For much of the day on Monday, the New York Mets story du jour was the three-year anniversary of Johan Santana’s 2012 no-hitter. That is to say, the flavor of the day was that of bittersweet nostalgia.
But then Jacob deGrom took the mound and seized the spotlight for himself.
Against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park, deGrom was superb. He led the Mets to a 7-0 victory with eight shutout innings that featured just two hits, no walks and eight strikeouts. He also darn near celebrated the anniversary of Santana’s no-no by one-upping him, taking a perfect game into the sixth.
With deGrom’s latest effort in the books, it’s now even easier to admire the hot stretch the 26-year-old right-hander is on. In his last four starts, he’s pitched 29.1 innings and struck out 34 with just one walk. He’s also allowed only three earned runs, equating to a 0.93 ERA.
So, cue Mets skipper Terry Collins with the money quote:
Indeed, and high praise in deGrom’s case. We are, after all, talking about a guy who just won the 2014 National League Rookie of the Year award on the strength of a 2.69 ERA in 22 starts. If he was pitching like an ace then, he’s pitching like even more of an ace now.
And in the process, he’s silencing whatever doubts that might have followed him into the season.
Mind you, this is not to wag a finger and say that clearly nobody should have been doubting deGrom coming into his sophomore season in 2015. It’s awfully easy to say that now with the benefit of hindsight, but there were reasons to doubt him.
For one, deGrom did come out of nowhere in 2014. He was only a ninth-round draft choice back in 2010, and at no point was he a top prospect. He also didn’t tease his breakthrough 2014 with a strong 2013 season, posting just a 4.51 ERA across three levels.
For two, deGrom’s Rookie of the Year award was won more on the strength of his final 12 starts than on all 22. After posting a 3.77 ERA in his first 10 starts, he posted a 1.90 ERA the rest of the way.
In light of these circumstances, deGrom looked like a solid bet for regression in his sophomore season. And in his first seven starts out of the gate, he didn’t do much to prove otherwise.
In those, he allowed 43 hits in 41.2 innings, striking out 37 and walking 12 on his way to a 3.50 ERA. He was also getting worse rather than better, following a 0.94 ERA in his first three starts with a 5.70 ERA in his next four starts.
It was then that Collins offered his diagnosis.
“Some of the things that I’ve seen him do, I think he’s tried way too hard to live up to what he did last year,” Collins said, per Maria Guardado of NJ Advance Media. “But yeah, I think he puts a little pressure on himself to think he’s got to win every game he goes out there instead of just pitching the kind of games he pitches where he’s going to be successful.”
As it happened, deGrom agreed.
“I was overthrowing in previous games, putting pressure on myself to do too much, instead of throwing the ball the way I know how to throw it,’’ he told Kevin Kernan of the New York Post.
This brings us to what deGrom has done in his last four starts, which certainly make it appear as if he’s gotten back to throwing the ball the way he knows he can throw it. As for what exactly has changed, there are a couple of things that stand out.
Brooks Baseball’s figures say deGrom is throwing his four-seam fastball more often, as he’s gone from 46.3 percent in his first seven starts to easily over 50 in his last four. It also looks like he’s being less predictable with his fastball location. And according to the man himself, he’s established a better rhythm:
The numbers actually back this up. The figures for deGrom’s outing on Monday night aren’t in as of this writing, but the PITCHf/x numbers at FanGraphs have deGrom going from throwing a pitch every 19.6 seconds in his first seven starts to one every 17 seconds in his next three.
Regardless of the specifics, everything fits under the same umbrella: deGrom is simply throwing with more conviction. Rather than trying to live up to the pitcher he was in 2014, he’s being himself.
And now, you can look at the big picture and see that the guy deGrom is now and the guy he was in 2014 look suspiciously like the same pitcher. He’s improved on last year’s 2.69 ERA with a 2.41 ERA through 11 starts this year.
And overall, D.J. Short of Hardball Talk notes that deGrom’s major league career to date has the look of one very, very good season:
Admittedly, 33 starts’ worth of work isn’t an ideal sample size for projecting ongoing greatness. But it’s easy to make an exception in deGrom’s case, as his success doesn’t look the least bit fluky.
The fact that his strikeout-to-walk ratio is as huge as it is is a big enough testament to that, and we certainly know deGrom hasn’t achieved it by accident. He’s had good command of his pitches since he first set foot in the big leagues last year, and what a mighty set of pitches it is. His mid-90s fastball is his money pitch, but he also has a slider, curveball and changeup that are all above-average on a good day.
Guys with really good stuff and really good command tend to do really well in the majors. Last year saw deGrom illustrate the point. After a bumpy beginning, we’re watching deGrom illustrate the point all over again right now.
It’s a heck of a sight. And on Monday night, it was more than enough to turn the mood from bittersweet nostalgia to sheer excitement.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.
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