It’s awards season for the MLB, and it is a rare year where a fierce debate is not required as to who was the best in each respective league for the 2018 season. There was a clear winner in each league, and both won handily.
However, that doesn’t make this year’s balloting any less monumental, as we move forward in this information age, and embrace new measures of effectiveness, even if they don’t have the decades-old comforts of traditional “values”. The win is dead. Jake deGrom and a hapless Mets offense only served as the long overdue executioner.
This storyline will greatly overshadow what a year Blake Snell had with the Tampa Bay Rays. In the harder American League runs scoring environment—complete with its Designated Hitter and challenge to not face a pitcher or bench bat every third time through the order—Snell was lights out. Snell finished the year with 180 innings, a 221/64 strikeout to walk ratio, 0.97 WHIP, and led the league in WAR for pitchers, H/9, and ERA with a paltry 1.89 mark. He even managed to come away with the league lead in that pesky Wins category with 21, which is even more remarkable on a team that embraced the “opener” and “bullpenning” philosophies throughout their 90 win campaign.
Many congrats to him, but the bigger story of the starting pitcher in 2018 is the tough luck kid, and now Cy Young award winner, deGrom.
Unseating Noah Syndergaard as the top pitcher in Flushing Meadows is no small task in itself, and he was done no favors from the 23rd offense in baseball, finishing in front of teams truly tanking for the future, and 45 runs shy of the league average in 2018.
deGrom’s final line sat at 217 IP, 1.70 ERA, 269/46 strikeout to walk ratio, 0.91 WHIP, 9.6 WAR, and of course, the now infamous 10-9 record. Despite this, he won 99 percent of the first place votes, with only one of the thirty ballots putting the Nationals Max Scherzer in the top spot. Scherzer had a tremendous year in his own right—making for more of a debate than you might have previously thought given the talk around baseball this season.
To compare the two in some traditional and an astounding advanced category:
ERA: 1.70 2.53
WHIP: 0.912 0.911
K: 269 300
ERA+: 216 168
Scherzer also led the league in H/9 to go with his strikeouts title, and a narrow margin of victory in WHIP, but that ERA+ is undeniable.
ERA+ is a metric that accounts for league, park factors, and evens out the run-scoring environments with a baseline of 100 being league average. Each number above is a percentage point above league average in effectiveness as a pitcher. Scherzer’s score of 168 is a terrific score, but at 216, deGrom absolutely blows the rest of his league away.
Having deGrom in 2018 meant having a starter who was a whopping 116% more effective than the league average—Snell had a 219 in the even tougher American League.
The metrics put deGrom in a class by himself in the National League, next to names from the Deadball era that you wouldn’t even know, and some modern legends who dominated their own era as he did this season, like Zach Greinke with 222 in 2015 and Jake Arrietta with 215 in his record challenging second half in the same year.
It was 1987 when Nolan Ryan won his final ERA crown with the Houston Astros, and added another strikeout title by posting a 2.76 and 270, respectively. He finished the year 8-16, and lost the Cy Young to Steve Bedrosian, with his 40 saves and worse ERA in fewer innings than Ryan, who placed tied for fifth in the voting. The win should have been dead following that misfire by the voters. Modern thinking aided Jake deGrom and his trophy cabinet is enhanced because of it. Look out Saves, Errors, and RBIs….we’re coming for you next.