It was on a brisk Friday evening of April 2013 in the bottom of the sixth inning that the New York Mets faced off against the Washington Nationals, pitting pitching phenoms Stephen Strasburg and Matt Harvey against one another. The loud echoing chants from the Flushing faithful electrified Citi Field. There was a 4-0 lead as the fans collectively declared, “Harvey’s better!” Harvey was certainly the best pitcher in Citi Field that night as he picked up the win, but as highly acclaimed author S.E. Hinton, wrote, “The difference is that was then, this is now.” This time Harvey was not better, at least in comparison to the Mets’ current best pitcher, Jacob deGrom.
The Mets have officially named Harvey their opening day starter for the upcoming 2016 season, which marks the first time he’s ever been handed the honor. The decision would have gone to the best pitcher on the staff, but deGrom’s availability is questionable due to the possibility of becoming a father during the first week of April.
From a competitive standpoint, it would have been very interesting to see who Terry Collins would have handed the ball to if his options were not limited. In that case, the choice would lead to a good problem, but ultimately the best man for the job is clearly the superior, deGrom. It’s easy to get lost in all the media hype that came alongside Harvey’s ascension, but if we take a close look at the numbers, it becomes easier to tell who deserves to be considered the ace of the talent-rich Mets pitching staff.
The 2010 First-Year Player Draft was one that Mets fans fawned over despite the team’s three-year trend of failing to reach the postseason after the gratifying 2006 season. The Mets had earned the highly coveted seventh overall pick and decided to draft the hard throwing innings righty, Matthew Edward Harvey. Eight rounds later, the Mets would choose the shortstop-turned-pitcher, Jacob Anthony deGrom, with their 272nd overall pick. The hype behind Harvey was almost non-existent for the lanky right-hander, which is why when Harvey was called up to the main roster two years later, deGrom spent the same year down in A ball.
What once appeared as a usual lost Mets season would suddenly be rejuvenated by way of Harvey’s August major league debut, striking out 11 in under six innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks on their home turf. Harvey’s first 10 starts resulted in an impressive 3.73 ERA in 59 innings pitched with 70 strikeouts while compiling a 3-5 win-loss record. One of the lone bright spots in the disappointing 2012 season was the 23-year-old pitcher’s unquestionable promise.
The following season was Harvey’s coming out party as he quickly adjusted to the big league competition. Despite ending the year early due to a torn ulnar collateral ligament for which he needed ‘Tommy John surgery’, Harvey placed a 9-5 win loss record with a 2.27 ERA in 178 innings while striking out 191. This was undoubtedly Harvey’s best season at the tender age of 24, but the procedure would temporarily halt his upsurge as he would be unable to pitch until 2015. The official crowning of New York’s long sought-after star would have to wait as the 2014 season immediately dealt a heavy blow. Fortunately for deGrom, Harvey’s misfortune would lead to a window of opportunity, as he would finally reach the Citi Field mound against the Mets’ cross-town rivals in May of 2014.
He pitched seven impressive innings allowing one run while striking out six. deGrom would go on to start 22 games, compiling a 9-6 record in 140 innings, owning a 2.69 ERA with 144 strikeouts. deGrom’s performance earned him the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
In what appeared to be somewhat of a twist, the 2015 season offered the opportunity for both Harvey and deGrom to pitch a day apart from one another, competing for the title of ace. Despite Bartolo Colon opening the start of the new season, Harvey dominated the headlines as his long awaited return had finally arrived. His 2015 regular season numbers were 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA and 188 strikeouts in 189 innings.
Jacob deGrom’s sophomore year came full of expectations but he was never really placed on the scale as the returning Harvey. Despite all of that, deGrom would go on to pitch 191 innings with a 14-8 record that included a 2.54 ERA and 205 strikeouts. Harvey’s controversial innings limit fiasco towards the end of the regular season, left many fans scratching their heads and questioning whether or not Harvey would be available in the postseason. Despite the brouhaha and the noticeable fatigue, Harvey would step up even though he had reached the 189 innings mark by season’s end. He even managed to pitch into the ninth inning in game five of the World Series, a decision that still haunts Mets fans. Overall, Harvey started four postseason games resulting in a 2-0 record and a 3.04 ERA in 26.2 innings while striking out 27.
Despite his regular season second half struggles, which was likely the result of fatigue, deGrom would also prove to be worthy during the postseason. In fact, it just so happens that deGrom started the Mets first postseason game in nine years as well as striking out 13 Los Angeles Dodgers. Overall he posted a 3-1 record in four games, while pitching 25 innings, striking out 29 with a 2.88 ERA.
The noticeable pattern is that of deGrom consistently holding a slight edge over Harvey, the ‘Dark Knight’, and not to mention the moments he helped his own cause in the batter’s box. Save for a cool nickname and a tendency for creating news headlines, deGrom is everything Mets fans have been clamoring for and yet it seems like he continues to be overlooked. Come opening day, it’s fair to say that the number two or 1A will be starting off the season against the defending world champion Kansas City Royals while the current best will be watching from home.