One of the lousy things about the shortened 2020 MLB season was that it robbed us of a full season of prime Jacob deGrom. It looked like he was going to be as good in 2020 as he was in 2019, if not better. But instead of seeing another 7+ fWAR season unfold in real life, we got just 12 games and 68 IP from our ace last year.
Everyone frets about how the low innings total a season ago will impact pitchers this year. We even have some people dusting off the disproven Verducci Effect and claiming that big innings pitched jumps this year will lead to huge injury totals, both this year and in following seasons. But what if the reverse is true – that low innings pitched totals will actually benefit hurlers? Is it impossible to fathom that the “rest” enforced by the shortened season will be beneficial to veteran pitchers?
Let’s check in on the computer forecasts for deGrom. We have a new one to add to the stable this week, as FanGraphs now has projections from THE BAT on its player pages.
Marcel – 172 IP, 2.83 ERA, 212 Ks, 48 BB, 17 HR
RotoCh – 201 IP, 2.78 ERA, 253 Ks, 52 BB
Steamer – 201 IP, 2.97 ERA, 268 Ks, 53 BB, 22 HR
THE BAT – 204 IP, 3.08 ERA, 271 Ks, 61 BB, 22 HR
ZiPS – 176.2 IP, 2.85 ERA, 217 Ks, 40 BB, 20 HR
We seem to have two camps here. Marcel and ZiPS expect deGrom to be very good but at a much lower IP total. The other three all have similar IP totals and expect him to perform at the same rate as the first group – just over a longer period of time. Is the first group forecasting an injury? If so, that’s not that unusual. There was the neck injury deGrom had last year, the elbow injury in 2019, the hyperextended elbow in 2018, the triceps injury in 2017 and the ulnar nerve issue in 2016. The bottom line is that pitchers get hurt on a regular basis. Sometimes that means them just missing a start, other times it’s a brief IL trip and sometimes it’s a season-ending injury.
We can make guesses about how the shortened 2020 season will affect pitchers but that’s all they are – guesses. And the key thing will be not to take three or seven cases and present that as “evidence” that last season’s low IP totals are causing injury. There are always pitcher injuries, as deGrom’s recent history shows us. To claim seriously that last year caused injuries will take a look at the entire pitcher universe of 2021 and compare that to results from 2019 and further back.
And the same holds true for the earlier conjecture that the rest would be beneficial.
In the specific case of deGrom, it will be interesting to see if he can maintain the improved velocity he showed last year over a full season. It’s pretty unusual for a veteran pitcher to add velocity in his 30s. But that’s exactly what happened with deGrom last year. He went from an average fastball velocity of 96.9 in 2019 to a 98.6 mark a season ago. That extra gear on his fastball helped him to a 38.8 K%, which helped compensate for slightly worse walk rates and strand rates compared to his CY Award seasons of 2018-19.
The idea behind doing these projections is the hope that we could take the “eye test,” combined with other reported news about the player and add some value to the computer models, which did not take either of these things into consideration. With deGrom, the issue is not putting too much faith in the eye test. We’ve all watched him dominate opposing hitters the past three years and it’s hard to imagine he won’t do the same thing in 2021. But Father Time always wins in the end. Will the decline start for deGrom in his age 33 season this year? Man, let’s hope not.
It’s my belief that the lack of innings in 2020 will not hurt and might actually help deGrom. Furthermore, my opinion is that deGrom will at least match his fastball velocity of 2019. The eye test says the stuff is still there. With those thoughts in mind, here’s my totally biased prediction for him in 2021:
210 IP, 2.61 ERA, 275 Ks, 50 BB, 23 HR
You’ll have more credibility if you weigh in now with what deGrom will do in 2021.