By Ernie Palladino
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The way the Mets are currently constituted, it would be hard to use any individual postseason honor as a barometer of future team success. But if Sandy Alderson does his job right this winter, the voters of Major League Baseball’s NL Rookie of the Year Award might produce one such predictor next month.
Jacob deGrom — that unknown kid who came up in mid-May to go a very, very strong 9-6 over 22 starts — could walk away with the plaque.
He already won the hearts of his peers, finishing tops in the players’ vote on a list that included teammate Jeurys Familia for the Sporting News Rookie of the Year Award. The writers who comprise MLB’s voting body have more often than not followed the players’ lead, so there’s a better-than-even chance the Mets will have their first Rookie of the Year winner since Doc Gooden won in 1984.
DeGrom would certainly be a worthy choice. The 26-year-old right-hander, a basic nothing in Double-A and Triple-A, came up as an injury stopgap and proved almost immediately his comfort in the big leagues. Though he was robbed repeatedly in his first starts, he kept his head until the wins started rolling in.
By the time manager Terry Collins shut him down for the season, he had become the Mets’ most consistent pitcher, recording a 2.69 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 140 1/3 innings. He also tied the major-league record for consecutive strikeouts at the start of a game with eight .
It will be a nice award if the voters see his value over that of his main competition, Cincinnati’s fast center fielder, Billy Hamilton. But more than that, it could serve as a harbinger of good things to come. For this franchise, success has often followed the winning of this award quickly.
Tom Seaver won it in 1967, and two years later the Miracle Mets won the World Series.
Jon Matlack took it home in 1972. A year later, even though he struggled to a 14-16 record, he wound up starting three games (1-2, 2.16) in the World Series.
Darryl Strawberry won it in 1983. Two years after Gooden took baseball by storm in ’84, they became cornerstones of the 1986 championship team.
It doesn’t always work like that throughout baseball. But given the Mets’ pitching depth, a nod for deGrom could well herald an overall turn in fortunes.
Think about it. Matt Harvey returns from Tommy John surgery next season. Assuming Alderson doesn’t package a young starter for a veteran position player, folks like Dillon Gee, Jon Niese and Zack Wheeler will still be around. So will Familia, whose 2.21 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 77 1/3 innings showed his worth as a setup man.
There’s also that Noah Syndergaard guy.
With renewed health on Harvey’s part and another year of experience under everyone else’s belt, the Mets could have one of the premier rotations in baseball. As it is, pitching has generally been the least of their problems of late.
Handing deGrom the Rookie of the Year plaque would serve as much immediate purpose as handing Seaver the Cy Young in ‘69, ‘73 and ‘75, Gooden in ‘85 and R.A. Dickey in 2012 did — recognition for a job well done. But the Rookie of the Year doesn’t only represent the year’s excellence. For the Mets, that award has represented potential.
If the writers anoint deGrom, the front office does the right thing and history holds steady, the Mets’ eight-year playoff drought might end.
For now, deGrom’s peer group has given him the best gift possible with their votes — a Sporting News plaudit that could lead to a bigger one in the near future.
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