The 2019 season was a banner year for starting pitchers. Teams like the Houston Astros had rotations packed with talent, with several guys that could each be considered an ace.
The World Series underdog Washington Nationals — underrated though they were — may have been helped just a little by having Stephen Strasbourg and Max Scherzer on the same pitching staff.
Out of this absurdly high-level talent pool, there can only be one pitcher worthy of being the best of the era. It looks like some fans have a definitive, somewhat surprising answer: The New York Mets’ Jacob deGrom. Does he deserve the nod?
Is this the best era for starting pitching ever?
In an objective sense, we are lucky to witness some of the best starting pitching performances in the history of baseball. The last 10 years have brought us downright superhuman performances from names like Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, and Jon Lester.
From hard throwing to physics-defying breaking balls, we’re seeing things thought impossible 20, 30 years ago. The caveat is, it comes at a cost. Complete games are almost non-existent. Starters often get pulled in the fifth or sixth inning even when they seem to be in perfect control.
Pitching as a profession has reached a point where it’s running up to the limits of the human body. The best starters of this era aren’t going to run up as many innings pitched. So here’s the subjective part: does it matter?
For some fans, of course, it will. For the rest, shorter outings are worth the mind-boggling work on the mound we get to see today.
The four starting pitchers with the strongest cases for being the best
There is no definitive answer for the best starting pitcher in baseball. In part, it’s because of the teams each pitcher plays on. It’s similar to how Mike Trout manages to be the best player of his generation while flying under the radar with the middling Angels. Some of the best work gets turned in by teams who didn’t make far into the postseason, if at all.
That said, there are a handful of guys who are impossible to deny as a group, listed with their 2019 WAR and ERA:
- Gerrit Cole: 6.8 WAR, 2.50 ERA
- Max Scherzer: 5.8 WAR, 2.92 ERA
- Justin Verlander: 7.8 WAR, 2.58 ERA
- Jacob deGrom: 7.9 WAR, 2.43
An MLB Trade Rumors poll asked readers to pick out the best pitcher of this inarguable slice of the top tier of talent. Their answer was so resounding, it deserves a closer look: Jacob deGrom, with over 40% of the vote!
How does Jacob deGrom stack up against the other top starting pitchers?
DeGrom might come as a surprise to more casual MLB fans. Much of the media spent September and October boosting a murderer’s row of starting pitchers from teams with better chances of taking a World Series title.
The Mets weren’t horrendous this last season. But their over .500 record wasn’t enough in the competitive NL East, where the championship-winning Nationals finished in second place.
Yet deGrom continues to turn in incredible individual work. His career 1.053 WHIP is the best in Mets history. His 2.62 career ERA was actually helped by the 31-year-old’s improvement this year, where he turned in a 2.43. He won back-to-back Cy Youngs and hasn’t winded down enough to write off getting another.
He did it while going the distance, with regular six- and seven-inning appearances. His offense rarely showed up during these magnificent performances, repeatedly leaving him in the lurch.
The $137 million contract the Mets signed at the start of the off-season looked like a big risk at first. But now, as pitchers with fewer statistical feats rake in the biggest contracts ever, it’s clear the Mets made the right move.
If deGrom gets more offensive support from the 2020 version of the Mets, his undeniable value will finally pay off on the bigger stage he deserves.