Jacob deGrom has always been one of the better pitchers in baseball. That is a huge win for a team to get from a ninth round draft pick. Getting any kind of major leaguer from that round is a success. The 2014 Rookie of the Year has been part of the Mets’ starting pitching success stories, but unlike some others, deGrom has been consistently good. In fact, he is the best he has ever been right now.
Through last season, deGrom had a very good career 3.21 RA9. He combined that with good control and a 26.6 K%. He relies on his mid-nineties fastball and command. He combines that with a hard slider in the upper eighties that gives hitters a hard time. He has a changeup that he does not use very much, but he gets good results from it, as hitters frequently either put it on the ground or swing and miss completely.
This season, deGrom has been one of the best pitchers in baseball. He is leading the league in ERA, but more importantly, is also leading the league with an outstanding 1.79 RA9. That is especially impressive given the Mets’ poor defense. It helps that he is now striking out a third of hitters faced. His 3.9 WAR is tied with Aaron Nola for the best among NL pitchers. Max Scherzer is getting all the attention, and deservedly so, but he is also benefiting from a much better defense than Nola and deGrom.
deGrom is certainly not going to continue to have a sub-2.00 RA9, but it is not surprising that he is performing much better than his 3.89 RA9 last season. His 2.98 DRA in 2017 was almost a run lower and more in line with his track record. The Deserved Run Average model gave him a lot of credit for his good control and striking out about 29 percent of batters faced. He also had some bad HR/FB luck. Right now, his 2018 1.97 DRA is just slightly higher than his RA9. It should come as no surprise that Scherzer is leading the league with a 1.40 DRA, thanks to his unreal 39.4 K%.
It goes without saying that deGrom should see some regression to the mean. He has a very high strand rate, and he has give up only four home runs so far this season. To give that home run total some more context, he has given up home runs to just 1.3 percent of hitters faced, as opposed to a career rate of 2.3 percent. He also has a grossly unsustainable infield fly rate of 22.6 percent.
What is working in deGrom’s favor is that his hard-hit rate has dropped to an outstanding 24.2 percent, per FanGraphs. That is tied with Jake Arrieta for second-best among major league starters. His teammate Noah Syndergaard is in first! If we go by average exit velocity, deGrom’s 84.6 mph is second-best among pitchers with at least 1,000 pitches, per Baseball Savant. Strangely, Brent Suter is sitting at the top of that leaderboard.
Looking at Brooks Baseball, the only major change is that he is using his sinker much less. The difference is spread among his fourseamer, slider, and changeup. His slider velocity is now higher than it has ever been. I was floored when I saw that his slider averages 91 MPH.
After starting the season 11-1, the Mets have lost over two-thirds of their games with a record of 16-33. They have had some bad luck by going 7-14 in one-run games, but they have also had an abysmal 12-21 home record, including losing ten straight. They have one of the worst records in the National League, and are currently 8.5 games out of the final Wild Card slot. FanGraphs gives them only an eight percent chance of making the playoffs. It is only June, but their season is looking grim.
With the Mets’ recent slide, trade rumors have started brewing concerning deGrom. He still has two years left on his rookie contract, and even though he is about to turn 30, he should have a ton of trade value.
The Yankees have been featured prominently in trade rumors. They certainly have the need and the assets to get it done. Gleyber Torres is probably untouchable, and Gary Sánchez probably is too. Any trade discussion would probably begin with Miguel Andújar. That might make Yankees fans wince, but there is no way the Yankees get deGrom without giving up someone that is going to hurt.
The Mets have some good, young talent, though some are still developing. Thor is just a couple months shy of his 26th birthday. Michael Conforto is only 25 and showed what he is capable of last year, hitting .279/.384/.555. Brandon Nimmo is the same age and is breaking out in a big way, hitting .270/.411/.560. Amed Rosario has been very disappointing since debuting last year, but he is just 22 and has plenty of time to figure things out. Dominic Smith is currently struggling in the minors, slugging just .374 in the super hitter-friendly Pacific Coast league.
The Mets also have a poor farm system, in part because of the incredibly baffling decision to give up a first round pick to sign Michael Cuddyer in 2015. It certainly got a little better with the recent draft, but it still needs a lot of help. Trading deGrom could do wonders to improve the system.
This is all to say that the Mets are in a tough position. One could argue that they have enough talent on rookie deals to just keep things the way they are, and perhaps make a splash in next year’s historically good free agent class if the Wilpons decide to open up their wallets for once in their lives. However, one could also argue that the Mets are on pace to not improve much on their 70-win season from last year. They might have too many problems to fix with this team as currently constructed.
I think it would be tough to trade deGrom right now short of a Godfather offer. I would want to wait to see how the season plays out and how the young talent develops before making any big trades. That being said, there is certainly an argument for doing so. There is no predicting what this front office will do.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.