Jacob deGrom pitched an absolute gem of a game on Sunday afternoon in Philly. It was his first career complete game in 68 MLB starts, featuring his best stuff (by far) since Game 1 of last year’s NLDS. If we’re going by his Game Score of 91, it was also one of the best Mets pitching performances of the last quarter-century. The Phillies managed just two baserunners, while deGrom allowed just three three-ball counts all day. It was mechanical, methodical, confident. The Phillies are a poor offensive team and deGrom took every advantage in his first start after 10 days of All-Star Game-assisted rest.
And maybe that’s where I start to doubt that, for as good as deGrom has looked recently, I’m not totally convinced he’s in the clear. Yes, the velocity that was missing earlier this season is largely back, but deGrom’s peripherals across the board are not quite up to their lofty 2015 counterparts:
Yet despite all this, there are blips of encouragement sprinkled throughout deGrom’s season. His BABIP has stayed pretty much the same. He’s on pace to surrender fewer taters than last season, even as opposing batters are swinging at fewer of his pitches out of the strike zone and making more contact on balls in the zone.
So what’s different? For one thing, deGrom’s pitch selection has become noticeably more aggressive this season. According to Brooks Baseball, deGrom is foregoing his four-seamer at a level we haven’t seen since his dominance last October. Back then, deGrom was exploiting antsy playoff hitters by swapping the heater for a lethal change. This time, it’s the sinker, which is now essentially the same speed as his four-seamer, that is the primary beneficiary. Even while mixing in the occasional curve and slider, deGrom is going to that sinker time and again, especially over the past month. It’s no wonder his groundball rate and groundball-to-flyball ratio are both, for the moment, are seasonal career highs.
And as games have gone on longer, deGrom has only gotten better. First time through the order, opponents have an OPS of .611. Second time? Still just .623. After that, teams are still just .600 OPS against him.
One start shy of 69 for his big-league career, deGrom has been historically good, at least with respect to expansion-era ball. And the good news is that for this season, the schedule shapes up pretty nicely for him down the stretch. Assuming the Mets’ rotation stays on its current schedule, deGrom figures to have perhaps 14 more starts this season. (That would give him an even 30, matching last year’s workload.) He would have seven starts at home and seven on the road. Most enticing, though, is that eight of those would come against a combination of Atlanta, Miami, Philadelphia, Colorado, and San Diego. His last challenging assignment would be on September 14 in Washington.
After that, it would be on to Citi Field to face the Braves and then finish up the season with two starts against—you guessed it—the same Phillies that deGrom with such ease this past weekend. So maybe deGrom does have enough time left this season and the kind of upcoming opposition where he can get those 2016 numbers more in line with last year. He’s certainly pitching better now than he was in April. Whether that trend can continue down to the season’s final days might be the ultimate determinant in whether this team—which is currently tied for the final wild card game slot—has a chance for another run through October.