Jacob deGrom’s sixth-inning strikeout of Ronald Acuna in his final start of the season on Wednesday night was a thing of beautiful chaos. After getting his first slider fouled off, deGrom’s second pitch, also a slider, gets the most halfheartedly sad whiff from Acuna, who’s clearly baffled and down 0-2. The young slugger nearly falls over as he spins around fouling off the next pitch, fastball, then takes a ball, and then almost stumbles again as he helicopters his way through another foul tip. Having been already made to look officially silly, Acuna watches a 1-2 ball, then does another one of those tragically weak swings-and-misses at a pitch so deceptive that it misses the catcher’s glove completely, and Acuna finally meets his doom by overrunning first base. Watch it all:
None of it made much sense, from the complete overmatching of one of baseball’s wonderkids to the concluding put-out. But then again, neither has deGrom’s season. On a Mets team suffering through yet another aimless and incompetent year, their ace pitcher hasn’t just been a bright spot—he’s forced himself into the NL MVP conversation.
DeGrom’s outing last night—eight innings of scoreless, two-hit ball with 10 strikeouts and no walks—was his best of 2018 by game score, and that’s no small feat. Gaze at the MLB leaderboard and deGrom is dominant, posting a 1.70 ERA that’s tops among starters; a 1.98 FIP that beats them all except Chris Sale, who’s thrown 59 fewer innings; and a staggering fWAR of 8.8 that’s over two wins better than every other pitcher besides Max Scherzer, who comes in at 7.3.
DeGrom’s done this not quite by being the league’s most overpowering pitcher, or even the one with the most control. Scherzer, Sale, and Verlander are all better strikeout guys, though deGrom’s 269 Ks are certainly nothing shabby. Verlander is also better at minimizing his walks, as are Corey Kluber and Miles Mikolas. But where deGrom has made his mark has been by limiting home runs to only 10 all year, for an average of just 0.41 per nine innings that no other full-time starter can best. In 2018, as power hitters reign, there may be no skill more valuable.
Whether or not this means deGrom can win a pretty much wide-open NL MVP race over hitters like Christian Yelich or Matt Carpenter is tough to predict. A 10-9 win-loss record, as crude as it is, certainly won’t do him any favors with a good percentage of the voters, and neither will the Mets’ sub-.500 record. Still, even he comes away with “just” the Cy Young, deGrom’s season will have been unforgettable. At least there was one thing about the Mets this year that they couldn’t entirely screw up.