Dear Amazin’ Avenue readership, I confess that I put off writing this season preview. I put off writing this season preview because I hoped the Mets would sign Jacob deGrom to a contract extension. The days until Opening Day ticked by and I waited. And waited. And waited. Recently, with the extension still not done, I finally gave in and wrote a piece that adopted a very different tone than the piece you are about to read. I am thrilled to say that I had to rewrite significant portions of this entire season preview because shortly after the previous version was complete, the Mets finally, at long last, signed Jacob deGrom to five-year, $137.5 million contract extension.
deGrom now enters the 2019 season with that monkey off his back and his future secured. And he also enters it coming off a year in which he was utterly dominant, won the Cy Young Award in a near unanimous fashion, and eviscerated the significance of the pitcher win statistic. The final pitching line has been written in many articles before this one and it will be written in many articles after this one. But here is something new: deGrom’s 2018 fWAR has received a boost from 8.8 to a nice even 9.0, thanks to an adjustment in the formula that incorporates the framing skills of the catcher receiving the pitches. deGrom spent the majority of 2018 throwing to Devin Mesoraco, who is a below average pitch framer. Nonetheless, deGrom appeared very comfortable throwing to Mesoraco and it likely factored into the Mets’ reasoning when they decided to bring the catcher back for 2019 as insurance for Travis d’Arnaud’s recovery from Tommy John surgery. I will not rehash all of the Devin Mesoraco drama here, but suffice it to say that the Mets went in a different direction with their catching situation. But the Mets could place a large wooden plank behind the plate with a glove painted on it and deGrom would still be one of the best in the game.
In a season where the Mets fell out of contention relatively early, deGrom’s starts were a reason to turn on the TV every fifth day. A sparkling campaign ended in storybook fashion for deGrom. In his final start of the season, he struck Ozzie Albies out on a backdoor slider for his tenth strikeout of the night and the 1,000th strikeout of his career. With that pitch, he set a franchise record for the fastest pitcher to reach 1,000 strikeouts for his career. In a dead heat in the Cy Young race with Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola, that final start closed the book on the competition and brought a buzz to Citi Field akin to a playoff atmosphere. As the initial thrill of the extension news wears off, I still get renewed chills every time I remember that we’ll get to experience more deGrom moments like that one.
Having spent the majority of his career up until this point a consistent and steady presence in the shadows of the flashier Matt Harvey or Noah Syndergaard, deGrom is no longer second fiddle to anyone in baseball, let alone to anyone on his own team. Followers of the Mets have known for quite a while how special deGrom is, but now the rest of the baseball world knows it too. Now, with the extension inked, he has a chance to join the likes of Seaver, Koosman, and Gooden in the annals of Mets history.
While it’s almost impossible to have a better season than deGrom had in 2018, he’s certainly going to try. Both Steamer and PECOTA project a fair amount of regression from 2018’s numbers, but Jacob deGrom has never been a pitcher to shy away from a challenge. A habitual student of the game, he is always making adjustments and tweaks to his game that when augmenting his existing natural talents make him not just great, but elite. When batters started using launch angle to improve their results, he made his living up in the zone. When he noticed hitters began to sit on his fastball and slider, he increased the usage of his changeup, which opponents hit just .139 against in 2018. He even made mental adjustments, not letting himself focus on the rare times he made a mistake but instead zeroing in on the batter he now had to get out. deGrom’s combination of pure lights-out stuff and his ability to constantly make adjustments and hone his craft give one every reason to believe he can sustain elite production into 2019.
Despite PECOTA’s modest prediction of a 3.9 WARP season out of deGrom this year, of all pitchers, only Chris Sale is projected to have a higher WARP in 2019. If nothing else, a revamped Mets offense giving deGrom even slightly more run support could make all the difference between the Mets staying competitive in the NL East well into the summer and a repeat performance of 2018. Fangraphs projects the Mets to post a .319 wOBA as a team this season compared to the .305 posted by the 2018 Mets, which may not seem like a huge boost. But when one also takes into account the fact that deGrom’s utter lack of run support even by 2018 Mets offense standards seems pretty darn fluky, removing that aberration and improving the offense just a little bit seems like enough to put him in the neighborhood of 20 wins if he keeps up his sorcery on the mound.
And if the deGrom does keep up his sorcery on the mound, that could make the 2019 Mets a very dangerous ballclub indeed.