jacob degrom mets
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Whether or not you’re still upset about him leaving the Mets for the Texas Rangers, we can all agree on one thing about Jacob deGrom. The game of baseball is better when he’s healthy and pitching every five days.

We unfortunately haven’t gotten that consistently in recent years. The latest hit happened a couple of weeks ago when it was announced the right-hander needed Tommy John surgery. That’s tough for any 35-year-old pitcher. But it’s especially tough for deGrom because it’s the second time he’s needed the procedure.

DeGrom has already had the procedure done and is on the comeback trail. His hope is to return by August 2024. But, as we all know with major surgeries like this, anything can happen to derail the best-laid plans.

Whenever deGrom is able to return, how close could he be to the dominant pitcher we’ve grown to know?

Dr. Richard Lehman, medical director at the U.S. Center for Sports Medicine in St. Louis, went on Audacy’s “Baseball isn’t Boring” podcast with Rob Branford to talk about deGrom’s situation. It’s worth noting here that Lehman is not deGrom’s doctor. As far as we know, he isn’t treating him in any way and is merely speaking from his experience with others.

Here’s what he had to say about the situation (all quotes via Audacy):

The first thing is, about 25% of all Major League Baseball [pitchers] — 30% — are going to end up with the TJ — Tommy John reconstruction. That’s a pretty high number. Number two, everybody thinks, ‘Hey, if I get Tommy John, I’m going to throw harder,’ which is a misconception. And number three, the chances of pitching three years after your second Tommy John is not that great. So, yes, some guys come back and just sail, and then some guys you never hear of again. They just can’t make it back, and that number is a higher percentage than you think. So, a second Tommy John’s not a good thing.

I mean, deGrom, this guy was throwing 97 — he was unbelievable, untouchable. But, again, if you drive your car 200,000 miles as fast as you can, something’s going to happen, and that’s what’s happened.

But, I think, specifically the second Tommy John surgery is not like the first. It’s not, ‘Getting it out of the way.’ It’s, ‘Now I’m on the ledge. I may be able to come back. I may not be able to come back. And I’m certainly not going to be able perform as well as I did before I had my second TJ.’

Now, there’s going to be outliers, and there’s going to be that guy who just lights it up, or changes his pitching pattern, or picks up a new pitch,” Lehman said. “And clearly that does happen, but the ability to throw hard and have endurance diminishes after a second reconstruction.

As Lehman suggested, anything can happen at this point. Just because having a second Tommy John surgery is riskier doesn’t mean Jacob deGrom can’t buck any trends and come back to perform at a high level. It just may not be at the level we’ve seen from him in the past few years.

There are also no guarantees with a TJS comeback. We’ve seen how Noah Syndergaard looks like a shell of the pitcher he once was. And then there’s deGrom’s newest teammate, Nathan Eovaldi, who has had the procedure twice and is having a terrific 2023 campaign. But with Eovaldi, it’s worth noting he had his second procedure in his mid-20s, as opposed to deGrom getting it done in his mid-30s.

Who knows what things will look like once deGrom is at the point of potentially returning to the Rangers? Maybe he looks great and slots right back into the top of the rotation. Maybe things look different and adjustments have to be made (he’d be an interesting closer if it had to come to that). Or, maybe the worst-case scenario happens and this orthopedic surgeon is right.

I’m definitely in the camp of rooting for Jacob deGrom to return and eventually finish his career on his own terms. We have too many “what if” scenarios in professional sports. We don’t need another one. But then again, fans and players can’t decide that.

You can reach Matt Musico at matt.musico@xlmedia.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @mmusico8.

Matt Musico is an editor for ESNY. He’s been writing about baseball and the Mets for the past decade. His work has been featured on numberFire, MetsMerized Online, Bleacher Report, and Yahoo! Sports.