Jacob deGrom: Will 2014 breakout lead to 2015 stardom?


Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

We won’t see him again in 2014, but Jacob deGrom had himself a very strong year in 2014, putting up numbers that will likely land him the National League Rookie of the Year.

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But now that his 2014 is over, it’s never too early to ask. What about 2015?

For a second, let’s look at those very encouraging Major League numbers. A K/9 of 9.2 with a BB/9 of 2.8 is a good combination, a very good combination. Young pitchers frequently have good strikeout totals, but they rarely combine it with a solid walk ratio.

Really, there’s not much to be picky about as it relates to what he did in 2014. We’ll get to the rest of his career a little later. Next, let’s move to the place that deGrom calls home, Citi Field. What do ESPN’s Park Factors tell us about the Mets; home stadium?

[table id=1269 /]2012: Runs, HR, Hits2013: Runs, HR, Hits2014: Runs, HR, Hits.

Very few surprises there. I actually was a little shocked to see that it grades out so well as a home run park, but even that’s just a middle of the road ranking. Citi Field indeed ranks as one of the best places to pitch in all of baseball. It’s a big reason why you should be excited about not only Jacob deGrom, but also Matt Harvey (profiled here), Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard when he’s called up, and pretty much any Mets pitcher. Citi Field is a big feather that they all have in their caps.

So, case closed. deGrom was a great rookie in 2014, his numbers make him a fine fantasy pitcher. Just go ahead and draft him without any reservations, right?

Not quite. There are a few negatives that definitely need to be considered.

The first is his team. The Mets play in a great pitcher’s park. But while they weren’t terrible in 2014, the team hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since 2008. They are one of the worst offensive teams in the league and I’m not sure how much hope there is that they’ll be getting any better any time soon, at least not based on who’s currently within the organization.

Now, if your league doesn’t count wins or if it has an extra category for starting pitchers, that’s not as much of a factor. But if you’re in a standard 5×5 league that counts wins, you just can’t ignore the category, even if that’s what most baseball statisticians do. I will grant that it’s a tough category to project but it stands to reason that pitchers on the teams that score runs and win games will themselves have plenty of wins.

If that was the only thing that gave me pause, though, I wouldn’t be that nervous about drafting Jacob deGrom. There is one other thing that concerns me.

As you saw with the numbers above, deGrom’s 2014 numbers were better in the majors than minors. Since he didn’t even throw 40 innings in the minors, that doesn’t tell us too much. But when we look at 2014 along with the rest of his Minor League career, we can get a lot more.

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Aside from the 2014 ERA, which was similar in the majors and minors, his 2014 Major league numbers were all a lot better than what he’d ever done in the minors. If he was called up at 23 or 24, I wouldn’t read anything into that. But deGrom turned 26 this year, so he’s not a baby.

The better Major League numbers — especially the strikeout rates — could possibly be a sign of Jacob deGrom improving as a pitcher. I certainly don’t want to discount that possibility, but they could also be a sign that he did very well against a lot of hitters that hadn’t seen him before.

If pitchers can throw strikes, they are often at a real advantage when going against new hitters. It’s when hitters see these guys for the second and third times that they get used to the stuff.

I’m not saying that deGrom will be a flash in the pan or even that he’ll have a rough time in 2015. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the first few months were a little difficult.

Ultimately, I do trust his stuff. I certainly love the home park and the Mets recent history with developing young pitchers is one of the only things they’ve done well for nearly 10 years — but they’ve done it very well.

But’s hard to not see some regression from deGrom in 2015. I’d expect an ERA closer to 3.50 and I’d expect a K/9 closer to 7.0. That’s still good, but not quite the great 9.0 that we saw in 2014. If he throws 200 innings, I’d expect somewhere around 150-160 strikeouts.

The future is bright for Jacob deGrom but if you’re planning on drafting him in 2015, be ready to deal with some early bumps.