After a metoric rise through the New York Mets farm system which took him from the Florida State League at the start of 2013 to winning the National League Rookie of the Year award at the end of 2014, Jacob deGrom seemed to be a potential candidate for regression.
A guy who never struck out more than 7.8 batters per nine innings in the minor leagues blossomed into one of the more dominating strikeout pitchers in the game, fanning over a batter per inning. In the process, deGrom went from a pitcher with the upside of a number three or four starter to the ace of one of the more promising young rotations in baseball.
After playing shortstop at Stetson University, the soon-to-be-27 deGrom is relatively new to pitching. He missed the 2011 minor league baseball season recovering from Tommy John surgery, so his developmental time was stalled further. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise now that in his athletic peak, deGrom is reaching heights that many didn’t think he could.
In his sophomore campaign, he’s been able to evade the dreaded sophomore slump and has been even better than he was last year–his FIP- has held steady at 72 despite regression in his HR/FB ratio. He has also cut down on the walks further, lowering his walk percent from 7.6 to 5.1.
FanGraphs batted ball data shows deGrom allowing 14.2 percent fewer hard-hit balls this season, with those hits turning into medium-hit balls, and batters are pulling fewer balls, and going to the opposite field more.
One reason for this is that deGrom’s four-seam fastball, his primary pitch has taken a leap forward this year, becoming a deadly weapon. According to data compiled at Brooks Baseball, deGrom is throwing his fastball nearly a mile-per-hour faster this year (95.45 compared to 94.49 in 2014), and the pitch is getting an additional inch of armside run.
As we know from this research from Mike Fast at The Hardball Times in 2010, at high velocities like deGrom’s, an additional mph on the fastball is worth on average 0.20 RA. DeGrom’s RA/9 last year was 2.82, this year is 2.65.
As the chart below shows, deGrom’s velocity bump is not just limited to his fastball, but is spread out across his entire repertoire.
Even more impressive is that despite the bump in deGrom’s velocity, his fastball, sinker and changeup all have more movement, though the breaking balls have suffered in terms of both horizontal and vertical movement.
We should temper any expectations we have for deGrom, because even though this is just his second season, he is 27. Without synthetic assistance, players don’t magically get significantly better after this age. But for the next few seasons of peak deGrom, he should be must-watch television as he has established himself firmly among the upper-tier of pitchers in Major League Baseball.
Joe Vasile is the Assistant General Manager of the Fayetteville SwampDogs of the Coastal Plain League. He also writes about the Mets at Mets 360. Follow him on Twitter: