Picture this: It’s September 11th, 1966 and you’re at Shea Stadium. The 60-84 New York Mets are hosting the 74-70 Atlanta Braves. As you look over the rosters, a few names catch your eye. On the Atlanta side, Hank Aaron and Joe Torre. Looking over the Mets roster, you catch a name that you aren’t familiar with, Nolan Ryan.
Making his big league debut in the sixth inning, relieving Dick Selma, Ryan entered the game with the Mets trailing 6-1.
With Pat Jarvis, Felipe Alou, and Eddie Matthews as the batters due up, here is how he fared:
- Pat Jarvis struck out swinging
- Felipe Alou flew out to right field
- Eddie Matthews watched strike three go by
A 1-2-3 inning to start his career. He was called on to take the mound in the 7th as well, which went as follows:
- Hank Aaron grounds out
- Joe Torre welcomes Ryan to the majors with a solo home run
- Ryan issues his first career walk to Rico Carty
- Mack Jones lines out to left
- Denis Menky goes down hacking
That would be all the action Ryan saw in his first outing, being relieved by Bill Hepler. Despite an 8-3 loss for the Mets that night, it was the very beginning of what would become a legendary 27-year career including;
Eight All-Star Appearances (1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1985, 1989)
1969 World Series Champion
11-time league leader in strikeouts (1972-1974, 1976-1979, 1987-1990)
Two-time NL ERA leader (1981, 1987)
An MLB record 5,714 career strikeouts
Seven no-hitters (caught by 7 different catchers)
A career record of 324-292, and a career ERA of 3.19
Jersey number retired by three teams (30 by Angels, 34 by Rangers and Astros)
A career like this is something we will never see again, right? Well from a longevity perspective, we will never see that again. In terms of sheer dominance though, we’ve got another Mets pitcher unfolding his legendary career.
Who might that be?
Selected by the Mets in the 9th round of the 2010 draft, deGrom moved relatively quickly through the Mets farm system and made his Major League debut on May 15th, 2014 in the Subway Series against the New York Yankees.
The Mets had intended to bring him out in relief, but an injury to Dillon Gee changed those plans, and deGrom was inserted into the starting spot. He did not disappoint.
deGrom made a strong impression, recording 6 strikeouts in seven full innings, despite giving up the only run of the game in the 7th.
- Jacoby Ellsbury flew out to left
- Mark Teixeira walked
- Brian McCann reached on a fielders choice
- Alfonso Soriano doubles into center field, McCann scores
- Yangervis Solarte lines out to second
Despite the 1-0 loss, deGrom’s career was off to a fast start. He would go on to win the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2014, and over the following 7 years of his career, he would rapidly expand his trophy case, including;
Four-time All-Star (2015, 2018, 2019, 2021)
Two-time NL strikeout leader (2019, 2020)
NL ERA Leader (2018)
Two-time All MLB First Team (2018, 2019)
Through July 1st, 2021, 77-53 career record, 1,495 career strikeouts, and a career 2.50 ERA
and last but not least…….
Two-time Cy Young Award winner (2018, 2019)
Right now, you may be thinking “Alright, get to the point”.
This generation’s Nolan Ryan?
Supporting that statement may seem tougher than it is. Both played consistently great for teams that were not consistently great, year to year.
The teams Ryan played for were a combined 2,171-2,135 (50.4% winning percentage). From 2014-2020, the Mets were 503-517 (49.3% winning percentage) with deGrom on the roster.
Now, before we go any further, I must point out that we’re working with 3.5 times the sample size for Ryan than deGrom, but the numbers are still comparable on average
Nolan Ryan averaged 211 strikeouts a season over his illustrious career. Jacob deGrom (from 2014-2020) averaged 169 strikeouts. If he were to pitch another 19 seasons, at that rate he’d finish his career with 4,586 strikeouts.
Things get more interesting when we look at wins above replacement, or WAR for short. When it was all said and done, Ryan had built up 81.3 career WAR.
From 2014-2020, deGrom recorded 38.7 career WAR, almost half of Ryan’s 81.3, and might I add that he’s done it in under half of Ryan’s full career.
I’d like to take a moment to point out some of the differences in their careers. Both have appeared in a World Series, but only Ryan has a ring. Both have had incredible careers on the mound, but deGrom has won the Cy Young twice (blows my mind that Ryan never won it).
deGrom to Cooperstown?
To me, it is undeniable that their careers have followed a similar path, and one day, they will share the halls of Cooperstown. I firmly believe that currently Jacob deGrom is the best pitcher in Major League Baseball, and have no doubt in my mind that he will come up in the conversation to be considered one of the greatest pitchers of all time when he wraps up his career.
The question is……..
Just how far up the list will he land?