Before sports were halted by the coronavirus pandemic, an emerging debate that was ready to grip the New York baseball landscape was deciphering who currently is the best pitcher in the Big Apple.
Mets ace Jacob deGrom was coming off a second-straight National League Cy Young Award, spinning together a dominant two-season stretch that has catapulted him to superstar status in Major League Baseball.
While his win-loss record (11-8) lagged once again in 2019, deGrom posted an impressive 2.43 ERA with an NL-leading 255 strikeouts and a 0.971 WHIP (walks and hits allowed per innings pitched).
It was a solid response to a historic 2018 in which he put up a minuscule 1.70 ERA, 269 strikeouts, and a 0.912 WHIP.
But the Yankees were prepared to throw their hat in the debate ring in 2020 after signing Gerrit Cole to a record-breaking contract over the winter — a $324 million contract parlayed from a brilliant 2019 with the Houston Astros.
Cole went 20-5 while leading the American League with a 2.50 ERA and 326 strikeouts and a WHIP of 0.895.
It was the finest season of a seven-year career that experienced inconsistencies in Pittsburgh before reaching new heights in Houston.
At 28 years old, Cole has one more year of MLB experience compared to the 31-year-old deGrom — though the Mets hurler has posted more consistent numbers:
Average Innings Per Start
Cole might continue to build upon that incredible 2019 season in the Bronx and cement himself as the next truly great pitcher of Major League Baseball, but deGrom has been the better of the two since entering the pros in 2014.
As I’ve mentioned ad nauseam in the past, one of the wonderful things about the game of baseball is that the game has largely remained the same for nearly 150 years, making it easier to properly comprehend just how good (or bad) certain players are.
While we continue to identify deGrom as one of the top pitchers in baseball, it might be understated just how impressive his first six years in the majors have been.
So to properly compartmentalize just how good the Mets hurler has been since entering the majors, we put his career numbers to date (six years) against the first six seasons of some of the greatest pitchers of the past 60 years.
The results further suggest that deGrom has Hall-of-Fame-worthy stuff, but a late call-up to the majors might limit just how high his career totals reach.
The Mets weren’t able to call deGrom up until he was 26, a decision largely aided by the righty undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010 while in rookie ball. He didn’t return to the mound in 2012, where he quickly ascended the ranks and hit the majors two years later.
Still, 26 is right at the beginning of prime years for many pitchers, so it’s worth taking these stats with a grain of salt considering the other 10 pitchers — all of whom are Hall of Famers except Max Scherzer, who will be one day — we’re comparing deGrom to were 24 or younger when they broke into the majors.
But the numbers suggest that if deGrom can stay healthy and pitch until he’s anywhere near 40, Cooperstown is just around the corner — thus solidifying him as one of the greatest pitchers of this millennium.
Starts, Innings Pitched
Tom Seaver (1967-72): 210 starts, 1,641.1 IP
Roger Clemens (1984-89): 174 starts, 1,284.2 IP
Greg Maddux (1986-91): 173 starts, 1,174 IP
Jacob deGrom (2014-19): 171 starts, 1,101.2 IP
Max Scherzer (2008-13): 165 starts, 1,019 IP
Randy Johnson (1988-93): 163 starts, 1,073.1 IP
Bob Gibson (1959-64): 147 starts (183 appearances), 1,149.1 IP
Jim Palmer (1965-71): 144 starts, 1,117.1 IP
Steve Carlton (1965-1970): 136 starts, 992 IP
Pedro Martinez (1992-97): 120 starts, 912.1 IP
Nolan Ryan (1966-72): 113 starts, 794 IP
Sandy Koufax (1955-60): 103 starts, 691.2 IP
Clemens: .679 (95-45)
Palmer: .675 (79-38)
Seaver: .637 (116-66)
Martinez: .625 (65-39)
Scherzer: .619 (73-45)
deGrom: .574 (66-49)
Gibson: .555 (71-57)
Johnson: .548 (68-56)
Maddux: .540 (75-64)
Carlton: .518 (57-53)
Koufax: .474 (36-40)
Ryan: .471 (48-54)
Strikeouts/9 Innings (6-year totals)
deGrom: 10.3 (1,255)
Martinez: 9.6 (970)
Johnson: 9.4 (1,126)
Scherzer: 9.4 (1,069)
Ryan: 9.3 (822)
Koufax: 8.9 (683)
Clemens: 8.5 (1,215)
Seaver: 7.7 (1,404)
Gibson: 7.4 (940)
Carlton: 7.1 (779)
Palmer: 6.0 (751)
Maddux: 5.7 (738)
Walks/Hits Per Innings Pitched (WHIP)