'An inner-circle Hall of Famer'? Jacob deGrom wants to be this generation's Randy Johnson

Jacob deGrom, the best pitcher in the world, says, very matter-of-factly, "I want to pitch into my 40s." And as much as pitchers aren't supposed to do that, they aren't supposed to gain 5 mph on their fastballs as they move into their 30s, either. And they aren't supposed to throw sliders 93 mph. And they aren't supposed to win back-to-back Cy Young Awards with historically bad run support. And, well, please, by all means, tell Jacob deGrom what he can't do and see how that goes.

"I believe I can still compete at this level at that age," deGrom told ESPN in a phone conversation this week. "To become an inner-circle Hall of Famer, I'm gonna have to play that long."

DeGrom, 32, chooses his words carefully, and those five pointed ones -- inner-circle Hall of Famer -- are no accident. When a pitcher starts his major league career on the cusp of his 26th birthday, as deGrom did with the New York Mets, that level of excellence -- not just the best of the best, but the best of the best of the best -- is unrealistic. There are too many barriers, too much early-career time lost.

To make up for it takes a historic push on the back end, and for the past half-decade deGrom has evolved from a live-armed converted college shortstop into a master of his craft whose relative lack of innings might well behoove him long term. The 2021 version of deGrom throws his fastball harder than any regular major league starter in history. This is fact. He throws it with command and precision and intent and malice. And that's just one pitch. His others similarly befuddle and confound.