After Jacob deGrom starts a game for the Mets, many of us are usually convinced he’s not human. But as we can see from his last three starts, he is not an alien and goes through rough patches at work like the rest of us.
It’s not as if his last three starts were all bad. The results just haven’t been what we’ve gotten used to seeing from him. While the right-hander did walk away from his starts on September 13th and 18th with double-digit strikeouts, he allowed three runs in each. However, the five earned runs and four walks he allowed to the Athletics on Saturday were certainly the worst of all.
This has gotten some media pundits up in arms about him and his eventual free agency status, but that’s not happening here. DeGrom is still the best pitcher in baseball, even with his recent rough stretch. Both of those things can be true.
He’s made just 10 starts since returning from the injured list, so we don’t have much of a sample size to work with. Is there anything that jumps off the page between his first seven turns through the rotation and the last three, though?
I did my best detective work and found one thing that was interesting: a change in his slider usage. Through his first 43.1 innings of 2022, deGrom tossed his slider at a 42.3% rate. Over his most recent 15 frames, that number has dropped to 33.2%.
When looking at his results since the start of 2021, this offering has easily been deGrom’s most effective pitch. Last year, his slider produced a 59.0% strikeout rate, a 1.7% walk rate, and a -20 wRC+. So far this season, those numbers have settled in at 53.4%, 1.9%, and 13, respectively.
During this period of decreased sliders, deGrom’s fastball, curveball, and changeup usage have all increased. The two he’s used most often out of this group are his fastball (47.7%) and changeup (11.9%). When it comes to opponent wRC+, those have also been his two worst pitches this year (75 and 107 wRC+, respectively).
It doesn’t matter what other statistics you look at to compare within deGrom’s arsenal — his slider is the best in every way. He gets more swings on it than any other pitch, regardless of whether it’s in the strike zone (83.6% rate) or out of the strike zone (47.7%). Even with all those swings, his 31.5% swinging-strike rate on sliders is also the best.
If we go back to comparing his first seven starts against his last three outings, the proof is in the pudding. We can see that his chase rate, swing rate on strikes, and the corresponding contact rates were all better when he threw his slider more often.
What’s been the cause of this change? Who knows. Part of it could’ve been just the game plan going into his start, or adjustments made throughout an outing depending on a number of reasons. There’s more that goes into being a successful big-league pitcher than pointing to one specific statistic that needs to change. But still, deGrom’s slider has been a lethal weapon his entire career, and especially over parts of the last two seasons.
Once he takes the mound against Atlanta this weekend, it might be a good idea to lean on that offering a little more than he has in recent starts.
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