Jacob De Grom Poised To Benefit From Nolan Ryan’s 1987 Campaign

If Jacob de Grom wins the Cy Young Award in the National League this year he will have Nolan Ryan to thank, in part.

When I and many of my sportswriter bretheren were kids, we had to endure the season of 1987 and the farce that was the Houston Astros’ run support for Ryan. He was the most dominant. He breathed the most fire. Hitters were scared to death of him. He finished fifth in the Cy Young voting.

Wait. What?

It happened. The best pitcher of the year went up against some of the best pitchers of the era and beat them…but had just a handful of wins to show for it.

Like de Grom, Ryan led the league in earned run average. Unlike de Grom, he also led the league in strikeouts, and strikeouts-per-walk. He was dominant. But he was also unyielding. He refused to let anyone on the other team hit the ball. The problem with that approach statistics-wise was the number of pitches it took to get through seven or eight innings kept him from recording any shutouts or complete games for that matter. Having a 100-pitch limit didn’t help.

He was 40 after all.

The pitch limit helped keep him fresh, but it allowed other less-worthy hurlers to muddle the race. Rick Reuschel’s 12 complete games (and no balks!) therefore held some sway as did Los Angeles Dodger Orel Hershiser’s 264 innings as did the campaign of fellow Astro Mike Scott. Some said eight complete games and three shutouts made Scott, the reigning Cy Young award-winner, a better pitcher than Ryan. It didn’t. Not this year.

And then there was the Chicago. The Cubs! They mucked up the works when they did the then-unthinkable and actually went to the playoffs, thanks in large part to outfielder/MVP  Andre Dawson and pitcher Rick Sutcliffe and his 18 wins.

“But even a postseason appearance by the  Cubs wasn’t enough for the writers who asked, “Only 18? We can’t give the award to hiiiiiimmmmm.” Sutcliffe finished second.

The other starters in the top eight? Three were basically the same guy with nearly identical ERAs and who had between six-and-12  complete games.

Hard to separate them. So, enter Philadelphia Phillies closer Steve Bedrosian.

Okay, 40 saves was a big number at the time. Especially since he saved half of all Phillies wins.

But other than that? All numbers were inferior to Ryan’s.

Bedrosian: Right guy in the right place at the right time.

And Ryan got hosed.

The Ryan Express knew how the voting Would turn out, and he didn’t turn away from the controversy. He threw a 96-mph heater at it.

I think I’ve been as consistent a pitcher as anyone in the league,” he was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying, “Won-lost record seems to be the deciding factor on how effective you are, but I don’t think anyone in the league has been more effective than I’ve been this year.”

Ryan was right. He received zero first-place votes.

But that year caused change and this generation of writers has been affected. The win has slowly lost its grip on the Cy Young ballot, replaced with more emphasis on ERA and WAR and WHIP  and FIP. You know, FIP. Fielding Independent Pitching. De Grom leads Scherzer by .68. This is a big deal. Duh.

Because of Ryan’s misfortune, now de Grom is poised to benefit. The difference between 1987 and 2018: de Grom has a very worthy foe. Max Scherzer leads in strikeouts-per-nine-innings pitched. De Grom is third. Scherzer is first in fewest hits, de Grom is fourth. But de Grom has the edge in WAR and a lead in the ERA race of .8. Ooh ooh and FIP! De Grom leads Scherzer by .68. That’s huge. Also, consider de Grom plays for the Mets, who seemed determined to stink from the very start. At least Scherzer’s Nationals were competitive.

Both had great seasons. If Scherzer wins, no one will have a hunger strike in protest.

But, if de Grom wins, he should keep in mind the awesome losers who came before, and issue a tip of the cap to the Express.

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