Once upon a time, you could assume that a pitcher with a lot of wins on his jacket during the season was earning those wins. Even if you dug deeper into his peripherals and what he did without factoring in his fielders and his lineups, you just knew that the Warren Spahns, Robin Robertses, Sandy Koufaxes, Juan Marichals, Bob Gibsons, and Tom Seavers were pitching their tails off, and that even teams as reputedly feeble at the plate as the Koufax Dodgers found ways to support their man's work on the mound. (Even pitching a perfect game when the other guy might have had a no-hitter on his backside.)
By virtue of his pitching alone, by virtue of how often he's pitched well enough to win or better, Jacob deGrom's won-lost record at this writing should be 20-8 at minimum.
Forget deGrom's no-decisions for a moment (he has eleven) and look at the nine losses on his jacket, the ninth coming Tuesday when he surrendered only two earned runs (both on a double) before coming out, once again pitching more than well enough to win. (10 punchouts in seven innings augments that) In eight of his nine losses he pitched well enough to win or better. Had his Mets given him run support commensurate to his effort on the mound, he might be sitting on sixteen wins.
Now throw in the no-decisions. In ten of the eleven deGrom pitched well enough to win or better, and it was usually better. Had his Mets supported him accordingly, he might be sitting on 26 wins.
But what deGrom is sitting on is the very real prospect that he could become baseball's first Cy Young Award winner to cop the prize with a losing record. And you thought it was bizarre when Felix Hernandez won a Cy Young Award with a 13-12 won-lost record? In the extraterrestrial world of Mets baseball, that would be just so Mets.
The franchise has had three Cy Young Award winners, one of whom (Tom Seaver) is a Hall of Famer who nailed three such prizes as a Met. (Dwight Gooden in 1985 and R.A. Dickey in 2012 are the others.) Seaver pitched for several solid Mets teams and several also-rans; Gooden won his Cy Young as the boy ace of a Mets team that finished one game out of the National League East; Dickey had his career year for a fourth-place team throwing a harder-than-usual knuckleball (he led the NL in strikeouts that season as well), a pitch that was once considered a hindrance to winning Cy Young Awards.
DeGrom is an anomaly no matter how you slice him. Not just because he's pitching on Seaverian teams this year but because he has yet to even consider such options for coping with his lack of run support as homicide. Wives in divorce court have less justification to prosecute for non-support. DeGrom has had 3.49 runs to work with per 27 outs this season.
"Come and see my amazin' Mets," original Mets manager Casey Stengel hectored the customers coming to the ancient wreck of the Polo Grounds to see them in their first two seasons. "I been in this game a hundred years but I see new ways to lose I never knew were invented yet." The Ol' Perfesser should only gaze upon deGrom from his perch in the Elysian Fields. The tall right hander who once wore a broom for a mop of hair has probably seen ways to lose this year that would have made Stengel's own jaw hit the floor with a thud.
At this writing, deGrom still leads the National League with his 1.71 ERA, his 2.06 fielding-independent pitching rate (that, folks, is your ERA when your fielders are removed from the equation, and there have been times when deGrom must have felt he'd rather have nobody behind him than what's been there this year), his ERA+ (216), and his home runs surrendered per nine innings. (0.4.) The opposition is hitting .202 against him. Nobody can hit this guy but his winning percentage is .471. And only Max Scherzer (Nationals) has a higher win probability added to his starts than deGrom.
But Scherzer also gets 5.1 runs per 27 outs to work with. And his team is 21-9 in the games he's started. The Nationals may have their troubles this season, the latest being that they may have surrendered their season while they actually had a chance to steal a division in spite of themselves, but backing their best pitcher hasn't been one of them. DeGrom's Mets are 12-17 in games he's started. There isn't a jury on this earth that would rule against him should he haul his team into court ... or detonate a bomb in the clubhouse.
His Tuesday night outing may seem a case of typical deGromian fortune. He actually took the ball two days after his regular turn; his Sunday start against the Phillies was a scratch because Mets manager Mickey Callaway feared a rain delay impacting him, and the postponement of that start to Monday against the Marlins got rained out. So there he was Tuesday. Only Lewis Brinson's two-run double in the fourth went against him. The Mets stranded baserunners in all seven innings of his start; Michael Conforto's sixth-inning homer came with one out and nobody on. Conforto was the only Met to get as far as second prior to that and he was abandoned, too.
The Brinson double tipped deGrom's earth-leading ERA up to that mere 1.71. He must be beginning to think he's going to have to pitch and hit to get any kind of support. (He has had a start or three in which he himself started the Mets' scoring at the plate.) He's been remarkably even-keeled throughout the season; this isn't Matt Harvey coming apart at the seams when things turned south on him on and off the field. He hasn't been known to ream a teammate or three; he hasn't yet thrown his hands up during interviews wondering what short of bribery or extortion he has to do to get a win on his jacket.
Lesser men with more experience have dissembled far sooner than this former Rookie of the Year (2014) looks likely to do. For a still young man who shares a name with the grandson of Abraham, deGrom has the patience of Job. (Which would be his name minus two letters) Which is saying something considering he's been jobbed to an extent Job himself would have considered unconscionable.