With the ink just about dry on his 5 year, $137.5 million contract extension, Jacob deGrom is set to be a Met for a long time. But what will those years look like?
The range of outcomes on a deal like deGrom’s is wide. You have Johan Santana blowing his shoulder out at 32, and you have Max Scherzer finishing in the top two for the Cy Young from age 31 through 33 with no signs of slowing down. But these are the extremes and pinpointing the most likely landing spot in between is not so easy a task.
There’s little doubt that deGrom will be elite in the near future, with 2019 projections largely agreeing on an ERA in the mid-to-high 2’s and a K/9 over 10. This will be his age 31 season and while it’s wise to expect some decline over ages 32-36, there should be lots of optimism that deGrom will weather these years better than most.
A key distinction between deGrom and his peers is that he didn’t throw his first pitch until age 20, having been recruited as a position player with a notably strong throwing arm. With much of the wear and tear on pitchers attributed to heavy workloads as youngsters, deGrom’s late arrival to the mound offers a protective factor. DeGrom is also well-served by excellent mechanics that don’t place added stress on his shoulder or elbow (at least not more than the simple act of throwing a baseball way too fast does).
The main culprit behind pitchers aging is a decrease in velocity. We’ve actually seen deGrom pitch with a velocity decline before - his 2016 fastball came in at nearly 1.5 MPH below his career average and a full 2.5 below his superlative 2018 mark of 96 MPH. The result? By his own high standards, it was subpar, but still resulted in a 3.04 ERA and a K/9 of 8.70. While that’s not the Cy Young line the Mets are expecting in the immediate future, it clearly demonstrates that deGrom has tools to help stay afloat as his power wanes and bodes well for how his skills will adapt over his physical decline.
Taking deGrom’s 2019 ZiPS projection as a starting point, and assuming he follows a fairly average aging curve based on his profile, a conservative take on his five years with the Mets might look something like this:
2019, age 31, 2.75 ERA, 10.2 K/9, 5.6 WAR
2020, age 32, 2.90 ERA, 9.9 K/9, 5.0 WAR
2021, age 33, 3.05 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 4.3 WAR
2022, age 34, 3.40 ERA, 8.8 K/9, 3.8 WAR
2023, age 35, 3.70 ERA, 8.5 K/9, 3.2 WAR
The wild card here is health. DeGrom has been a healthier-than-average pitcher in his time in the majors, having only missed significant time in 2016, when he still made 24 starts. But remaining largely healthy for the first five years in the majors is much easier than doing so for the next five, and it’s a safe bet that deGrom will not continue to average 29 starts a year.
How many will he average? That’s where things get fuzzy. At the most extreme end of the spectrum, you have the possibility that deGrom will see the end of the so-called “Tommy John honeymoon” and require some kind of season-long repeat of his 2010 surgery. But more likely is some number of tweaks and pulls and minor procedures that gradually increases over the lifetime of his deal.
Where does that leave deGrom? With plenty of surplus value if you’re playing the dollars-per-win game. But the Mets have so much more to gain than that - a half a decade of a superstar, a leader, and a much-deserving fan favorite. Whatever the numbers, deGrom is home.