Jacob deGrom is the best pitcher in baseball when healthy. That’s indisputable at this point. Since the start of 2018, deGrom has posted a 1.94 ERA, 205 ERA+, 12.0 K/9 rate, and 0.881 WHIP across 581 innings pitched. No one else even comes close to those figures. The problem has been deGrom’s inability to stay on the mound.
deGrom has suffered several injuries throughout his career. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010 and had a separate surgery in 2016 to repair nerve damage in his elbow. While deGrom was able to put together full seasons in 2018 and 2019 — both years he won the NL Cy Young Award — he was only able to pitch 92 innings in 2021 before being shut down with an injury in his elbow. Yesterday, deGrom suffered a setback in his return to the mound. An MRI on deGrom’s arm showed that the Mets’ ace showed a stress reaction in his right scapula that could keep him sidelined for a month to start 2022.
This injury just adds to an already long list of Mets’ pitchers working through injuries of their own. Max Scherzer is currently listed as day-to-day and his status for Opening Day is up in the air. Chris Bassitt was hit in the face by a line drive last season. Taijuan Walker has a pretty serious injury history in his own right, and we all know what Carlos Carrasco has had to go through coming back from cancer.
The Mets’ 2021 campaign was derailed by a series of devastating injuries, and while deGrom’s injury in and of itself is not enough to send 2022 off the tracks, it’s the worst possible scenario for a team that’s looking to compete for a division title with reigning World Series champion Atlanta and the loaded Phillies.
The Mets’ offense looks good, but barring bounceback seasons from Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil, there isn’t anything that pops off the page. It’s hard to imagine an offense led by Pete Alonso and Eduardo Escobar can compete with Acuña, Albies, and Olson or Harper, Schwarber, and Castellanos. The Mets need their starting pitching to carry them and without deGrom for possibly the first two months of the season, there are too many question marks to have confidence in the Mets’ ability to succeed.
Throughout 2021, in games where Mets’ pitching allowed either four or five runs, the Mets went 12-25. Sure, five runs is above average, but it’s not a ton of runs to overcome, and yet the Mets just couldn’t compete. Sure, there are areas where the Mets have improved on offense. Escobar is a good addition and Mark Canha has always been a great power bat in the middle of Oakland’s lineup, but the team also lost Michael Conforto and Javy Báez. All in all, it doesn’t appear like this Mets team will be any better off than it was at the end of last season, and guess what? That team sputtered to finish the season, going 21-37 across August, September, and October.
Keep in mind too that Scherzer struggled to start 2021. Before being traded to the Dodgers, Scherzer had an ERA of 2.76, but a FIP of 3.6 (his highest since 2010), which is indicative of a pitcher who got very lucky during his time with the Nationals in 2021. A return to the East Coast could bring back that early 2021 Scherzer, who was good, but definitely not the ace we knew and loved throughout the late 2010's. Obviously, that’s all speculation and assumption though.
Without deGrom, the Mets’ pitching staff is filled with too many question marks to seriously consider them competitors in the NL East. Even with a healthy Scherzer, Carrasco, and Walker, it’s not hard to argue that the Phillies (Wheeler, Nola, Suarez, Gibson) and Braves (Morton, Fried, Anderson, Ynoa) both have better starting staffs than New York. While I have no doubt that deGrom will come back as strong as ever, the type of injury he’s enduring (a stress reaction in the throwing elbow) has been seen before in pitchers like Brandon McCarthy and Michael Wacha. It was a nagging injury that consistently forced the pair to miss serious time throughout several seasons every time it popped back up. It may not affect performance, but it does affect availability, and honestly, the latter is more important for the Mets if they really want to compete. I wouldn’t be surprised if deGrom needs to take a second extended trip to the IL shortly after returning from his current injury due to a flare up. We’ve seen it happen too many times.