There’s no denying the upside and the potential of the New York Mets and their sweeping starting rotation, and as a fan of a notable crosstown rival who seems to rely much too heavily on decaying free agent contracts it’s rather refreshing laying witness to a natural, organizational revival happening elsewhere. Of course, the majority of the Mets’ recent success is the result of their quality arms, and I’m sure the fantasy community has responded in draft boards and such. From Noah Syndergaard to Steven Matz, New York’s now-popular starting rotation has become as desirable as the talent level they possess. Even Bartolo Colon is viewed more comfortably these days as a dependable streaming option.
But if these first seven weeks are any indication, that allure may not always translate into pure results. In the case of Jacob DeGrom, he’s done his part to justify his draft price at least to a decent extent. He’s got a 3.07 ERA and 1.24 WHIP all while collecting 3 victories, and a brief look at his plate discipline peripherals will tell owners that he’s the same Cy Young-caliber starter from a season ago. Here are my two cents in the matter: Extended research has led me to believe that there’s a decent argument in selling DeGrom. All the convincing you really need as a current owner is to: A) watch any one of his previous starts if you have the resources, and/or: B) take a very close look at ALL of his 2016 numbers. Let’s start with the basics. A year ago, he finished the 2015 season as one of the top starting pitchers in all of fantasy with a 2.52 ERA over 191 innings and a 22.2% K-BB ratio. His fastball was absolutely elite, almost averaging 95 miles per hour and generating one of the best run values out of any starting pitcher’s fastball in the big leagues – all while being complemented with an arsenal with +15% K material and a wipeout changeup that had a fantastic 32.4% K rate on its own. There was no secret to the “how” in regards to DeGrom’s immediate success carrying over so seamlessly a year ago, and these graphs should give a pretty good idea of how he found so much consistent success in 2015.
In nearly every month, Degrom featured one different pitch that famished opposing hitters more than the rest, which meant adjusting by neutralizing just a single one from his repertoire did little to no good in the long run. He had the benefit of putting away batters with whatever pitch he wanted, and even if one were to remove his changeup or curveball from the equation we’d still be talking about an 8 K/9 type starter because of his fastball/slider/sinker offerings.
I’m showing you all of his work from last season because it all applies to my argument against keeping him in fantasy: his pure performance thus far has not come close to this level of excellence, yet his surface stats suggest otherwise. For example, here are a few more graphs I plucked out from this season that point to – or at least are pointing to – decline:
Allow me to explain what’s happening here by comparing these two graphs with the previous two. Last year, DeGrom’s pitch usage never leaned too far into the two-pitch territory we’re starting to see from him (or at least, starting to see from him this month). In other words, he threw more sinkers, changeups and curveballs in 2015, which led to almost half of his pitch usage stemming from offspeed pitches, breaking balls or pure downward movement offerings. It made him deceptive, and hard to gauge. This year, he’s trending in the wrong direction, almost going away from his elite changeup and above-grade sinker, and throwing his curve less in the process; the results showing that he’s becoming more lenient on his fastball and slider. Right now, he’s becoming more predictable.
Now, I would stand by this decision if those two pitches were his best, but even when you factor in the fastball that’s hardly the case right now. First of all, DeGrom’s four-seam fastball and sinker are off by a full two miles per hour, and the K rates for both have dropped about 11 and 8 percent, respectively. Furthermore, his changeup has seemed to have lost its magic, with a tremendous dip in whiffs and strikeouts (20% drop in K rate) – which leaves only his slider and curveball as the only two pitches in his arsenal that have been virtually unfazed by these changes (although the slider is also experiencing a noticeable dip in whiffs itself).
His pitch selection/effectiveness is not the only concerning development, however. His Skill Interactive Earned Run Average (SIERA, which measures a pitcher’s pure performance by including batted balls with the usual independent pitching numbers) is at 4.23 right now; nearly a run and a quarter higher than his actual ERA. Even though he’s getting just as many swinging strikes and chases outside the zone as he’s always gotten, he’s getting hit much harder when guys make contact; presumably the result of him throwing so many more fastballs (51-point increase in wRC+ between 2015-2016) and sliders (38-point increase in wRC+). I believe it’s also important to note that the velocity drop I mentioned before has affected his entire arsenal, so I’m curious if that is the main culprit for the harder hits and fewer strikeouts.
As someone who closely observes fantasy-relevant starters, Jacob DeGrom worries me for a number of reasons. These days, he’s hardly topping 94 on his fastball after throwing as hard as 97-98 at times a year ago, and he’s completely redone his pitch sequencing, fixing a good thing that was never broke. Also, I can’t help but feel that maybe all of this has to do with him hiding an ailment or experiencing some sort of diminished confidence. Where’s that changeup he rode to Cy Young consideration? Why is he going to his fastball and slider so much? And where are all the strikeouts? (9.66 K/9 in 2015, 6.59 K/9 in 2016.) I did catch wind of him having some sort of mechanical issue with his delivery, but when he did last season it didn’t affect him nearly as much and he re-adjusted rather quickly in comparison. Looking at everything presented here, I’m sure some of you might be thinking that it’s only been seven starts, and he’s already past his lat issue from April, but it’s been a very telling seven starts that appear very uncharacteristic on his part. He could bounce back right before our eyes and become a mid-2s, top-15 starter (let’s not forget that this walk rate is still pretty good), but at this rate he’s lucky to even have the 3.07 ERA he’s escaped with thus far.
My advice right now would be to listen to whoever’s out there in your league anticipating the bounce back, or at the very least tune in to his next start and pay close attention to his stuff. If his pitches continue to look like a pale imitation of what he had to offer a season ago, it might be time to consider baiting him to potential suitors for an ample return on investment.