Own Disney's Million Dollar Arm on Blu-ray™ and Digital HD today!
Going into the 2014 season, Mets fans already knew who their best pitcher in 2015 would be. Or, at least they thought they knew who that would be. Even though he was on the shelf while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Matt Harvey was king, and nothing could change that. The invaluable breakout start of 2013 struck out 191 batters and walked just 31 during that year while pitching to a 2.27 ERA and 6.0 fWAR.
Maybe if Zack Wheeler broke out in similar fashion, he could change a few fans' minds. He would have to be spectacular though. Well, Wheeler was pretty good in 2014, but he's not the guy who's threatening to take away Harvey's preordained 2015 Opening Day start. It's safe to say that no one saw the Jacob deGrom phenomenon coming.
So is deGrom really the best pitcher on the Mets' roster right now? Even if you assume that Harvey immediately regains his pre-surgery greatness, it's a question worth asking. The rookie's 2.69 ERA and 3.0 fWAR pale in comparison to what Harvey was able to do in his sophomore year, but if you compare rookie season to rookie season, deGrom begins to look favorable.
Harvey was a strikeout beast (10.62 per nine) during his 59.1 innings as a rookie in 2012, but he also walked 3.94 batters per nine innings. The Dark Knight did finish with a 2.73 ERA in the majors that year, but a high strand rate and low BABIP made it seem like he would regress, not improve, in 2013.
Although the hype surrounding Harvey was moderately high entering his sophomore season, it was shocking the way he was able to drastically cut his walk rate while boosting his ground ball rate and continuing to punch out more than one batter per inning. The flame-throwing right-hander appeared to be on a Cy Young pace before the fateful elbow injury was discovered in August.
That brings us back to deGrom. Can he possibly get better next season? It's not like his brilliance was apparent right away in 2014. He struggled with walks in the early going, with 24 free passes surrendered during his first nine starts and then just 19 walks in the next 13 outings. That makes it seem like the Stetson alum can at least lower his walk totals next year.
It will be tough for deGrom to boost the rest of his excellent numbers, but the hope for Mets fans is that he'll continue to grow due to his relative newness to the pitching game. He didn't start pitching until his last collegiate season, and his breaking stuff didn't really come around until this season. Really good breaking stuff is how you go from striking out 7.49 batters per nine in Triple-A in 2013 to 9.24 per nine in the majors in 2014. If deGrom can continue to develop his secondary stuff in concert with his electric fastball, even better times may be ahead in 2015.
Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, though. We may be in an era of pitching mastery, but the jump Harvey made from his rookie to sophomore season was still rare and remarkable. If deGrom can just replicate his awesome 2014, Mets fans will be over the moon, but there remains the possibility that he gets even better.
So start counting down the days until Opening Day. I was talking to everyone else, Jets fans. I know you guys have already started.
And go get Million Dollar Arm on Blu-ray and Digital HD. Jon Hamm may be a Cardinals fan, but he's delightful.