Jacob deGrom’s Run Support Is As Lacking as You Think

Jacob deGrom was his usual sterling self on Wednesday night, striking out nine Red Sox batters against no homers, one walk, and just three hits over his six innings of work. For his troubles, the Mets dropped the game 1-0, leaving deGrom with his second loss of 2021. A month into the season, deGrom now has the same number of losses as total earned runs allowed. He’s upped his Cy Young-worthy game to such a degree that allowing a single run nearly doubled his ERA, from 0.31 to 0.51. And with the Mets’ bats not cooperating, he’s even tried to help his own case, with hits in four of his five starts for a .462/.462/.538 line, though that performance might not continue. It certainly feels like of all the pitchers who have their health, deGrom is the unluckiest in baseball.

The Mets right-hander has never had a poor season, but he’s kicked his career into a new gear in recent years. Since the start of 2018, he sports a very healthy 1.99 ERA, a 2.21 FIP, and nearly 12 strikeouts per game. His total of 20.8 WAR is four more than the next-best pitcher, Gerrit Cole. And though he’s on the wrong side of 30, deGrom has even seen his velocity increase. While that’s not unheard of — Charlie Morton is the most obvious recent example that my brain trudges up — it’s not typical. If the season ended right now, he’d be the only starting pitcher to finish the season with an average fastball velocity of 99 mph of those with 20 innings thrown in a season since 2002. Not bad for a guy who broke into the league averaging 93!

Despite all that good performance, one of baseball’s cruelest stats, pitcher win-loss, has shown little mercy, leaving deGrom with a 27-21 record that looks more like what you’d expect from a good No. 3 starter than an ace. Is deGrom really the unluckiest pitcher in the game, at least when it comes to team support?

Baseball-Reference tracks “cheap wins” and “tough losses.” Basically, it’s losses in quality starts versus wins in non-quality starts. DeGrom made it to the majors in 2014, which seems like an appropriate cutoff to see who has the most tough losses.

Cheap Wins, Tough Losses Since 2014
Rank Player Cheap Wins Tough Losses
1 Madison Bumgarner 18 28
2 Jacob deGrom 7 27
3 Andrew Cashner 7 26
4 Rick Porcello 19 25
5 José Quintana 8 24
6 Max Scherzer 12 23
7 Julio Teheran 9 22
8 Tanner Roark 21 21
9 Sonny Gray 9 21
10 Chris Archer 11 20
11 Justin Verlander 10 20
12 Chris Sale 8 20
13 Mike Leake 6 20
14 R.A. Dickey 10 19
15 James Shields 8 19
16 Gerrit Cole 14 18
17 Lance Lynn 14 18
18 Trevor Bauer 12 18
19 Wade Miley 21 17
20 Dallas Keuchel 11 17
21 Tyson Ross 10 17
22 Jeff Samardzija 8 17
23 Zack Greinke 13 16
24 Francisco Liriano 12 16
25 Johnny Cueto 12 16
26 David Price 10 16
27 Clayton Kershaw 7 16
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Madison Bumgarner actually just edges out deGrom in tough losses, but he at least has 11 more cheap wins as compensation. J.A. Happ, who at just 11 tough losses was spared placement in these rankings, leads baseball with a whopping 27 cheap wins since 2014. And Jaime Barria, who has just 44 career starts and zero tough losses, has more cheap wins than deGrom, with eight.

There are many ways to measure poor luck, so let’s look at another: win-loss record vs. expected record, based on runs allowed and team run support. Basically, using the “Pythagorean” theorem — air quotes here because no triangles — I re-estimated every pitcher’s expected win total if their teams had scored their average number of runs per game rather than the team’s actual performance. We have this data going back to 2002, which seemed a logical cutoff mark and should capture every active pitcher. As I’m ranking pitchers by most missing wins per 30 games started, I’ve limited it to pitchers with 100 total starts.

Expected vs. Actual Wins, 2002-21
Rank Player Actual Wins Expected Wins Difference GS Wins per 30 GS
1 Ryan Franklin 27 38.9 -11.9 106 -3.37
2 Jacob deGrom 72 88.9 -16.9 187 -2.71
3 Shelby Miller 37 48.5 -11.5 132 -2.61
4 Jason Johnson 35 47.3 -12.3 142 -2.60
5 Drew Pomeranz 41 51.6 -10.6 140 -2.27
6 Kelvim Escobar 54 63.6 -9.6 127 -2.27
7 Jarrod Washburn 79 96.7 -17.7 235 -2.26
8 Kevin Gausman 47 59.2 -12.2 169 -2.17
9 Kerry Wood 38 45.2 -7.2 101 -2.14
10 Hiroki Kuroda 79 93.4 -14.4 211 -2.05
11 Yu Darvish 73 85.6 -12.6 187 -2.02
12 Kyle Hendricks 70 81.7 -11.7 178 -1.97
13 Matt Cain 104 124.4 -20.4 331 -1.85
14 Chris Archer 60 73.0 -13.0 211 -1.85
15 John Smoltz 50 57.2 -7.2 120 -1.80
16 Ben Sheets 83 96.4 -13.4 225 -1.79
17 Tanner Roark 71 81.3 -10.3 184 -1.68
18 Hyun Jin Ryu 류현진 60 67.8 -7.8 142 -1.65
19 Jhoulys Chacín 75 87.4 -12.4 226 -1.65
20 Carlos Carrasco 81 91.6 -10.6 195 -1.63

By this estimate, if the Mets just scored runs the way they do for their other pitchers, it would add roughly 17 wins to deGrom’s career line, shifting his record to a healthier 89-34. That’s the second-most in baseball behind Ryan Franklin during his years with Seattle. Franklin didn’t pitch well in those Mariners seasons, but his 30-49 record was much worse than you would have expected from a pitcher with a 98 ERA+. If we consider only those pitchers we think of as stars (sorry, Ryan), deGrom comes out on top (or is it the bottom?) here.

Back in March, my colleague Jay Jaffe wrote about deGrom’s path to Cooperstown, so we don’t have to go too deep into his Hall of Fame chances. But given his blazing start to 2021, it’s worth revisiting his rest-of-career projections.

ZiPS Projection – Jacob deGrom
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2021 15 6 0 2.30 30 30 196.0 139 50 13 39 268 157 7.4
2022 13 5 0 2.58 28 28 177.7 133 51 18 38 230 164 5.8
2023 12 5 0 2.73 25 25 158.0 121 48 16 34 196 155 4.9
2024 11 5 0 2.90 25 25 155.3 123 50 17 34 186 146 4.5
2025 10 5 0 2.87 23 23 144.3 114 46 15 32 173 148 4.2
2026 9 5 0 2.96 20 20 127.7 103 42 14 29 151 143 3.6
2027 8 4 0 3.15 18 18 111.3 93 39 13 26 130 134 2.9
2028 7 4 0 3.28 16 16 96.0 83 35 12 23 110 129 2.4
Total 85 39 0 3.56 185 185 1166.3 908 361 119 255 1443 147 35.7

If he were a free agent at the end of the season, ZiPS projects a seven-year, $200 million deal for deGrom. Not a bad score for a pitcher in his declining years. Luckily, his 2019 extension, which will net him $96.5 million from 2021-23 if his team option is exercised, at least ensures deGrom won’t be grossly underpaid for his contributions, even if his win total lags behind what he deserves.

deGrom’s career projection has now edged just over 70 WAR, with an additional 11 wins. Unfortunately, that still leaves him with just 157 wins, a low total for a Hall of Famer and one that voters have tended to look askance at. There’s good news there, however. While pitcher wins still hold sway over Hall of Fame voters, deGrom won Cy Young awards in 10- and 11-win seasons, suggesting that some number of scribes, including many who do not yet meet the 10-year BBWAA qualification for Hall voting, were willing to overlook his paltry wins total when awarding him one of the game’s top honors. Fifteen years from now, when deGrom lands on a Hall ballot, more of these voters will be the ones passing judgment. I’m four years away from my ballot, and I would absolutely vote for the pitcher in the above projection.

It’s a little soon to worry too much about whether Jacob deGrom finishes his career in Cooperstown. For now, it would be nice if the Mets could score enough runs so that he can finish his awesome starts with a win in the box score.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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The sign that deGrom had posted in the clubhouse simply read “.462/.462/.538.”

He scanned his teammates with a look of death. Not a word of them made a sound. Not a single one made eye contact. He glared furiously.

Then, the batboy coughed.

That was all the encouragement he needed. He took a deep breath, and said “DO I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING AROUND HERE!?!?!”