Mets fans should not be panicking about Jacob deGrom


Some in the media have recently published articles that suggest Mets fans should be worried about Jacob deGrom. This is not one of those articles. The ‘chicken little’ approach utilizes conveniently sized stats to support the claim that deGrom is slumping, fatigued, or both. For example, he’s lost two of his last three starts, he has a 5.50 ERA in September, or worse yet, a 6.53 ERA in his last five starts.

These sample sizes put too much emphasis on deGrom’s last start against Miami, where he gave up six earned runs in five innings. Prior to that he had notched three straight quality starts and his last loss was to the Red Sox where he gave up four hits and two runs in 6 innings while striking out 10 batters. Going back one more start to the night he pitched while ill in Philadelphia and was lit up for six earned in only 2.2 innings allows you to point to the 6.53 ERA as evidence there must be something wrong with deGrom. That doesn’t make it any more accurate.

A closer look at deGrom’s numbers don’t support that narrative. Let’s look at deGrom’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) by month:

  • March/April              .311
  • May                             .273
  • June                            .211
  • July                             .190
  • August                        .287
  • September                 .426

It’s easy to see why deGrom is frustrated. He says he feels fine, but a lot more batted balls seem to be finding holes. At the same time, however, deGrom’s missing bats at a higher rate in September than any previous month — at a rate of 26.8 percent. Has he just been unlucky? Is this just an inevitable correction toward the mean? Watching him pitch, his ‘stuff’ certainly appears to be as good as ever, so there’s no reason not to believe him when he says he’s fine. A look at the underlying metrics should also put us more at ease.

If you were to dig into deGrom’s velocity and movement data as provided by Baseball Prospectus (I did it for you), you’d see that there are no obvious red flags. Just like he did last year, deGrom is effectively maintaining his velocity throughout the season and in-game as well, sitting at or above 95 MPH with his fastball throughout the season and in-game, each time through the order.

Maybe his ball doesn’t have the same movement? The numbers say he’s maintained horizontal and vertical movement on his pitches with the possible exception of his curveball, which has lost a bit of its tilt the last month. Opponents have hit .429 against the curve ball in September, but recall that this is skewed by his most recent start and the fact that he throws a true curveball infrequently. We’d be reaching to point a finger here.

Maybe he’s not locating? His fastball release point is down a hair and his fastball location up by a small margin as a result. However, while the batting average against his fastball (and his sinker) has crept up from the inhuman (Kershaw-esque) summer levels, it remains his most effective pitch. He’s not walking batters, so we’d really be nitpicking to blame his control.

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There is another possible contributing factor that many seem to forget — the opposing batter’s approach. In September, hitters are swinging a bit more often at deGrom’s pitches – about an 8 percent uptick. Even more interesting is the fact that they are doing it more often at pitches out of the zone – up 28 percent. This would appear to be a good thing, but hitters are making the same amount of contact on deGrom’s pitches outside the zone that they always have. So, more hacks equates to more balls in play and as we’ve seen with deGrom’s BABIP that it has translated to more hits allowed.

Are hitters ambushing deGrom and punishing him for consistently being around the plate? His first pitch strike percentage is equal to Bartolo Colon’s, yet his swinging strike percentage is double Bart’s and higher than Matt Harvey’s. DeGrom consistently throws strikes, but he’s been hurt more off the plate than in the zone. Is this cause for concern?

The SNY broadcast team recently intimated that deGrom may be getting a bit predictable. He does have a pattern of throwing more fastballs early and then mixing in more breaking pitches as he goes through the order the second and third time. However, this is not unusual for any starting pitcher. It is also the blueprint that won deGrom the rookie of the year award in 2014 and made him virtually unhittable this summer.

deGrom has experienced a little bit of regression in the big picture, and had a bad outing or two if you look more closely, but it’s not time to drastically change his approach. Better to focus on ironing out mechanics and avoiding bad cheeseburgers, letting the outcome take care of itself. There is no obvious sign of fatigue or major mechanical issues.

For those calling for deGrom to skip a start, the same rules should not apply the same way to each member of the rotation. Just because the Mets skipped a Noah Syndergaard start and watched him come back to toss a gem in Atlanta – two hits and eight strikeouts in seven masterful innings – does not mean that it’s the right thing for deGrom.

Noah Syndergaard has already thrown 26.1 more innings this year than in any previous year, and he’s on pace to throw 20-25 percent more innings this year in total. Syndergaard is a power pitcher with an untested, Tommy John-free arm, so it made sense to rest him up given the luxury.

Don’t let the radar gun fool you. Jacob deGrom throws hard but he is not a power pitcher. He is also not Matt Harvey, coming off of elbow surgery. DeGrom is just now matching his total innings pitched high-water mark, set just last year. Syndergaard does not have enough of a track record to be a solid comparison, but consider the impact that extra rest has had on Matt Harvey’s results in 2015:

  • 4-days rest                 .642 OPS
  • 5-days rest                 .566 OPS
  • 6+ days rest               .484 OPS

For deGrom it has been a different story altogether:

  • 4-days rest                 .475 OPS
  • 5-days rest                 .634 OPS
  • 6+ days rest               .710 OPS

These results would suggest deGrom does not benefit from extra rest like his power-pitching mates. He is better off staying on schedule where he can maintain and refine the feel for his pitches. This is no time to panic and start messing with the Mets’ Ace.

Jacob deGrom would be better off staying on turn rather than skipping a start, possibly having his pitch count limited in the remainder of his regular season starts. These starts will be necessary for him to regain the feel for all of his pitches and to tinker with his in-game approach. Mets fans should be confident that deGrom will iron out any minor issues he may have and be there when it counts in October.