Are Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer the greatest pitching duo of all time?

Scherzer. DeGrom. DeGrom. Scherzer. You can command them any way you want now that Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom are finally install...


Scherzer. DeGrom.

DeGrom. Scherzer.

You can command them any way you want now that Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom are finally installed at the top of the Mets pitching rotation. Each would be the No. 1 starter on almost every other team, and you don’t really get to choose team rotation order or projected pitching stats anyway; most of the time, you choose the phraseology of an idea. Or a fantasy.

From 2016 to 2019, the four National League Cy Young Awards have all gone to Scherzer (then a Washington National) or deGrom (so far a Met career). From 2016 to 2019, only two NL pitchers have had more than 20 wins over substitution: Scherzer (27) and deGrom (24). With Scherzer and deGrom paired up, it’s easy to imagine they’ll make an even bigger team. How could they not?

The past two weeks have given us a glimpse of what they can be, and it’s been pretty spectacular. Scherzer and deGrom — in that order, so far — have started three straight games, and while deGrom continues to build his stamina, they’ve mostly lived up to their bill: 37⅓ innings, 25 hits , six earned runs, three walks… and 50 strikeouts.

Let’s step on the brakes, however, even slightly, on what that means in terms of improving the Mets.

On the one hand, after Sunday 6-0 win on the Philadelphia Phillies, the Mets record was 75-40, which few people outside of New York were talking about, mainly because the Los Angeles Dodgers were even better. But the Mets’ .652 winning percentage was just off the pace for a franchise record (set by the 1986 championship team, which won 108 games). No matter what kind of player you add to a .652 team, the team probably won’t play better than that (because of the math, it’s not really complicated).

On the other hand, Scherzer and deGrom have been co-aces for two weeks, and it’s still not fair to expect another two uninterrupted 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-breaking contract, was on the injured list from mid-May to early July with a strained oblique muscle.

Together – finally – they could well become the premier pitching duo in the major leagues (although Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler have a right to it). But they should avoid the list of injured, which has not been acquired for 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 during their Cy Young seasons or in shorter periods since then? Have we ever seen anything like them?

In terms of strikeouts, we probably don’t have any. Among the hundreds of pitchers with at least 1,000 innings in their major league careers, deGrom and Scherzer rank fourth and fifth in strikeouts per nine innings. But that’s mostly a function of this high strike era; the three pitchers ahead of them in career strikeout rates are also active this season. Like numbers 7 and 8.

The pitcher with the sixth best strikeout rate in history?

The Randy Johnson Hall of Fame. And it’s Johnson who all fantasies about pitching duos must be measured against. Because there have never been more dominant teammates than Johnson and Curt Schilling, who peaked 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 outmatched for a few seasons by teammate Joe McGinnity, whose nickname was Iron Man.

For a few years in the 1950s, Cleveland’s pitching team included four future Hall of Famers, three of whom were in their prime. Among them was Early Wynn. In 1956, he and Herb Score could have argued that they were the two best pitchers in baseball.

In the 1960s, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale of the Dodgers were often considered a unit, and in superlative terms. But Drysdale was never particularly close to matching Koufax’s top spot (the latter’s real competition came from National League rivals like Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal).

From 1975 to 1977, Angels teammates Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana both won exactly 50 games and ranked first and second in batting majors. (Tanana wasn’t close to Ryan, and no one else was close to Tanana.) But by the mid-’70s, Ryan was still walking far more hitters than anyone else, and was generally not considered the equal of other MLB stars like Tom Seaver, Jim. Palmer and Steve Carlton.

In the 1990s, the best duo in MLB was usually Greg Maddux and that of his Atlanta teammates had their best season: Tom Glavine, John Smoltz or even Denny Neagle one year. But during those years of dominance, there was never really an argument for another Atlanta pitcher as the best (or second-best) in the game. If it wasn’t Maddux, it was Roger Clemens. or Pedro Martinez or Johnson.

Johnson, who became a star in Seattle, signed as a free agent with the Diamondbacks after the 1998 season. In 1999, just the franchise’s second season, he won his second Cy Young Award as the team exploded in the playoffs. In 2000, he earned his third Cy Young; midway through that season, Arizona traded for Phillies ace Schilling, who proved good (but not great) down the stretch. Arizona finished third and manager Buck Showalter – 22 years before securing a dugout seat for the Scherzer and deGrom show in New York – was fired.

In 2001, Johnson won her third consecutive Cy Young Award and fourth overall. But his 21 wins weren’t enough for the league lead because Schilling won 22. This fall, Johnson and Schilling combined for nine playoff wins as the Diamondbacks qualified for a league championship. World Series, capped by Luis Gonzalez’s single against Mariano Rivera in Game 7 against the heavily favored Yankees. Johnson and Schilling finished one-two on the Cy Young ballot…then did it again the following year, with Johnson earning his fourth straight win (no one else has won more than three in a row).

Things fell apart in 2003. While Johnson and Schilling still had good years ahead of them – despite being in their late thirties – in 2003 neither was healthy all season and both lost records. In those glorious first two seasons, however, they had been the two best pitchers in the major leagues and had all the awards and stats – wins, strikeouts, ERA and wins over substitution (retroactively) – to prove it. .

Major League Baseball had never seen anything like it, and maybe never again. For Scherzer and deGrom to even start to match Johnson and Schilling, they will need to stay healthy the rest of this season and next season, and do something spectacular at least in October. While pitching as well as they have ever done before. And, of course, they’ve both thrown a lot before.

The good news for the Mets? Almost every World Series winning team in history did not have the sport’s two greatest pitchers, or even two very great pitchers. There are plenty of other ways to win, and the Mets have been able to find them while waiting for their aces to return.

Rob Neyer is the author of several baseball books, including “The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers”, written with Bill James. Neyer’s latest, “The Umpire Is Out: Calling the Game and Living My True Self,” is a collaboration with former umpire Dale Scott.

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