We all love Jacob deGrom. And he is still undoubtedly the best pitcher in the world, posting a 1.08 ERA in 92 innings pitched before getting injured this year. But maybe, just maybe, it is becoming unrealistic as he ages for him to be able to handle the workload we expect of him, as a starting pitcher, on a year-to-year basis. Unfortunately for the New York Mets this season, Jacob deGrom’s elbow injury in game 82, about a perfect halfway point of a 162 game season, marked the demise of the Mets in 2021, which can be read about in fellow Rising Appler Mason Smoller’s article here. A daresay recurring elbow injury at that. An elbow that had been christened in a way when the pitcher underwent Tommy John surgery at age 22 in the year he was drafted out of Stetson in 2010.
At the point of deGrom’s initial injury, the Mets held a record of 46-38, good enough for a 4.5 game lead in the NL East. In those final 78 games since deGrom pitched in 2021, the Mets went 31-47, falling all the way out of the NL East picture altogether and finishing third in the standings. The Mets win-loss record essentially flip-flopped when the pitcher was healthy verse when he was not.
Now deGrom would only have pitched about 15 of those remaining 78 games since his injury, but it goes to show the effect of seemingly the team’s belief in itself with deGrom on the active roster.
The Mets should consider transitioning Jacob deGrom to the closer role after the expiration of his current contract, in the year 2025, to avoid the wear and tear his arm will endure as a starting pitcher, therefore lengthening his career and affording the next Mets manager the ability to use deGrom more frequently in the highest leverage situations.
In this way, deGrom’s arm every fifth game can be spared, and in turn, he can now pitch multiple times a week, only in the games where the Mets are actually able to produce runs and put themselves in a position to win, something that has made many of deGrom’s masterful starts over the years go in vain.
Just to show how much deGrom’s workload would be spared by making this transition, an everyday closer role sees that pitcher throw about 75 innings in a season. That’s about how many Edwin Diaz threw in 2018 when he posted a league-leading 57 saves. On the other hand, a typical full-season workload for a starting pitcher is a little over 200 innings. deGrom threw on average 210 innings in each of his Cy Young award years. That’s nearly a three-fold difference.
Two of the most famous pitchers to make the transition from the starting rotation to the bullpen were John Smoltz and Dennis Eckersley. Smoltz made the transition following elbow surgery on his arm. He thrived and led the league in saves his first season as a closer in 2002. Eckersley famously was able to win the league MVP award in 1992 as a closer, rare for a starting pitcher but unheard of for a relief pitcher. Both pitchers improved their performance in the bullpen, being able to have a higher quality than quantity of innings.
deGrom, already so dominant as a starting pitcher, by only having the one inning to focus on, would surely become more untouchable than he already is. So untouchable that it wouldn’t even be bonkers to consider paying him the 30 million dollars a year for the next three seasons, he is owed through the year 2024. Right now the highest-paid relief pitcher in baseball is Aroldis Chapman at 18 million dollars a year. Surely that is a lot to pay for a relief pitcher if the change was made, but if it extended deGrom’s career and kept him healthy and effective it would surely be worth it.
Furthermore, having a reliable closer, and bullpen, is one of the most important parts of having a strong baseball team. Two, well three if you count the late-season addition of Brad Hand, Mets relief pitchers, including their now 10 million dollars a year closer, Edwin Diaz, ranked in the top eight in the MLB in 2021 in blown saves.
The 2021 Mets bullpen certainly was in the top half in baseball in ERA, 3.90, saves, 41, and strikeouts, 658, but it goes to show that the three best regular-season teams in baseball this year, the San Francisco Giants, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Tampa Bay Rays, were first, second and third, in order, in 2021 bullpen ERA. It is so apparent that a team’s ability to finish a game following a starting pitcher’s performance and the depth and the stability that pitching provides could not be more important.
Edwin Diaz is a good MLB closer, and a great pitcher quite honestly, but is he reliable? A 3.45 ERA for your closing pitcher certainly leaves that open for debate. Diaz’s contract expires after the 2022 season so perhaps transitioning deGrom to the closing role, dependent on how his health fares in 2022 could come sooner.
As natural for any pitcher, who has to face the same batters over and over again in a game and experiences fatigue, Jacob deGrom’s ERA by inning generally increases from his first inning tab of 2.14 to his fourth-inning mark of 3.17 and his eighth-inning mark of 4.66.
While this idea may not be agreed upon by all, and deGrom may have many more good years in the tank as a starter, might it be wise to try to lengthen the man’s career by changing his role? It would be a shame to lose him to injury again and never see him fully recover. Baseball commentators are famous for saying deGrom’s arm doesn’t have the same mileage other pitchers of his same age, 33, have endured. They say this because he didn’t actually become a pitcher until his junior year of college! Before then he was just throwing darts across the diamond from the shortstop position, a reason surely why he wields such a dangerous bat. But unfortunately with his season getting cut short once again, this may not be the case.
Maybe this is an idea best acted upon on deGrom’s next contract, in his age 36 seasons, after the expiration of his current deal in 2025. deGrom’s contract for the next three seasons is expensive. He will make $30 million dollars a year, it would be a lot to pay for a closer, but it could also be revolutionary. Surely it would possibly be an ego hit for the pitcher, but I could see him fully embracing the role and being lights out every close game out of the pen could add a whole new dimension to his legacy.
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So while surely it would hurt the starting rotation to move deGrom to the closer’s role, isn’t having deGrom in a reduced capacity for a full season, and more season’s to come better than losing him again before a season can even be finished? Perhaps it is time to think the unthinkable and start considering moving deGrom to the highly respected closer’s role and letting him excel and affect games in this new way.