The Evolution of an Elite Pitcher: Jacob deGrom 2018 Cy Young Winner

by Nicholas Kaplan

At the conclusion of the 2018 season, there was no doubt around the league that the NL Cy Young would be awarded to Jacob deGrom. The former college shortstop turned pitcher had a 2018 season for the record books, leaving many with no words. deGrom’s statistics provide a look why he deserves such a prestigious award, and the methods by which he was able to bounce back from an average 2017 year.

 Photo by  beisbolsinaloa  via Flickr.com

Photo by beisbolsinaloa via Flickr.com

2018 was a historic season for Jacob deGrom, and his statistics back this up. He was dominant and truly deserved to win the NL CY Young. To begin, deGrom finished the 2018 campaign with a 10-9 record and a 1.70 ERA, an incredible year. However, there had been previous discussion that deGrom’s win total would prevent him from winning this award. Critics argued their points, and advocates followed, mentioning that wins shouldn’t be the main factor that determines a pitcher’s performance during a season.

A pitcher’s win total can’t be the basis for evaluating how he performs, rather it must be based on the factors that are in his control, and deGrom didn’t disappoint in these areas. To put this dominance into perspective, deGrom received 29 of the 30 first place votes, and second place pitcher, Max Scherzer had 8 more wins during the season, receiving only one first place vote.

Receiving 29 of 30 first place votes is pure dominance, and deGrom’s numbers back this up. DeGrom’s 1.70 ERA was the second best by a starting pitcher this decade, previously achieved by Zack Greinke in 2015 (1.66 ERA). During the season, deGrom started 32 games, allowing three runs or fewer in 31 starts, two runs or fewer in 23 starts, and one run or fewer in 18 starts. These stats make it hard to believe that any other candidate should win the NL CY Young.

DeGrom’s competitors, Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals and Aaron Nola of the Philadelphia Phillies, did all they could do keep up in the NL CY Young race. However, it was deGrom’s to lose. To fend off competitors, deGrom ended the season with 29 straight starts of allowing three runs of fewer, something that is remarkable. Also, Jacob was just the 11th starting pitcher in the last 100 years to finish the season with an ERA of 1.70 of below. The NL East was comprised of exceptional pitching, but this ultimately was deGrom’s year and no one else’s.

 Photo by Elaine K. via  Flickr.com

Photo by Elaine K. via Flickr.com

 Max Scherzer Photo by  Arturo Pardavila III  via  Flickr.com

Max Scherzer Photo by Arturo Pardavila III via Flickr.com

DeGrom’s 2018 dominance comes as a nice little surprise for Mets fans, as 2017 was a very average season for Jacob. In 2017, deGrom finished the campaign with a 15-10 record and a 3.53 ERA, the highest of his career. He had five more wins in 2017, however, his control and mechanics weren’t perfected, causing his ERA to rise significantly. This raises an interesting question: How did deGrom go from an average starter in 2017 to a CY Young winner in 2018?

To begin, deGrom walked 59 batters in 2017 and 46 in 2018. From this, one could say he was much more motivated to cut down his walks, but there is much more to this. In 2017, deGrom gave up 28 HR’s, and posted a HR/9 of 1.3. In his 2018 CY Young season, he gave up 10 HR’s all season, posting a HR/9 of 0.4. Another statistic worth noting is the batting averages of the players he faced. In 2017, batters combined for an average of .237 against deGrom, compared to a .196 in 2018. These statistics are an indication that deGrom made incredible improvements from a season ago. They demonstrate that Jacob worked on his control and mechanics in the offseason, however, the explanation for this is much deeper.

Throughout the 2018 season, deGrom had a well devised plan that involved using two methods to approach all batters. In his starts, he first set out to really attack batters with his fastball. If this plan failed, he didn’t lose control or surrender runs. He had a plan B, where he’d use his cutter and changeup to take advantage of batters. DeGrom’s 2018 dominance can be attributed to the work he did in the offseason, as well the game plans he crafted before heading into each start. This was his indication to batters that he had no weaknesses and was truly a man on a mission.

 Jacob deGrom by Matt D. Britt via  Flickr.com

Jacob deGrom by Matt D. Britt via Flickr.com

DeGrom’s 2018 CY Young season was one for the record books. He excelled in every aspect of pitching, and it should come as no surprise. DeGrom has been an ace throughout his MLB career, apart from 2017, and this historic 2018 season was to be expected at some point. While it may be hard to repeat such a dominant season, deGrom certainly has the stuff to continue to compete for the CY Young and provide excellent result for the Mets in 2019 and beyond.