Coming off back-to-back National League Cy Young Award seasons, Jacob deGrom has begun the 2020 season looking every bit as good a pitcher as he was over the past two years. For someone who has established himself as the best pitcher in the sport over that span, that should hardly be surprising, but in a Mets season that has gotten off to a rocky start, it’s worth pausing for a moment to continue to appreciate deGrom.
In three starts thus far, the most recent of which came last night in Atlanta, deGrom has thrown 17.0 innings—a total that would likely be higher if he hadn’t had a minor setback late in summer camp with lower back tightness—with a 2.12 ERA and 1.74 FIP. He’s struck out 35.5 percent of opposing batters, a higher rate than his 32.2 percent rate in 2018 and 31.7 percent in 2019. He’s walked only 4.8 percent of opposing batters, a better rate than his 5.5 percent rate from both of last two seasons. And he’s given up 0.53 home runs per nine innings, an improvement on last year’s 0.84 and only a slightly higher rate than his 0.41 in 2018.
In a season defined by small sample sizes, sure, it’s just three starts, but deGrom has started the shortened season with results that look as good as his past two years and indications in the underlying stats that he might be pitching even better than before. And while it’s almost unsettling to think about something like a Cy Young Award after three starts, the span constitutes exactly 25 percent of a starting pitcher’s 2020 season, assuming he makes 12 starts over the course of 60 games.
In that department, deGrom already has some competition. Among qualified starting pitchers in the National League, deGrom ranks 12th with his 2.12 ERA and and 6th with his 1.74 FIP. Since multiple teams have played a very limited number of games thus far this year, three starting pitchers are among those considered qualified and ahead of deGrom—despite having made just one start: Zack Wheeler, Sandy Alcantara, and Adam Wainwright. Among National League starters who have made more than one start, that leaves eight pitchers ahead of deGrom, with the leader of the pack being Trevor Bauer and his 0.68 ERA through his first two starts.
The other seven, in ascending order by ERA, are Tyler Chatwood, Jon Lester, Sonny Gray, Alec Mills, Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, and Brandon Woodruff. In a season that is just 37 percent as long as a normal Major League Baseball season, anything is possible, but the overall mix of names ahead of deGrom includes some pitchers who would be expected to contend for a Cy Young and some who would be pretty big surprises.
In terms of stuff, deGrom is also looking as good as he ever has. It’s worth noting that Major League Baseball changed its entire tracking system for things like pitch velocity, but with the available information, Brooks Baseball has him throwing the hardest he’s ever thrown with three of his pitches. His fastball has averaged 98.97 miles per hour, his changeup 91.64, and his slider 93.31. His curveball, at 83.64 miles per hour on average, is the only pitch that hasn’t been clocked at a higher speed in 2020 than in 2019, and that hardly seems like a bad thing for a curveball.
In terms of pitch mix, deGrom has increase his usage of all of his secondary pitches compared to last year and reduced the usage of his fastball.
deGrom has still thrown his fastball more than any other pitch, but at 39 percent of his pitches, it’s just a little bit above his slider, which he’s thrown 34 percent of the time. That level of fastball usage is not drastically different from his 2017 or 2018 seasons despite being a large drop from 2019, and the slider usage continues the trend that has seen deGrom throw it more and more as the years go on. His changeup, too, has risen in frequency in general over the course of his career, albeit fairly slowly. deGrom’s curve is the only offspeed pitch to—very slightly—buck the trend that’s been going on for the past several years.
In total, nothing here is breaking news. Jacob deGrom is Jacob deGrom. But that’s a good thing for the Mets if they are to have any hope of getting into Major League Baseball’s expanded 2020 playoffs, and everything looks like deGrom has as good a chance as anyone to win the Cy Young.