Sunday, June 3, 2018

This Isn't the First Time an ERA Leader Had Trouble Winning Ballgames For the Mets

Jacob deGrom has been brilliant in his first dozen starts with the Mets this season.  In 72⅓ innings pitched, the right-hander has struck out 98 batters while walking just 21.  DeGrom is also leading the National League with a scintillating 1.49 ERA.  And yet, despite putting up Cy Young caliber numbers, deGrom has earned just four wins in those 12 starts,

DeGrom's low win count is partly due to the team's non-existent offense when he takes the hill.  But mostly, it's been the club's shoddy bullpen that has turned potential victories into frustrating no-decisions.  And it's not the first time this has happened to a Mets pitcher.

Jacob deGrom, meet Craig Swan.

Decisions, decisions.  DeGrom and Swan don't know anything about that.  (Al Bello/Getty Images, Diamond Images)

Forty years ago, the Mets were coming off an embarrassing 1977 campaign, one in which the team posted its worst record in nearly a decade and traded its franchise player, Tom Seaver, to the Cincinnati Reds.  As a result, Craig Swan, who had never pitched more than 150 innings in his previous five seasons with the Mets, was expected to increase his workload for the 1978 campaign.  He did not disappoint, even if his teammates did when he took the mound.

Swan made 28 starts and one relief appearance in 1978, setting a career high with 207⅓ innings pitched.  The team's new ace held opposing batters to a .219 batting average and .597 OPS, which enabled him to win the National League ERA title - something Seaver had accomplished three times as a Met - with a 2.43 mark.  Yet despite his ability to keep his opponents from crossing the plate, he had difficulty adding wins to his ledger, as Swan finished the season with only nine of them.

As unfortunate as deGrom has been, with four wins and eight no-decisions in his first 12 starts of the 2018 campaign, it was far more frustrating for Swan, who managed just one victory in his first 16 starts in 1978 despite a stellar 2.59 ERA through mid-July.  Like deGrom, Swan was occasionally let down by his offense, as the Mets scored three runs or fewer in ten of those appearances, which included three shutout losses.  But on days when the bats showed up, it was Swan's bullpen that let the team down.  In four of those first 16 starts, Swan left the game with a lead, only to see the relievers cough it up before you could say Grant's Tomb.

Swan pitched five complete games in 1978 (winning four of those five contests), meaning he needed help from his bullpen in 23 of his 28 starts.  In only eight of those 23 starts did he leave the game with the Mets trailing, yet he went 5-5 with 13 no-decisions in those affairs.  Incredibly, Swan allowed two runs or fewer in 19 of his 28 starts, but was saddled with a no-decision in 11 of those 19 games.  And perhaps the most frustrating stat of all for Swan was that he pitched better in games in which he failed to earn a decision.  His ERA in those games was 2.16.

Like Swan forty years before him, Jacob deGrom knows what it's like to be at the top of his game only to see a potential "W" taken away from him.  In three of his eight no-decisions this year, deGrom has left the game in the hands of the bullpen with a lead, only to see it vanish within a matter of minutes.  How ineffective has the bullpen been in deGrom's starts in 2018?  The answer to this question deserves its own paragraph.

DeGrom has allowed 13 runs in his 12 starts.  The bullpen has allowed 35 runs in those starts after deGrom was removed from the game.  Somewhere, Craig Swan is saying, "I know the feeling."

In 1978, Craig Swan went 9-6 with 13 no-decisions.  Forty years later, Jacob deGrom is 4-0 with eight no-decisions in his first 12 starts.  At least they can take comfort in the fact that they both had winning records in the games in which they did earn a decision.  It could be worse.  Just ask another former Met, Nolan Ryan, who went 8-16 in 1987 when he led the National League in ERA as a member of the Houston Astros.

Hold my beer, indeed.

"No-decisions are better than losses." -- Nolan Ryan, probably.  (Focus On Sport/Getty Images, Todd Spoth)