Five miles or so from Yankee Stadium, where Jacob deGrom took the mound for the Mets on Monday, lies the grave of a pitcher named Al Sothoron. One hundred years ago, Sothoron fashioned a 1.94 earned run average and held opponents to a .205 average, the lowest in the American League. Alas, pitching for the fifth-place St. Louis Browns, he finished with a 12-12 record.
Sothoron — an Ohioan who married a New Yorker — is the last qualifying pitcher to have an E.R.A. below 2.00 without a winning record. Unless deGrom’s teammates do more to support him, he could be the next.
In other words, deGrom’s bizarre season could become a very Mets-ian bit of baseball history. But with a 7-7 record — and a major league-low 1.81 E.R.A. after Monday’s 8-5 victory over the Yankees — could it also earn him the Cy Young Award?
“If we ended the season right now, he should win it,” said Mickey Callaway, the Mets’ manager. “I think it’s probably twice as impressive to see what he’s done with the run support he’s gotten compared to other pitchers who might get tons of runs. It’s definitely harder to pitch in those high-stress situations than it is with a five-run lead.”
The Mets had provided deGrom an average of 3.61 runs per game entering Monday — only seven major-league starters have received less support on average. The Yankees had given their Monday starter, Luis Severino, an average of 5.38 runs per game, the seventh-most. Severino, naturally, was 15-5.
“I kind of like wins,” Larry Rothschild, the Yankees’ pitching coach, said recently. “I know it’s not the soup of the day, but I like them.”
Wins always taste good. That is why so many baseball people reflexively herald their importance. If you earn a win, no matter how you pitched, it means that your team left the ballpark happy.
Wins can help a pitcher get paid, too. Last season, a Kansas City left-hander tied for the major-league lead in victories, with 18. Overlooking the 6.38 E.R.A. he posted after the All-Star Game, the Mets signed him for two years and $16 million.
That pitcher, Jason Vargas, is now 2-8 with an 8.75 E.R.A. — by far the highest in baseball for anyone with at least 12 starts.
In most cases, a pitcher’s record will settle where it belongs over time. In the small sample of one season, of course, it can be quite misleading. Eight years ago, Seattle’s Felix Hernandez led the American League in E.R.A. and innings and won the Cy Young Award despite a 13-12 record. It was a watershed moment in the voting process.
“I won 21 that year,” said the Yankees’ C. C. Sabathia, who finished third, behind Hernandez and David Price. “It depends on what people are looking for, I guess. I understood it, for sure, but that was the first year that the wins didn’t matter more than the rest of the stats.”
Sabathia won the Cy Young Award for Cleveland in 2007, when he was 19-7. He beat Boston’s Josh Beckett, who had one more win but a higher E.R.A. in roughly 40 fewer innings. An award based on statistics, Sabathia said, would offer more clarity.
“That’s why I like the Warren Spahn Award so much, because it’s off numbers,” said Sabathia, a three-time winner of that award, which is presented annually in Oklahoma to the majors’ best left-handed pitcher. “You get so many points for wins, so many points for E.R.A., so many points for strikeouts — and whoever’s got the highest score wins. It’s not by voting.”
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America created the Cy Young Award in 1956 — some news outlets, including The New York Times, do not permit their reporters to vote — and every starter to win it in a nonstrike season had at least 19 victories until 1982.
That year, the A.L. award went to Milwaukee’s Pete Vuckovich, who had more hits allowed than innings pitched, and issued 102 walks. But he went 18-6, and that was good enough.
Voters’ attitudes have evolved since then, and so have those of many in uniform. Callaway, who was 4-11 in his career as a pitcher, is one of them.
“I don’t value win/loss record anymore — or, as much,” Callaway said. “I think there is something to be said about run prevention when you’re talking about pitching. That’s what pitching’s all about. And Jacob is probably the best in the big leagues this year at that.”
DeGrom fanned 12 in six and two-thirds innings on Monday, and now has 195 strikeouts in 159 innings. He is durable and dominant, everything an ace should be, and has made 13 starts of at least seven innings with no more than two earned runs. Washington’s Max Scherzer has 12 such starts, and Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola has nine. But deGrom is 3-4 in those games, while Scherzer is 6-2 and Nola 8-0.
“I want to win a Cy Young,” deGrom said after Monday’s win. “I think that every starting pitcher, or pitcher in general, wants to win, as a personal goal. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it.”
Scherzer and Nola are deGrom’s main competitors for the award, which Scherzer has won three times. Scherzer should still be considered the leader now, not because of his record (15-5), but because he leads the N.L. in strikeouts, innings, walks-plus-hits per inning pitched and strikeout-to-walk ratio — all the categories that connote dominance and durability.
But deGrom certainly has a chance to win it, and that will give Mets fans a reason to watch closely at least every five days of this lost season. The Mets will finish far from the playoffs, but maybe they can help deGrom win the Cy Young — and then reward him with a well-deserved a contract extension.
Hey, it could happen. Things really might break deGrom’s way: Just look at Al Sothoron. In 1919, the season after his hard-luck .500 record, he earned 20 wins.
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