deGrom will turn 33 during the 2021 season, and yet he continues to defy the aging curve that brings about the decline of so many careers. Over the last four years, deGrom has gone from an impressive 3.00 ERA pitcher to a consensus top five MLB player.
2021 New York Mets: Fastball Velocity
One critical factor that leads to pitcher decline is fastball velocity. As pitchers age, and arm wear and tear increases, they can no longer put as much force into their pitches. For the majority of pitchers, at least half their pitches thrown are fastballs. This pitch has much less deceptive movement than a breaking ball and therefore relies on speed and rotation to generate swings and misses.
Since 2015, Jacob deGrom has not only maintained his four-seam fastball velocity but has actually added to it significantly. This is remarkable for a starting pitcher to do between ages 28 and 33.
It’s clear here that deGrom simply defies the norm. Jacob deGrom, however, has increased his four-seam fastball velocity by more than four miles per hour since 2016. In 2020, he averaged 98.6 MPH, second among all starting pitchers.
This wasn’t just for show, either. In 2020, deGrom led the league in strikeouts on pitches over 99.0 MPH. Between 2015 and 2020, deGrom also increased the spin on his fastball each year, overall from 2261 to 2247 RPM. This increased spin gives the pitch more perceived rising movement to the batter. In the same time frame, the Whiff% on deGrom’s fastball increased from 25% to 37%. deGrom’s ability to gain velocity and spin on his fastball has been a significant part of his launch from good pitcher to best in the league.
Even at age 32, deGrom refuses to stop improving. After a full offseason, deGrom showed up to spring training this February and immediately hit 99 on the radar gun. Most pitchers use spring training as a time to work up to their full potential for opening day, but this feat for deGrom indicates he may just continue his trend of throwing harder and missing more bats than ever before.
How Does He Keep Doing It?
Jacob deGrom with the 2021 New York Mets is clearly defying the career trajectory that characterizes so many pitchers. But how is he doing it? Well, one possible explanation lies in the early days of his career. The vast majority of MLB pitchers focus incredible effort on their craft from a very young age. Most pitch full seasons throughout their teen years, through college, and several minor league seasons.
For instance, returning to the above graph, Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Yu Darvish, and Trevor Bauer were all highly-regarded, competitive pitchers in high school and college. Darvish was so impressive at a young age that he was scouted by over 50 high schools in Japan before he was fifteen years old.
Jacob deGrom, in comparison, never threw a pitch competitively until his junior year of college in 2009. Before this, he played as a light-hitting shortstop. However, his limited college pitching experience convinced the Mets to draft him in the ninth round of the 2010 draft.
Therefore, by the time deGrom reached the majors in 2014, his arm had far less mileage than most other pitchers. deGrom avoided the toll of full high school and college pitching careers that are often required for a pitcher to get serious attention in the MLB draft.
It’s certainly possible that deGrom’s lack of amateur pitching years is allowing him to avoid arm injury and continue pushing his limits in his major league career.
Beating the Projections
Despite deGrom’s stretch of Cy Young caliber seasons, various projection systems anticipate deGrom having an ERA in the high twos for the 2021 New York Mets. This would be his third-highest ERA out of eight seasons. This decline is likely predicated on the general decline pitchers begin to experience near deGrom’s age. For instance, a younger pitcher like the Dodgers’ Walker Buehler, is pegged to improve on his 2020 performance.
However, based on deGrom’s current career trajectory, it’s likely a good bet that he’ll outperform the anticipated decline. One thing is for certain, Jacob deGrom will head into 2021 as the NL Cy Young favorite once again.
Follow me on Twitter at @david_murtha_4 for more of my content! Don’t forget to join our OT Heroics MLB Facebook group, and feel free to join our new Instagram – @overtimeheroics_MLB, and listen to our baseball podcast, Cheap Seat Chatter!. We’ll see ya there!
Come join the discussion made by the fans at the Overtime Heroics forums! A place for all sports fans!
main image credit Embed from Getty Images