Rush to judgment


The season is only half over, but the experts have already decided the winner of the National League’s Cy Young Award. It’s Jacob deGrom of the Mets:

  • “DeGrom is the runaway favorite for the award and would almost certainly be a unanimous winner if the season ended today,” contends Danny Abriano of Yahoo Sports.

  • “Even in a season where multiple pitchers deliver Cy Young-worthy seasons, he is the overwhelming favorite to win the award again,” says Gene Clemons in the Athletic.

  • “Jacob deGrom has established himself as the best pitcher in all of baseball, and it’s not particularly close,” insists Keith Jacobs of Rising Apple.

  • “Make no mistake about it, deGrom is headed for Cooperstown. In fact, he could be one of the five best pitchers in MLB history when all is said and done,” writes Marty Fenn in ClutchPoints.

  • “DeGrom is the best pitcher I have ever seen since I’ve been able to see anything. He’s the best I’ve ever seen,” exults former teammate Jerry Blevins.

Hold on, guys.

Yes, deGrom has been excellent this year, as evidenced by his 7-2 record, microscopic 0.50 earned run average, and 117 strikeouts in 72 innings. But the Mets pitcher hasn’t completely separated himself from the pack, despite what many insiders seem to think.

Below are four measures that suggest we should keep an open mind about the Cy Young race. Perhaps — here’s a wild idea — we might even let the rest of the season play out before making a final decision.

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1. Base value

Loyal readers know that I put considerable stock in base value, which measures each pitcher’s performance against the league average.

Here’s how it works: I count up the bases yielded (hits, walks, hit batsmen, stolen bases, and sacrifices) and match them against the outs recorded. The typical National League pitcher has given up .666 bases per out this year.

I establish a benchmark for a given pitcher by multiplying his outs by .666. DeGrom, for example, has notched 216 outs so far in 2021. If he were an average pitcher, he would have given up 144 bases. His actual total of 62 bases is 82 below that norm, resulting in an excellent base value of minus-82.

Excellent, yes, but not the best in the National League. Here are the six leaders, the only six NL pitchers with values of minus-50 or better:

2. Innings pitched

The greatest ability, according to the cliché, is availability. DeGrom, through no fault of his own, falls short on that score.

Pain in his side and lower back forced the Mets pitcher onto the disabled list for two weeks in May, and he ended two other 2021 appearances early because of elbow tendinitis and shoulder soreness.

Nine National League pitchers have worked at least 90 innings so far in 2021, led by the reigning Cy Young champion, Trevor Bauer of the Dodgers, at 101 2/3. Three of the pitchers among the six base-value leaders — Gausman, Woodruff, and Wheeler — are in this durable group.

DeGrom, on the other hand, is 35th in the league with only 72 innings pitched.

3. Team wins

Wins are no longer held in high regard as a pitching stat, and there’s logic behind the devaluation. Starters rarely work complete games anymore, so they’re heavily dependent on their bullpens to secure victories. It doesn’t make sense to give sole credit for a W to a man who worked only five or six innings.

But we can agree — can’t we? — that starters establish the tone for the rest of the game. A solid starting performance is more likely to set the stage for ultimate victory.

Ten NL pitchers have started at least 10 games this year that resulted in team wins, regardless of whether the starter himself was given credit for the W. Here they are, based on statistics (through June 23) from Baseball-Reference.com:

4. Wins above replacement

You may love WAR or hate it. It’s not the coziest stat — just a decimal that supposedly tells us the overall value of a player. But it’s widely cited by baseball analysts, which means it has to be taken seriously.

Baseball-Reference.com tells us that a full-season WAR of 8.0 or higher should put a player in contention for the Most Valuable Player Award, so it stands to reason that a half-year mark in the range of 4.0 should stamp a pitcher as a solid Cy Young contender.

And that’s almost exactly where we find Jacob deGrom, who had posted an impressive pitching WAR of 3.9 as of June 25, 2021. But that doesn’t make him the league leader.

Six National Leaguers have pitching WARs of 3.0 or better. You’ll recognize the names:

  • 1. Kevin Gausman, Giants, 4.3

  • 2. Zack Wheeler, Phillies, 4.2

  • 2. Brandon Woodruff, Brewers, 4.2

  • 4. Jacob deGrom, Mets, 3.9

  • 5. Wade Miley, Reds, 3.2

  • 5. Freddy Peralta, Brewers, 3.2

What’s the upshot?

Yes, Jacob deGrom is having an excellent season. But no, he hasn’t run away from the National League pack. A few other pitchers have proven to be more durable, and hence have provided more value to their clubs this year. They deserve serious Cy Young consideration when the time comes.

And that time is still more than three months away, no matter what the experts say.