You can order them however you want, now that Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom are finally entrenched at the top of the Mets’ rotation. Each will be the No. 1 starter on almost every other team, and in any case, you’re not really picking the order of the team’s rotation or the projected stats of the pitchers; Basically you choose the phraseology for the idea. or fantasy.
From 2016 to 2019, the National League’s four Cy Young Awards all went to Scherzer (then a Washington National) or deGrom (career Met so far). From 2016 to 2019, only two NL pitchers had more than 20 wins in relief: Scherzer (27) and deGrom (24). When Scherzer and DeGraw are paired together, it’s easy to imagine that they’ll only make a great team even greater. How could they not?
The last two weeks have given us a glimpse of what they could be, and it’s been pretty spectacular. Scherzer and deGrom — in that order, so far — have started three back-to-back games, and even with deGrom still building up his durability, they’ve mostly lived up to their billing: 37⅓ innings, 25 hits, six earned runs. , three walks … and 50 strikeouts.
On a lighter note, though, let’s hit the brakes on what this means for the Mets’ improvement.
For one thing, after Sunday’s 6-0 win over Philadelphia, the Mets’ record was 75-40, something few outside of New York were talking about, mostly because the Los Angeles Dodgers were even better. But the Mets’ .652 winning percentage was just shy of the franchise record (set by the 1986 championship team that won 108 games). No matter what kind of player you add to a .652 team, the team is unlikely to play better than him (due to math that isn’t really that hard).
On the other hand, Scherzer and deGrom have partnered for two weeks, and it’s still not fair to expect another two straight months. DeGrom missed half of last season with an elbow injury and the first four months of this season with a shoulder injury. Scherzer, in his first season with the Mets after signing a record deal, was on the injured list from mid-May to early July with a strained oblique muscle.
Together — eventually — they might become the premier hitting duo in the major leagues (although Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler have a claim to that). But they would have to avoid an injury list that hasn’t given either of them in recent years.
But what if Scherzer and deGrom can stay healthy and in the Mets’ rotation? What if they can pitch as well as they did in their Cy Young seasons or shorter stretches since? Have we ever seen anything like them?
In terms of shots, we probably didn’t have any. Among the hundreds of pitchers with at least 1,000 innings in their major league career, deGrom and Scherzer rank fourth and fifth in strikeouts per nine innings. But that’s primarily a function of this high-kicking era; There are also three pitchers active this season who are ahead of them in career strikeouts. Like No. 7 and 8.
The pitcher with the sixth-best hitting streak in history?
Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. And it is Johnson against whom all fancies of staging duets must be measured. Because there’s never been a more dominant pitching duo than Johnson and Curt Schilling, who hit ace seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 and 2002.
Which isn’t to say that Johnson and Schilling are the only names that come to mind.
Before Christy Mathewson became a New York Giants legend, he was outplayed for several seasons by his teammate Joe McGinnitt, whose nickname was Iron Man.
For several years in the 1950s, Cleveland’s pitching staff included four future Hall of Greats, three of whom were in their prime. Early Wynn was among them. In 1956, he and Herb Score could make a strong case that they were the two best pitchers in baseball.
In the 1960s, the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale were often talked about as a unit and an overachiever. But Drysdale never came close to matching the pinnacle of Koufax (the latter’s real competition came from National League rivals like Bob Gibson and Juan Marijal).
From 1975 to 1977, Angels teammates Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana won exactly 50 games and tied for first and second in the majors in hits. (Tanana wasn’t close to Ryan, and no one was close to Tanana.) But during the mid-’70s, Ryan still walked far more than anyone else and was generally not considered on par with MLB stars like Tom Seaver, Jim. Palmer and Steve Carlton.
The best duo in MLB in the 1990s was Greg Maddux and which of his teammates in Atlanta had the best season: Tom Glavine, John Smoltz or even Danny Neagle in one year. But during those years of dominance, there really hasn’t been an argument for another Atlanta pitcher as the game’s best (or second best). If it wasn’t Maddux, it was Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez or Johnson.
Johnson, who first became a star in Seattle, signed as a free agent with the Diamondbacks after the 1998 season. In 1999, in just his second season with the franchise, he won his second Cy Young Award as the team made the playoffs. In 2000, he won his third Cy Young; Midway through that season, Arizona traded Schilling, the Phillies’ ace, who turned out to be good (but not great). Arizona finished third, and manager Buck Showalter — 22 years before taking over for the Scherzer and deGrom show in New York — was fired.
In 2001, Johnson won his third consecutive Cy Young Award and fourth overall. But his 21 wins weren’t enough to lead the league, as Schilling won 22. That fall, Johnson and Schilling combined for nine postseason wins as the Diamondbacks advanced to the World Series, capped by Luis Gonzalez’s single against Mariano Rivera. Game 7 against the favored Yankees. Johnson and Schilling finished one-two in the Cy Young voting … and then did it again the following year, with Johnson winning his fourth in a row (no one else had won more than three in a row).
Everything fell apart in 2003. Although Johnson and Schilling still had good years ahead of them — despite being in their 30s — in 2003, neither was healthy the entire season, and both ended up with losing records. In those first two glorious seasons, however, they were two of the best pitchers in the major leagues and had all the awards and stats — wins, hits, ERA and wins (retroactively) — to prove it.
Major League Baseball has never seen anything like it, and may never again. For Scherzer and deGrom to even begin to compare to Johnson and Schilling, they need to stay healthy the rest of this season and next and do something spectacular in at least one October. During every pitch, just like before. And of course, both of them have played amazingly before.
Good news for the Mets? Almost every World Series winning team in history has not had two of the best pitchers in the sport, or even two truly great pitchers. There are plenty of other ways to win, and the Mets were able to find them while waiting for their aces to return.
Rob Neyer is the author of several books on baseball, including The Neyer/James Pitcher’s Guide, co-authored with Bill James. Neyer’s latest, The Referee Is Out: Calling the Game and Living My True Self, is a collaboration with former referee Dale Scott.