By Lenn Robbins
What could he possibly have done wrong? Who could he possibly have offended? When did the Gods of baseball turn their backs on the best pitcher in baseball?
It’s not like anything was given to Jacob deGrom, the best pitcher in baseball. He played his college ball at Stetson University in his hometown of Deland, Fl., not Vanderbilt or Florida or another SEC power. He began his career as a shortstop, transitioned to pitcher and underwent the rite of passage known as Tommy John surgery.
Yet deGrom is one of the unluckiest pitchers in baseball according to the Washington Post a notion not lost on Mets fans who have no explanation for the deGrom Phenomenon. The deGrom Phenomenon, in its simplest definition, occurs when deGrom pitches well, which just about every outing, and the Mets don’t hit for him or the bullpen foils the two-time Cy Young Award winner.
We went in search on an answer to this phenomenon.
“I think it’s so interesting to look at phenomenon like this,” said Dr. Linda Sterling, founder and CEO of Sterling Sports Mindset in Overland Park, Ks., who has worked with NFL players, other professional and college athletes and prep-age players.
“There could be something to the (theory) that they kind of take a night off or don’t bring their best but I would think it’s more of their perception and their thoughts around it. They may be aware of these and they may not, that there could be a thought that, ‘OK, he’s on the mound so we don’t need as many runs.’”
“You’d have to talk to the individual players to really get it whether that’s happening. If it’s happening, for a few, then sometimes that energy is contagious and you can just feel the energy change in the dugout. And that could influence it.”
deGrom pitches Thursday (12:10 p.m.; SNY) against the Phillies at Citi Field. In his last outing, deGrom went eight innings, allowing five hits and one earned run while striking out 14 and walking none in a 3-0 loss. He lost!
“He knows that we’re not trying to go out there and sabotage him,” said Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo.
Well, at least not consciously. When deGrom pitches, the Mets don’t hit. When they do hit, the bullpen collapses. Some terrific reporting by Neil Greenberg in the Washington Post illuminates just how bad deGrom Phenomenon is.
The Mets have averaged 4.1 run per nine innings for deGrom, the third lowest of any starting pitching over the last four seasons, according to Greenberg. If the Mets had given him the average of 4.6 runs, the Amazins would have been 45-10 in those games. Instead they were 36-19.
In that same span, the Mets bullpen is responsible for 31 losses in games in which deGrom was in position for a win. The Mets rallied to tie or retake the lead in what have been 15 losing situations, meaning the pen cost him 16 wins.
deGrom, who has a 0.64 ERA and struck out 21 while walking two in 14 innings, won the first of his two Cy Young Awards in 2018. According to Greenburg’s reporting deGrom has made 78 starts since then, pitched 503 innings and 61 of those starts were quality starts (six or more innings pitched and three or less runs allowed). He struck out 649, walked 110, allowed 115 runs for an ERA of 2.06 and the Mets have a losing record (36-42).
The rest of all the baseball teams combined won 78-percent of their games (1,646-455) when pitchers posted a quality start.
“I would want to know what the energy change is,” said Sterling. “Because we all have this zone of optimal functioning where we play or best. I’m just wondering if there’s change there. Because sometimes you see, ‘Hey he’s on the mound. Let’s go!’ You know, an extra fire. But it doesn’t seem like that is happening.”
It certainly isn’t.
Sterling said a drop of optimal functioning can be more common in fielders working behind a dominant pitcher. It’s simply harder to stay up for every pitch over seven (softball) or nine innings when no balls are put in place. The elite athletes find a way to remain engaged.
Which brings us back to deGrom Phenomenon: If the Mets as a collective are experiencing some kind of letdown when deGrom takes the mound, how do they break out of it?
“Awareness is the first thing,” said Sterling. “It depends if you’re working with the team as a whole or individual athletes. But sometimes, if one person asks, ‘Hey guys, are you aware we’re doing this?’ That’s enough to make a shift here.”
Forget the shift we’ve come to know, when teams overload one side of the infield. The Mets need a deGrom shift. Because they’re wasting performance after performance by the best pitcher in baseball.