The last time Mets fans saw Jacob deGrom on a mound in 2015, was during a shaky start at Kauffman Stadium in Game 2 of the World Series. Despite that start, deGrom’s first foray into the postseason was a successful one. He went up against two legitimate Cy Young contenders in the NLDS and beat them both, one by sheer dominance and one by sheer grit. Those starts in the playoffs served as a harbinger for his 2016. deGrom showed flashes of brilliance, but he also had many gutty performances where he relied more on cunning to keep his team in the game.
deGrom came into spring training in 2016 seeking redemption for that World Series start. The will was there, but unfortunately his body did not cooperate. A minor leg injury cropped up early on in spring, followed by a sore back. deGrom had another issue before the season started but it was not a physical one: He was unhappy with his salary and refused to sign his contract.
deGrom was slated to pitch a Game 6 that would never come at Kauffman Stadium. He again would not get the opportunity to pitch in Kansas City when the 2016 season opened, since his wife was due to give birth. He instead got the honor of pitching the home opener against the Phillies on April 8. He pitched an effective six innings and picked up the win. However, he experienced some lat tightness after the game and was scratched from his next start. He probably would not have made that start anyway since baby Jaxson was born and had a scary breathing issue that was a bit of a concern for the new parents.
Once his son’s health scare had passed, deGrom came back to pitch against the Braves on April 24, 16 days after his previous start. That was another win for deGrom but the velocity on his fastball was down from its 2015 levels, and it would remain down for the remainder of the season.
The lower velocity might account for some of his struggles in May and June. In 10 games he went 0-4, and the Mets were 3-7 in games he started during that stretch, which is less than ideal when one of your aces is on the mound.
June was not entirely his fault, however. In five starts, the Mets scored a total of three runs for him and were shut out twice. Despite the velocity dip from May, deGrom actually lowered his ERA in June. For the month of May, he was 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in five appearances. In June he was 0-3 with a 2.45 ERA, so he was giving his team the opportunity to win, they were just unable to break through.
The fastball velocity did rise in the warm summer months, even though it did quite at 2015 levels. However, the velocity was not that far off from 2014, when he won Rookie of the Year, so he has proven he can get outs with a fastball in the low-to-mid-90s. The drop might have stemmed from a mechanical issue that seemed to plague him all season long, until September when the precipitous drop came from a feeling of numbness in his fingers. That numbness eventually led to ulnar nerve surgery that ended his season.
When he was healthy and his mechanics were clean, deGrom could still go into boss mode like he did against the Phillies on July 17. This was his masterpiece of the season, a complete game one-hitter, with the only hit coming from the opposing pitcher.
After the uneven spring training, the uncertain April, the unrefined mechanics during the season, and unadvisedly pitching with numbness at the end, the numbers are not up to par with what the Mets are accustomed to with deGrom. He finished 7-8 with a 3.04 ERA and 3.32 FIP in just 148.0 innings. His walk rate was also slightly up and his strikeout rate slightly down. He averaged 2.2 BB/9, up from 1.8 BB/9 in 2015, and 8.7 K/9, down from 9.7 K/9 in 2015.
Heading into 2017, deGrom will be due a nice pay raise to about $4.5 million, but will still be a bargain considering the going rate for pitching around the league.
If he fully recovers from surgery and he gets his mechanics back in order the future looks bright for deGrom. This is still the same pitcher that slugger Carlos Gonzalez, who at the time was in the same division as Madison Bumgarner, Zack Greinke, and Clayton Kershaw, called “the best pitcher in the game,” back in 2015. He has learned to pitch without his elite fastball and is capable of getting outs with his secondary pitches, especially the changeup. This is a star who is still on the rise and will be fun to watch if he regains his 2015 form.