Jacob deGrom's fastball might be back. Ever since the beginning of spring training, the pitch's velocity had been down fairly significantly, and unsurprisingly, hitters weren't swinging and missing at it as often as they had in the past. But in his last two starts, deGrom has thrown the pitch harder and gotten more whiffs with it.
According to Brooks Baseball, deGrom averaged 94.49 miles per hour with his four-seam fastball in his National League Rookie of the Year season in 2014. On a game-by-game basis, deGrom's fastball velocity ranged from 93.52 to 96.19 miles per hour that year. His median velocity was 94.38 miles per hour, and he averaged between 94.05 and 95.16 miles per hour in fifteen of his twenty-two starts. He came in slightly below that range three times and slightly above it three times.
Last year, he added quite a bit of velocity, as he averaged 95.81 miles per hour with the pitch, including the starts he made in the playoffs and his dominant All-Star Game outing, during which he averaged 97.9. In his thirty-four starts, his median was also 95.81 miles per hour. In twenty-two of those starts, he sat between 95.17 and 96.19 miles per hour, and he ranged from 93.45 to 97.29 miles per hour on a game-by-game basis.
In both seasons, deGrom was outstanding, as he had a 2.69 ERA and 2.67 FIP in the first one and followed it up with a 2.54 ERA and 2.70 FIP in the second. He struck out 25.5 percent of opposing hitter sin 2014 and 27.3 percent in 2015. His fastball played a big role in all of that, as it generated swings-and-misses 12.3 percent of the time in 2014 and 13.31 percent of the time in 2015. In short, deGrom's fastball was pretty great over the first two years of his major league career.
When spring training came around, however, deGrom's fastball velocity was missing. Spring training velocities aren't always indicative of any future trends, but as his fastball sat in the low-90s late in spring training, deGrom answered questions about the lack of velocity by saying that the last time he checked, it was about getting outs. That seemed like a reasonable thing for a pitcher to say but didn't exactly inspire confidence that his velocity was coming back anytime soon.
On April 8, deGrom made his first start of the season in the team's home opener against the Phillies. His four-seam fastball averaged just 92.38 miles per hour, the lowest mark of his major league career. He missed a couple of starts, partly because of a lat injury and partly because of the birth of his son and an ensuing health scare with the baby that turned out okay in the end. If deGrom wasn't feeling quite right, it was definitely understandable.
When he returned to the mound on April 24, the four-seam averaged 93.31 miles per hour, up a tick from the first start but still the second-lowest mark of his career. In his next three starts, he averaged slightly above 94 miles per hour in each, but he dipped back down to 92.84 in his start in Colorado. Through six starts, he got whiffs just 9.38 percent of the time with the pitch—a considerable drop from his past performance.
In his last two starts, however, deGrom has thrown his four-seam fastball a lot more like he did in the past. Against the Brewers on Sunday, he averaged 94.64 miles per hour with it, and he got twelve swinging strikes, good for a rate of 15.79 percent. And against the Dodgers last night, he averaged 94.95 miles per hour with it and got seven swinging strikes, good for a rate of 13.7 percent.
He'd flashed that combination of velocity and whiffs in his May 5 start against the Padres, but he hadn't done both of those things in back-to-back starts until these two. And it's probably not a coincidence that he was able to get strikeouts as a result. In total, he struck out 14 opposing batters in 12 innings over those two starts.
It wasn't his only effective pitch last night, but there are a few good fastballs on display here:
The results weren't perfect between the two starts. Against Milwaukee, he gave up four runs in five innings and walked three. And against the Dodgers last night, he gave up just one run in seven innings—his best start of the year—but still walked three. deGrom doesn't typically walk four-and-a-half batters per nine.
But coming off his best start of the year and back-to-back starts of Jacob deGrom throwing his fastball well, the walks are a footnote, not something to dwell upon. The Mets are in first place in the National League East this morning, and they've gotten there without deGrom's usual stuff. If it's back, that makes them a better team moving forward, and that's very exciting.