New York Mets’ starter Jacob deGrom is kinda having a pretty alright season. More than 60 games in, his 0.56 ERA is half that of Bob Gibson’s from 1968 (1.12 — the lowest single-season ERA in the modern era). He’s also striking out 14.48 batters per nine innings pitched, which would also be the all-time single-season record. He’s got more RBI (5) than earned runs allowed (4). Prior to his start last night against the Padres, deGrom had thrown more 100+ mph pitches (121) than Chris Paul has points in the 2021 NBA playoffs (120). His bWAR (3.9) is higher than the entire Diamondbacks roster combined (3.6). He’s been the talk of the National League.
However, he may not be the biggest storyline of the MLB season. Los Angeles Angels’ starting pitcher/DH Shohei Ohtani has been reaching heights and accomplishing feats the baseball world hasn’t seen since Babe Ruth. Ohtani, a pitcher, is tied for third in MLB in home runs with 17, fifth in OPS, tied for 12th in stolen bases, and seventh in weighted runs created-plus. I haven’t even gotten into his pitching statistics, but Ohtani’s been pretty good there as well. Sho-Time is posting an ERA of 2.85 through 47.1 innings pitched and striking out 12.93 batters per nine innings.
Per Vegas Insider, Ohtani currently has the best odds to win the American League MVP award, and deGrom has the third best odds to take home the NL MVP. So, hypothetically, if you were building a team, and were offered one of these two superstars… who would you take? Would you opt for the pure pitching dominance and steady growth of Jacob deGrom, or the versatility and heavy bat of Ohtani?
Let’s build the case for deGrom. A great starting pitcher is undoubtedly the most important position in baseball. They literally control the pace of play for half the game. Thus far into the 2021 season, every single division leader is within the top-12 in the league in team ERA. While scoring runs is always appreciated, you can still do well with an offense that isn’t performing as well as you’d like. The Milwaukee Brewers and New York Mets are both leading or tied for the lead in their divisions, but are outside the top-20 in the league in runs per game.
Throughout his career, deGrom has gotten better every single year. He’s increased his strikeout rate in all but one season. When hitters do make contact, they’re popping it up more than ever before. deGrom currently is producing infield fly balls at a 20.5 percent clip, over four percent higher than his previous best in 2018 (16.3 percent). As his career has gotten longer, deGrom has continued to find new ways to devastate hitters. Even if it means almost entirely eliminating the curveball from his pitching repertoire, deGrom will do what he must to win.
Yet despite deGrom’s dominance on the bump, when he starts, your team is not guaranteed a win. Jacob deGrom has become the poster child for run support in Major League Baseball. Although he’s posted a 1.92 ERA and 0.895 WHIP since 2018, deGrom’s win-loss record is just 31-21 in that span. His first Cy Young season (2018) was infamous for the lack of run support he received. deGrom finished that season with a record of just 10-9 despite posting a 1.70 ERA.
Of course age is also a factor when making this decision. deGrom is currently in his age-33 season. Despite the fact that pitchers are having longer careers than ever before (looking at you, Justin Verlander), Ohtani still has seven years on his Citi Field counterpart. Ohtani is also much more affordable than deGrom (for now at least). Prior to this season, Ohtani signed a two-year deal worth $8.5 million. deGrom currently has a base salary of $33.5 million.
Now, the pros and cons of Ohtani. I mentioned his affordability in the previous paragraph, but Ohtani is an even better deal than he already seems. Not only are you getting a top of the line, All-Star caliber starter in Ohtani, you’re also filling your designated hitter role with one of the most feared hitters in the league. That’s two All-Star caliber players wrapped into one extremely team-friendly contract. Ohtani might be the first ever six-tool player, and that value cannot be understated.
However, while deGrom has shown consistent growth throughout his career, Ohtani’s production has fluctuated — bobbing back and forth between incredible and questionable. Ohtani has allowed at least two earned runs in each of his last four starts, yet has not gone deeper than six innings in any of them. Health has been a major issue for Ohtani over the first four years of his career. The Angels’ star was unable to pitch at all in 2019 and could only 1.2 innings pitched in 2020 before having to take the rest of the season off from pitching due to an elbow strain. While deGrom is having his own health problems at the moment, his injury history is not nearly as long or as serious as Ohtani’s. Since 2018, deGrom has hit the injured list just twice, and it’s never been longer than a 10-day stint.
You can’t go wrong building around either of these players. They’re both never-before-seen talents that drop jaws every time they step out on the field. If the season ended today, it’s likely both would walk away with MVP awards. However, in my opinion, if you had to select just one of these players, Ohtani is the correct choice. His contract is just too team-friendly to pass up. On his current contract, Ohtani’s average annual value is about one-seventh of what deGrom’s is. Ohtani will most likely command a much larger salary when his current contract expires after the 2022 season, but until then he’s the most bang for your buck of anyone in Major League Baseball.