The first-place Texas Rangers lost ace Jacob deGrom for the rest of the season and some of next season this week when it was revealed he's going to . DeGrom was able to make six starts this season and was dominant (2.67 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 45 K, 4 BB, 30 1/3 IP).
Beyond what this means for deGrom and the Rangers in the short term, let's allow our minds to wander forward a bit. Direct them toward Cooperstown. DeGrom, who turns 35 later this month, was going to have an uphill battle anyway, even with a hell of a foundation from his elite-level prime, but now that at least a full season is off the table, let's look at where things stand and where they could go.
The first thing to keep in mind is that this is in no way a death sentence for deGrom's career. He's signed through 2027 with a mutual option for 2028 and elite-level producers can come back from this procedure to pitch at a high level. Justin Verlander returned at a much later age from Tommy John surgery last season and won the Cy Young and fronted a World Series winning rotation.
The problem with deGrom's Hall case will remain the compiling aspect, though. We'll establish that here today.
On a rate basis, he's not too far from sitting on the top tier. Actually, you could argue he's in the top tier. Let's run through some of the most important rate stats here with deGrom against three examples of elite-tier pitchers. I'll go with Clayton Kershaw for a peer who is generally regarded as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Pedro Martinez because Prime Pedro is the best rate stat pitcher ever and Sandy Koufax because he's long been considered the gold standard for a "short" prime elite-tier hurler.
Now, I realize I can't prevent people from freaking out -- it is the 2023 internet, after all -- but let's keep in mind this is merely to illustrate how excellent deGrom's been on a rate basis and is by no means even close to an attempt to rank all-time great pitchers or anything. If you find yourself doing something like, "how is (insert any pitcher ever) not included here?" you have failed.
We could delve deeper, but there really isn't need to. The point has been made. DeGrom has been one of the best pitchers in baseball history in terms of run prevention, keeping runners off base and strikeout-to-walk ratio (he's actually the all-time leader in the latter).
The problem with deGrom's Hall case moving forward is that he's only started 215 career games. And though individual wins are an archaic measure of a pitcher -- at least as a primary means of judgement -- I can't help but feel like it'll be jarring for many people to see deGrom has just 84.
DeGrom is 84-57 in his career. He's a strikeout machine when he's on the mound, but his 1,652 career strikeouts leave something to be desired. Given that he's only sitting at 1,356 1/3 innings, that's not all too surprising.
Add it all up, and right now deGrom is 113th in JAWS among starting pitchers and that's in the range of pitchers like Ron Guidry, David Wells, Cliff Lee and Adam Wainwright. Not insulting company by any stretch, but it's not the Hall of Fame.
Now, to circle back to a very important point above, it would be foolish to bury deGrom. He'll very likely have a meaningful career after returning from the surgery.
Losing what'll likely amount to at least a full season is a big blow, though. The window for doing things that need to be done just gets that much tighter.
Let's say, for the sake of argument, that deGrom comes back and wins another Cy Young while leading the Rangers on a World Series run. That would make his case a bit more shiny, right? The regular-season counting stats would still need a rather significant boost, in all likelihood. Let's zero in on the biggest:
- The lowest win total among Hall of Fame starting pitchers (excepting special cases like Satchel Paige, "pioneer" inclusions like Candy Cummings or incomplete stats from Negro Leaguers like Bullet Rogan) is 150 from Dizzy Dean. Addie Joss is next at 160 and then it's Koufax's 165. Again, deGrom only has 84 wins. He was cost a good number from poor Mets run support and bullpen work behind him, but that can only account for so much. The bar for wins in this day and age should continue to get lower and lower, but will it go all the way down to 100? Or 110? I'll simply say this: deGrom needs to stack as many wins as possible once he's back.
- The flip side of lowering the bar for wins is needing to raise the bar for strikeouts. DeGrom is at 1,652 right now. That is 169th in MLB history, which doesn't sound too bad. But what if I told you he's behind J.A. Happ, Ted Lilly, Matt Cain, Chan Ho Park, Ubaldo Jimenez, Derek Lowe and we'll just stop there. Getting to 1,750 would move deGrom to 131st place, but still behind Jason Schmidt, Ian Kennedy, Charlie Morton, Anibal Sanchez, Lance Lynn, Randy Wolf and Francisco Liriano. I'd say he has to get to at least 2,000. Currently, there are 87 pitchers with at least 2,000 strikeouts. We'll still see names that didn't sniff the Hall like Andy Benes, Dan Haren, Ryan Dempster and James Shields, but with deGrom's rate stat excellence and multiple Cy Youngs, this should carry enough weight.
- The 1,356 1/3 innings count is incredibly low. Koufax is considered to have had a short career and he threw 2,324 1/3 innings. He had five seasons of at least 200 innings. DeGrom only has three. A good example of someone with a totally different case to deGrom's could be CC Sabathia. He comes on the ballot soon and a selling point will be his durability and the fact that he was such a workhorse. He has 3,577 1/3 career innings (and 251 wins). He went over 200 innings eight times. DeGrom can't touch CC, but adding another 200-inning season to his case could work wonders.
As noted twice before, by no means is deGrom's Hall of Fame complete. He'll be able to add to it once he's completed his long road back from Tommy John surgery. The expectation here is he's excellent as long as he's able to stay on the mound, it's just a question of if he'll be able to do so long enough to accrue the necessary number of wins, strikeouts and innings to line up with his outrageously-good rate stats for a Hall of Fame career. Needing to miss such a large chunk of the remainder of his career due to this surgery makes things that much more unlikely.