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Jacob deGrom's injuries cost him the 2021 NL Cy Young Award; how will they impact his Hall of Fame chances?

CBS Sports logo CBS Sports 8/27/2021 Matt Snyder
Jacob deGrom looking at the camera © Provided by CBS Sports

Back during the shutdown of 2020, I wrote about current players whose Hall of Fame cases might ultimately be hurt by the pandemic. Among those discussed was Mets ace Jacob deGrom. We now know that deGrom hasn't slowed down at all on the mound, but he's also only made 15 starts this season due to injuries and he might not make another. DeGrom hasn't pitched since July 7 due to a forearm issue, though he recently started throwing again.

Given deGrom's age (33) and status as a late bloomer (he came up at age 26 and won his first Cy Young at age 30), these last two derailed seasons could really left a metaphorical mark on his overall legacy and Hall of Fame chances.

As I noted back in May of 2020, being a late bloomer meant deGrom's path to the Hall of Fame was a peak case. The Sandy Koufax route. That isn't to say deGrom is Sandy Koufax, but instead that he would have to form a career arc similar to Koufax. Remember, Koufax was essentially a league-average pitcher through his first five years. Then he had a very good year. Then he was other-worldly for five seasons before being forced into retirement. He was so good in those last five years, he's a deserved Hall of Famer. 

DeGrom actually got off to a quicker start than Koufax, too. Through his first four seasons, deGrom was 45-32 with a 2.98 ERA (130 ERA+) with an All-Star appearance, a Rookie of the Year Award and two years of down-ballot Cy Young votes. 

In the four seasons since then, deGrom has put together a Koufaxian grouping of rate stats. He has a 1.94 ERA, which is good for a 206 ERA+ (Koufax's ERA his last five years was 1.95 and his ERA+, which adjusts for ballpark and era, was 167). DeGrom's 0.88 WHIP is better than Peak Koufax's 0.93. 

Further, deGrom in 2021 was set to win his third Cy Young in four years -- and, yes, one could argue he should've won the 2020 Cy as well -- but then the injuries derailed him. 

We're still looking at a ridiculous four-year run from deGrom, but it's just 581 innings across 91 starts, an average of 145 innings and 23 starts per season. And that's after two fully healthy years to start this run. In 2020-21 combined, he's sitting at 160 innings in 27 starts. That's not even the workload of one full season and it's taking up two prime years in what could've been a Hall-making run. 

If deGrom can't make another start this season, he's really facing an uphill battle to make the Hall of Fame (for those wondering, yes, this is on deGrom's radar; he mentioned it back in April). 

Obviously, deGrom's peak says he's good enough to be a Hall of Famer. He's one of only 21 pitchers to ever win multiple Cy Youngs and he was the widely acknowledged best pitcher in baseball for multiple seasons. There's little doubt the rate stats (ERA, ERA+, WHIP, strikeout rate, etc.) are easily good enough, too. 

Without that Koufax-like extended peak, however, many voters would then turn to deGrom's counting stats and they just aren't there. Not really even close, actually. 

  • deGrom has 77 career wins. Among Hall of Fame starters in modern-era Major League Baseball with a full accounting of career stats, the lowest win total is Dizzy Dean's 150. 
  • He has 1,505 strikeouts. The high-strikeout volume is a more modern movement in baseball, but deGrom still sits 98th all time, behind players like Bronson Arroyo, Steve Trachsel, Scott Sanderson, Jon Lieber and Tim Belcher. 
  • He's only pitched 1,261 2/3 innings. Opposite of strikeouts, workload these days is much smaller than it used to be, but deGrom has worked fewer innings than recent high-level pitchers considered to have shortened careers like Ben Sheets, Mark Mulder and Brandon Webb. 
  • He sits at 43.9 WAR. That's tied with Carlos Zambrano and trailing the likes of Brad Radke, Javier Vazquez and Frank Viola (deGrom is actually ahead of Jack Morris, but ... nevermind). 

This isn't to denigrate deGrom or any of the pitchers listed above. It is simply to illustrate that as great as deGrom has been in his career, he hasn't yet built a foundation of a Hall of Fame case that can withstand many more injury-shortened seasons. 

The point is, starting with his amazing 2018 season, deGrom needed a Koufax-like run to move into Hall of Fame territory. He's pitched well enough on a rate basis, as noted earlier, but the workload isn't even close. Koufax's five-year run was 176 starts and 1,377 innings. So far deGrom's four-year run is 91 starts and 581 innings. 

The good news for deGrom is that he heads to 2022 at age 33 (he'll turn 34 in June) and, so long as his arm is healthy, there's little reason to think he slows down any time soon. There's still time, even if the pandemic and injuries have carved out some valuable time from his resume-building years. 

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