New York Mets News

Jacob deGrom is regressing to the mean

By Jason Mast

May 31, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies first baseman

Ryan Howard

(6) runs the bases after hitting a 3-run home run off New York Mets starting pitcher

Jacob deGrom

(48) in the seventh inning at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Jacob deGrom, the young ace, the aberration may be gone. In his place, the real Jacob deGrom has stepped up – or down, depending on your point of view.

After Monday’s performance against the Cardinals, a start in which deGrom gave up six runs on 12 hits and couldn’t make it out of the fifth inning, the soont-to-be 26 year old starter stands has a 4.39 ERA.

Monday’s start was the culmination of what’s became a three game skid. Over three June starts, deGrom has given up 13 runs in just 15 innings – an earned run average of 7.31 – and whiffed just two more batters than he’s walked.

It’s a hard fall from the success deGrom experienced in the immediate aftermath of his promotion to the majors last month.

The Mets’ 12th best prospect debuted on May 15 by holding the New York Yankees to just one run over seven innings. He tossed a quality start in each of his first four games and struck out 11 Phillies batters on the road in Philadelphia on May 31. At the end of the month, his ERA stood at 2.42.

So, over the course of his brief career, deGrom has had stretches of dominance and strings of struggle.

Why shouldn’t he revert to his dominant form? Because that early season success was likely as much the product of luck as it was talent.

Through the end of May, the Florida native’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was .203, nearly .100 points lower than the major league average of .291, and over .100 points lower than the .311 mark he had been allowing in Triple-A. DeGrom’s numbers in the PCL, though, should be taken with a grain of salt.

DeGrom’s early BABIP in the majors was particularly fortuitous since he is a sinkerballer who gives up primarily ground balls and line drives, which tend to fall in for hits far more often than fly balls. He was simply getting batters to hit directly at his fielders.

Factor out the luck as the stat Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) does, and deGrom’s work in May begins to look a lot less like that of an up and coming ace and a lot more like that of an average starter. His FIP on June 1 was 4.55, over two full runs higher than his ERA.

This is not to say that deGrom will continue to struggle as he has over his last three starts. In fact, his stats right now, the bastard child of his two contrasting streaks, largely reflect deGrom’s true value and what Mets fans can expect to see going forward: an average young starter with potential.

His ERA (4.39) has now normalized to his FIP (4.33), and to what his minor league track record would forecast.

Last year, in his only full minor league season, deGrom pitched to a 4.51 ERA between Double and Triple-A. The sabemetric projections agree, with ZIPS predicting deGrom to go 3-4 with a 4.38 ERA for the remainder of the season.

At the same time, most measures indicate deGrom has the capacity to perform at a higher level. His overall FIP is 4.33, but its been 3.95 thus far in June, and his xFIP, a stat similar to FIP but that normalizes for “lucky” home runs, is 4.08 on the season. His minor league stats from 2013 may have been mediocre, but he had a 2.58 ERA in the hitter-friendly PCL before he was called up this seaoson.

However, if deGrom continues to struggle as he has of late, he may not get the opportunity to fulfill that potential in the rotation.

Dillon Gee is working his way back and top prospect Noah Syndergaard is nearing a promotion. Two rotation spots will have to open up. Daisuke Matsuzaka will certainly be the first casualty and DeGrom, whose plus fastball could play up in relief, could be the second.