through June 12, 1977. That Seaver, spanning 22 to 32 years old, totaled 2,814.2 innings and compiled an ERA of 2.49.

Keep that in mind during deGrom’s next start when SNY hails 2.55 as the new Met record. And keep in mind that for the first 1,198.2 innings of Seaver’s career, covering 1967 through the seventh inning of June 9, 1971 (thanks, Baseball-Reference!), Tom’s ERA stood at 2.46. Jake’s 2.55 ERA over the exact same number of innings is still sublime and exquisite, but it’s not lower than Seaver’s.

Lord knows I’ve come not to bury deGrom and only incidentally to praise Seaver. I’m generally pleased the chatter Jake spurs every fifth-ish day catapults Tom into the upper tier of our contemporary conversation. When No. 48 — or No. 42, as he was Friday for Jackie Robinson Night — is at his best, No. 41 is more than a sleeve patch. When Jacob strikes out nine Rockies in a row, as he did a week ago, Tom’s exploits come alive. Actually, when Jacob came within one of Tom’s record of ten straight K’s, I was as nervous as I used to get when a Met neared the then-elusive first no-hitter in Mets history.

Except I couldn’t tell what I was nervous about: that Jake wouldn’t match and maybe exceed Tom, or that Jake would match and maybe exceed Tom. Tom Seaver’s ten consecutive strikeouts of the San Diego Padres on April 22, 1970, is one of my idol’s signature moments. I’ve lived with it proudly for 51 years. It’s been his, ours, mine. Once in a while, some Doug Fister comes along and challenges it, and I put all the hex I can muster on him, because, due respect to a perfectly good major league pitcher, who the hell is Doug Fister to try to displace Tom Seaver from the record books?

Yet Jacob deGrom isn’t Doug Fister. Jacob deGrom is one of our own. He’s more than that. He’s Jacob deGrom. The instinct to protect a hero’s legacy shouldn’t activate against somebody you revel in rooting for to begin with. And if records are made to be broken, who better to break this one than someone who will keep it in the family? I didn’t want Jacob to not strike out a tenth consecutive Rockie, but when he fell short of Tom’s record, well, let’s just say I was disappointed, but I wasn’t devastated.

Though they’ve arisen organically because Jake is out there being so terrific you can’t help but think of Tom, I don’t particularly ache to make these comparisons between deGrom and Seaver. Or between deGrom and anybody, even if it’s a reflex reaction to do so. It’s how we process baseball after a while.

“A” reminds me of “B”.
“A” is having the kind of game “C” had that time.
“A” is having the best season since “D”.
“A” really stacks up with “E,” and you know “E” was about as good as anybody, right up there with “F,” “G” and “H”.

That, too, is our vocabulary.

Nevertheless, I’ve grown a little uncomfortable with the collective effort to micromanage Jacob deGrom’s greatness since it became our most urgent common cause in 2018; it’s as if simply sitting back and taking in Jake’s brilliance isn’t satisfying enough. Maybe if the Mets scored for Jake regularly like Jake scored for Jake on Friday we wouldn’t get overly hung up on his minutiae. But when wins became mostly inaccessible to him in his race for recognition versus the likes of Scherzer and Nola, we had to emphasize the finer print. It was fine, all right. It was a 1.70 ERA. I think we got used to shepherding Jake’s every start and touting his every inning thereafter. Two guys get on while he’s pitching and we worry the rest of the world will dismiss him as a barely .500 pitcher unworthy of another Cy Young.

Jake is so smooth about the spectacle he’s calmly created. He’s asked if he aspires to more awards, including MVP, per the chants he heard Friday night (in April). Sure, he says. How about the Hall of Fame? Sure, he adds, despite needing two more seasons just to qualify for eventual preliminary consideration. Why be shy about knowing how good you are? It’s not a campaign, just a polite answer. What’s the pitcher with the 0.31 ERA going to say? “Aw, shucks” ain’t an option at this level.

But asking each other between every 98 MPH pitch of every game “how good is Jacob deGrom?” doesn’t really reveal anything we can assert with anything resembling certainty. I very recently rewatched Oh, God!, the 1977 film our people light up to when George Burns in the title role tells John Denver his last miracle was the 1969 Mets. But I jotted down another piece of Godly dialogue that I thought applies to our ongoing attempts to appraise deGrom:

I only know what is. Also I’m very big on what was. On what isn’t yet, I haven’t got a clue.

I do know Jacob deGrom has had a four-game stretch like I’ve very rarely seen and is having a four-year run I wouldn’t too quickly trade for many accomplished by any pitcher considered among the all-time best. I haven’t got a clue about where exactly that places him in the greater scheme of things, especially with so much (knock wood) left to find out. Finding out figures to be the treat.

In the meantime, don’t ever embarrass another pitcher by comparing him to Jacob deGrom.

Or Tom Seaver.

20 comments to The Incomparable Jacob deGrom

  • chuck

    Designated hitters and relief pitchers are for sissies. I wish Tony Clark and Rob Manfred would watch this game repeatedly until their retinas burn.

  • Dave Singer

    Brilliant as always Greg. I feel that Jake’s ERA is in some ways more impressive than what Seaver did, especially when you compare them to their respective leagues and contemporaries at the time. Regardless, how incredible that we get to watch deGrom, and that he has continually built upon his success in the sheer and utter pursuit of perfection. He is a genius.

  • Jacobs27

    Peerless write-up of the absolute best of peers.

    (And we Met fans know Peerless).

  • mikeski

    From inside the ballpark, it was f**king awesome.

    Before the game, even with the reduced crowd, it felt to me like it used to when Doc pitched, circa 1984-86. There was the “he could anything tonight – perfect game, 20Ks…” vibe.

    The Nats, particularly Stevenson and Harrison, looked completely overmatched, flailing at balls and taking swings that resembled someone who’s never played trying to hit a golf ball off a tee.

    I was sitting behind and to the right of the Mets dugout. The MVP chants started in earnest after his RBI double in the 5th. In the 8th, several of us were laughingly encouraging him to steal second.

    As the game progressed, you could see his thought process evolving, starting out with lots of heat and then mixing in the slider and moving the ball around. There is a temptation to make references to mechanics; to machines. Jacob deGrom is beyond those references now, beyond mere repetitive competence.

    I wonder, what was it like to watch Michaelangelo work on that ceiling?

  • Bob

    Watched Seaver when he broke in with Mets…1967, 68 and I’d say deGroms’ game last night was just like watching Seaver at his best.
    What a pleasure to watch!

    Let’s Go Mets!

  • Seth

    “One of the best” always strikes me as one of those meaningless, wishy-washy phrases, like “extraordinary.” So, “one of the best pitchers in history” — one of how many? 10? 100? 500? “One of” means nothing. Jacob is definitely the best pitcher in baseball (right now, anyway). Last night’s game is one I could watch again.

  • Enjoyed reading this one. All I can add is that it’s incredible that Seaver threw 170 complete games as a Met and another 50 elsewhere.

  • Eric

    I suggest the Citi crowd chant “SEA-ver” to praise deGrom (and only deGrom at his best) instead of the overused generic “M-V-P”.

    Set aside the deGrom v Seaver comparison. Is deGrom v Gooden for 2nd place settled?

  • Edward J Plunkett

    He did not walk a batter last night, but he tired in not being able to strike out any of the last six he faced ;)

  • Matt in Richmond

    I’m super jealous mikeski! What a game to witness live. Seaver was just before my time, so of course I’m familiar with his legend and have seen the old clips, but never got to experience in the moment. From what I’ve witnessed Jake has clearly entered a new dimension of excellence. How does someone win 2 straight Cy Youngs, contend for a 3rd straight and then at age 33 get better? That is not supposed to happen.

  • ljcmets

    Well…we certainly have an interesting topic for discussion, don’t we?

    This has been building for some time, and of course where you stand depends upon where you sit. Shocking as it might be to those of us who, like the Mets, are now in our seventh decade of life, whole generations of Mets fans have grown up who know Seaver (and for a lot of them, Gooden) only historically. Rather than ranking our pitching heroes (and we have been blessed with many), I prefer to think of them as prototypes in the never-ending Mets mythology (highly recommend Devin Gordon’s new book, “So Many Ways to Lose,” as the latest chapter in this ongoing saga).

    Tom Seaver was The First. His story comes with built-in Hero’s Journey chapters, including a crazy origin story (the Luckiest Hat Draw ever), the beautiful princess, leading his followers to the promised land, benevolently reigning over us, Exile, the Return of the King, etc. The First to ever do something gets a special pride of place; there can only be one. And for those of us who are roughly the same cohort as the Mets themselves, for a long, long time there was Tom and only Tom, alone on Shea Stadium’s Mt. Olympus.

    Dwight Gooden was the One who Could Have Been. For every Met fan who cannot consciously remember 1969, Gooden was not the First, but he was their first. I think Keith’s memory was cloudy last night; I remember games in 1984 and 1985 where the stadium was every bit as electric and Doc was every bit as good as Jake was last night. But even by the triumphant year in 1986, that lightning in a bottle had started to fade. The reasons for this are well known now, but that doesn’t dim the memory of those years. The One who Could Have Been holds his own place in our hearts, to remind us of what gifts the gods have given us and how fleeting they are. But for 1984-1986 alone, Doc belongs on that mountain too.

    In the long interregnum between 1986 and 2015, and even concurrent with Seaver and Gooden, succeeding generations of Mets fans have been blessed with great pitching and indelible performances: Kooz in the ’69 World Series; Tug McGraw making us Believe; Nolan Ryan and Sid Fernandez saving the day in relief; Al Leiter and his signature one-game playoff shutout of Cincinnati; R.A. Dickey and his triumphant Cy Young season; Matt Harvey and his shooting star of a career; Johann and his blazing night in June – and there are more. If there’s one thing Mets fans know, it’s great pitching, which is why the ballpark was going nuts last night.

    Jacob deGrom never pitched in Shea. He’s building his own Mt. Olympus in CitiField, and there is no one who has ever pitched in CitiField who has ever come close to what he is doing right now. This is going to be his ball park for decades, because it’s going to be a long time before anyone comes close. Expect 48 to take its place up by 14, 31, 37, 41 and 42, and if you came of age as a Mets fan after 1986, you’ll be pointing 48 out to your kids and grandkids.

    For those of us who came of age with the ball club, I use Gary Cohen (and you Greg) as a touchstone, and I’ve been hearing in his voice this year while Jake pitches the unmistakeable recognition that deGrom is rapidly approaching Seaver-like territory. I can’t remember whether it was last night or Jake’s start in Colorado, when Cohen started talking about this and said, with a tiny catch in his voice, “Jake may be going where no Met has gone before.”

    Gary Cohen, in addition to sharing my last name, was born within two weeks of me. He knows that Seaver’s story has been written, and that Tom is about to be encased in bronze…a hero for certain, but also a legend and a myth for many current Mets fans and for all future ones. He belongs to the gods now, and we have to let him go, and dwell in our hearts and our memories, but not in our present.

    So if Seaver is The First, and Gooden is the One who Could Have Been, who is deGrom? In the immortal words of Jed Bartlett, he’s What’s Next. I can’t wait for the ride he’s about to take us on.

  • Rarely have i ever breathlessly awaited my team taking the field to see my pitcher pitch as opposed to my team coming to bat and hoping to see them knock the cover off the ball; but when Jake pitches I love to see the Mets take to the field more than their coming to bat.

  • Daniel Hall

    That game was fun! That tasted good! (Pete would agree).

    I don’t feel the need to pick a number-one-er number one between Jake and Tom Seaver. Jake’s ERA is to me more impressive than Tom’s, because Jake has spent all of his career in a homer-happy, high-offense environment. The young grasshopper has a career 153 ERA+ (the Hall of Famer with the team he belongs on: “merely” 136); But Tom Seaver for the most part pitched in a low-offense era. On the other hand, doing Tom’s thing for *3,000* innings is a whole different ballpark than 1,200 innings (and Jake will never reach 3,000 for various reasons). He was Terrific forever, while Jake has been for “only” seven years. Different beasts. I don’t have to slight one by picking the other. They’re both AMAZIN’.

  • Richard Porricelli

    He’s a special player and he’s ours..You fans that grew up with Seaver, as I did , can remember that feeling of anticipation with his next start.( experienced with Gooden as well) its so reminiscent from back in the day..Truly great feeling and especially in todays game..

  • Lenny65

    I’ve seen just about all of them come and go and I don’t think there’s any question that deGrom is on the greatest post-Seaver run any Mets pitcher has ever had. No one’s reached the dizzying heights that Doc did in 1984-85 but he went from other-worldly to just “really good” way too quickly. It’s difficult to believe that this is Jacob’s EIGHTH season with the Mets already and he just keeps getting better and better. Right now Tom Seaver is the only Met you can compare him to career-wise.

  • open the gates

    It’s high praise for Jacob deGrom that, among Mets pitchers, only Tom Seaver was better than him. It’s also high praise for Seaver that he was even better than deGrom. And the term “among Mets pitchers” covers a whole heck of a lot of territory, because we had some stellar pitchers over the years. But now it’s Seaver and deGrom, followed by everyone else. And an eventual switch of the top two is unlikely, but not off the table. Yes, deGrom’s that good.

    Oh, and now might be a good time to remind everyone that when deGrom first came up, he was ranked behind Rafael Montero on the org depth chart. (… cough, cough…)

  • BlackCountryMet

    I’m not gonna compare him to any other baseball player. I’m gonna say that here and now, and in the last few seasons, the only currently active sportsman who operates at his level is Leo Messi. And that level is other worldly. It was fortunate that his latest start was a Friday night, allowing me (and all UKMets) to stay up late and watch all of it. You run out of superlatives and good becomes the norm. I’m quite concious that I’m witnessing greatness and that one day I’ll say “yeah I saw deGrom pitch in person” & people will acknowledge it, the way I acknowledge those who saw The Franchise. No greater compliment

  • Eric

    “he was ranked behind Rafael Montero on the org depth chart”

    Every time deGrom pitches like peak Pedro Martinez I marvel that when he came up, deGrom was projected as a back-end starter cum set-up man. In other words, a run-of-the-mill prospect, and an older rookie to boot. Likely to carve out a respectable, if forgettable, career as a journeyman, say, like, Colin McHugh. Harvey, Wheeler, Matz, Syndergaard, and Montero were the hot prospects, not deGrom.

    Fun exercise: Google deGrom’s scouting reports from 2013, 2014.

  • […] well. Most of the Mets, that is. Jacob deGrom did superbly, albeit not quite up to last Friday’s incomparable snuff, but superb should get it done most nights — with the support of most professional lineups. […]