We published an article two days ago with all of our reasons why we are concerned about Matt Harvey. Diminished velocity overall, a drop-off of velocity within each start, and a bad zone profile for the later innings (lower strike percentage and more strikes up in the zone) have all conspired to get Harvey into some serious trouble once he reached 75+ pitches.
I have no such concerns with Jacob deGrom. Here’s why.
deGrom’s velocity is a little below where it was in his wildly successful 2015 season, but it’s certainly not bad. It also appears to be creeping up to its usual levels:
Fangraphs has his average velocity as only 92.5 mph on the season, but that may be a classification error as Fangraphs does not break out a separate “sinker” for him. More importantly, deGrom has actually increased his ground ball percentage this year from 44.4% in 2015 to 50.7% in 2016, so this might be part of a deliberate strategy on his part to conserve pitches.
His velocity is undoubtedly down to some degree, but the gap something less than 2 mph. As we pointed out in our article on Harvey, a pitcher can survive with diminished velocity so long as the velocity is still good (and at 93 mph, it is) and he is still locating well.
In addition, his fastball — his signature pitch — has the same “rise” this year as it did when he became famous for throwing it in 2014 and 2015.
deGrom also doesn’t appear to have struggled to locate that most important pitch in the strike zone. Here is his fastball zone profile against right-handed hitters in both 2015 and 2016 side-by-side:
He’s away, away, away to righties, painting that corner. So the physical evidence on deGrom is all good.
* * *
On the results side, I am actually surprised that people are so worried about deGrom. He has a 1.99 ERA and 2.90 FIP here in the early going and, although the strikeouts are down, he has an identical swinging-strike rate to last season.
In fact, deGrom’s swinging strike rate is still excellent, a 12.5%. He’s 13th in MLB in swinging strikes among all starters with at least 20 innings pitched. The average strikeout rate for the ten pitchers with the swinging strike rate closest to deGrom’s is around 9 K/9. He will start striking guys out again.
* * *
deGrom is a veteran now: he’s almost 28 years old, and he’s pitched in the World Series. He was a diminished pitcher in October last year and, although he was able to battle through it and give the Mets good performances, I am sure he wants be strong for this year’s postseason.
I would not be surprised to learn that deGrom is trying to pitch a little smarter this year, throwing more sinkers and holding back a little bit on the velocity (one must also wonder whether his brief contract dispute with the Mets this spring has affected him).
Ultimately, he’s still commanding the zone, getting swings-and-misses, and is generating a lot of ground balls. His results have been fine so far, and I expect him to turn in a year which will do no dishonor to his station as the ace of this staff. He might not receive Cy Young votes again in 2016, but he’s a complete enough pitcher that if he is fully healthy he will be a great asset to this team all year.