This past weekend was a weekend that the New York Mets and their fanbase will remember for a long time. Not only did the Mets come back to win a game in which they were down by six runs on Sunday, they also blew a lead when they were ahead by six runs on Saturday. Oh, and that’s not all.
On Friday night, shortstop and team leader Francisco Lindor came out of the game with a quad injury. He is expected to miss 6-8 weeks. Wait! There’s more! Their ace and two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom was placed on the Injured List (IL) with right forearm stiffness. Both injuries are huge blows to the team. deGrom’s injury though is not something new for Met fans. For most of the season he’s had a problem with his right arm.
The most recent MRI on deGrom’s forearm came back clean so there’s no structural damage, which is good news. However, how long this stint on the IL will be remains to be seen. deGrom won’t start throwing hard again until the stiffness in the forearm subsides and he and the medical team seem to not be sure of when that will happen.
Perhaps the most frustrating part is that the Mets have been very cautious with deGrom throughout the season. A lot of that has been due to the previous ailments. deGrom even skipped the All-Star game this past week to try and avoid reaggravating the injuries. The extra rest doesn’t appear to have helped.
It’s time for the Mets to try something different with deGrom because obviously rest and a reduced workload are not working. Other aces across baseball have thrown way more often and have a higher workload than deGrom has had this season and their arms have not had the issues deGrom’s has had.
Take for example Yankees’ ace Gerrit Cole’s start against the Houston Astros last week. Cole threw 129 pitches in a complete game shutout. Many in and around baseball went crazy seeing that kind of workload. Yet, it was the 7th time Cole went over 100 pitches in his 19 starts in 2021. In the 12 starts Cole hasn’t thrown 100, he went over 90 eight times. That means Cole has thrown 90 or more pitches in 15 of his 19 starts this year. That right around 80% of his starts.
In comparison, deGrom has thrown over 100 pitches in just one of his 15 starts this season, an April 23 start against the Washington Nationals. In the 14 starts deGrom hasn’t gone over 100, he has hit 90 pitches just four times. In total, deGrom has tossed 90 or more pitches in just five of his 15 starts this season. That’s 33%.
Even more recently the rest for deGrom has been more prevalent. He has gone over 90 pitches in a game just once since April. He has also missed a few starts and has had a few starts pushed back a day due to ‘not feeling right.’ The Mets have obliged every time. If you go look at other aces in the league, the number of pitches they have accumulated this season are more similar to Cole’s than they are to deGrom’s.
For example, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has gone over 90 pitches in 11 of his 18 starts this season. That’s 61%. Nationals hurler Max Scherzer has that number at 76%. The Padres Yu Darvish? 78% of his starts this season he has accumulated 90 or more pitches.
The organization has been careful with him and they’ve rested him when needed. At a time when you are expecting many pitchers to be at their peak and throwing deeper into games than they have all year, deGrom hasn’t. What’s even more curious about this IL stint is that he hasn’t pitched since July 7. He’s had 11 days of rest and still doesn’t feel right.
If you talk to a lot of former players in the game especially ones who pitched in the 1970s or even the 1980s, they have a lot of interesting things to say about the number of arm injuries starting pitchers get in today’s game. In their day pitchers threw a lot more innings and a lot more pitches than the pitchers do today. Yet injuries to their arms were not as common.
I point to Jim Kaat, a respected broadcaster and a former major league pitcher himself. From 1959-1983 Kaat threw 4,530 innings in his big-league career and won 283 games. I’d say he is more than qualified to speak on the subject.
In a 2014 blog post, Kaat discussed his thoughts on pitchers and the number of injuries we see in today’s game. Here’s an excerpt that I think gives a perfect example of what the Mets should do with deGrom rather than give him more rest.
“I write this hoping we can learn a way to use pitchers to their maximum efficiency and value to their team and yet be prudent in not overworking them. A thought I have is the types of pitches and the emphasis on power might be more harmful to pitchers today than in my era. We were basic fastball, curve, change-up pitchers. The slider came along, but it really was what we call a cutter today — not all the action with the elbow, and more emphasis on finger pressure and the wrist. Not as many splitters or hybrid sliders. Today’s slider for most big-league pitchers is the most hittable pitch around if not thrown with the perfect combination of power and break.”
What Kaat describes is certainly something to look at when looking at deGrom’s situation. deGrom has been excellent in 2021. His statistics are off the charts. His fastball speed is special. He hits 100 mph or above on the radar gun more than any pitcher in the game. In fact, he blows away the rest of the league in that category.
Also, to Kaat’s point, his slider registers at 92-93 mph regularly which is ridiculously high. deGrom throws his fastball more than any other pitch. His number two pitch? You got it, it’s his slider. In an article posted on MLB.com earlier this year, it stated that deGrom throws his fastball and slider 9 out of every ten pitchers. If you do the math in a 90-pitch effort deGrom is throwing 92 mph or more on 82 pitches. He is throwing the ball with more velocity than anybody, more often than anyone else. That can’t be great on the arm.
The Mets have a lot invested into deGrom. Including 2021, they have paid him $82 million in his career and still owe him $68 million. He is also the most valuable member of their team. It’s time for the Mets to change their approach and keep him healthy because it’s obvious what they are doing now is not working. It’s been since early May that he’s had some arm trouble and it has not gotten better. He’s gotten plenty of rest and the club has been sensitive to his workload. He hasn’t pitched since July 7 and with the way things are looking now, we may not see him again until August.
It’s time for deGrom to tone down the velocity, even if it’s just a touch. He can still be effective throwing the ball 98 mph. It would go along way into keeping him healthy and effective. The Mets are in first place and are on a path to make the playoffs. Their chances of winning anything without deGrom are slim. They need in him the worst way. It’s time to try a different approach. Toning down on the velocity would be a great start.