From 2018-19, no pitcher in baseball was more dominant than New York Mets right-hander and reigning two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom. Among the 128 pitchers to throw at least 200 innings the last two years, deGrom had the lowest ERA (by 16 points) and the highest ERA+ (by five points), and he led all pitchers in WAR. It's not particularly close either:
- Jacob deGrom, Mets: 17.4 WAR from 2018-19
- Justin Verlander, Astros: 14.2 WAR
- Max Scherzer, Nationals: 14.1 WAR
- Aaron Nola, Phillies: 14.0 WAR
- Gerrit Cole, Astros (now Yankees): 12.3 WAR
Three starts into the new season and deGrom has been as good as ever. He's allowed just four runs and 12 baserunners through 17 innings while striking out 22. Monday night he held the Braves to two runs in six innings. He struck out 10 (NYM 7, ATL 2).
Because he wasn't good enough already, deGrom has claimed another title early his season: he's now the hardest throwing starter in baseball. deGrom's fastball has averaged -- averaged -- 99.0 mph in his three starts. No qualified starter is within 1 mph of him (Brandon Woodruff is second at 97.9 mph). deGrom's slider has averaged -- again, averaged -- 93.8 mph. 93.8 mph!
I'm sure you're curious, so here's what a 94 mph slider looks like:
I have no idea how anyone gets a hit ever with pitchers throwing like that. Every base hit is a minor miracle.
Anyway, deGrom has always been a hard thrower. Last season he was third among all qualified starters with a 97.2 mph average fastball velocity. The year before he was fourth at 96.7 mph. Jumping from 96-97 to sitting 99 is a significant increase, however, and deGrom credits the velocity spike to being locked in with his mechanics.
"This break -- and even in spring, just working on my delivery -- I actually feel like it's coming out with less effort than in years past," deGrom said during a conference call following Monday's start. "I think just with that time off, I continued to work on my delivery, and feel like everything's kind of in line where I want it to be."
Velocity is not everything, we know that, but it's not nothing either. The harder you throw, the less time the hitter has to react. It really is that simple.. That is not a coincidence. Velocity matters quite a bit.
deGrom had an unconventional development path -- he was a college shortstop who had Tommy John surgery soon after moving to the mound in pro ball, and he didn't make his MLB debut until a month before his 26th birthday -- so he has less mileage on his arm than the typical 32-year-old. Including the postseason, he's not yet reached 1,200 MLB innings.
Pitchers typically lose velocity as they age, that's the nature of the sport, though deGrom is such an athletic freak and he has less wear and tear on his arm than most pitchers his age that he's actually gaining velocity. Will it last? I guess we'll find out. Even if it doesn't, he's shown he can dominate at 96-97 mph. If he stays at 99 mph though, deGrom's best may still be yet to come.