Ode to a Pitcher: Jacob deGrom dismantles the Diamondbacks

Image result for jacob degrom
You try hitting off this dude.

Here’s a fun fact about Jacob deGrom. By Fangraphs’ pitch value metric, three of the 2018 NL Cy Young winner’s offerings were among the best in the sport. He threw the fourth-best fastball, sixth-best slider and second-best changeup; so you can imagine the fun we’ll have today.

So far in this series, we’ve covered three pitchers of yesteryear: Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana and Mike Mussina, but today we leap to May 2018 to examine one ridiculous inning from the only player bringing joy to tortured Mets fans. deGrom was off to an incredible start, boasting a 1.83 ERA in 44.1 innings with a sizzling 56 strikeouts to only 14 walks before the Arizona Diamondbacks visited Citi Field.

We’ll be focusing on the top of the fourth inning. Due up for the Snakes are the 2-3-4 hitters; right fielder Steven Souza, third baseman Jake Lamb and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.

A recurring theme in this inning and all season is the dominance of deGrom’s fastball. Averaging nearly 97 MPH and registering in the 75th percentile in spin rate, he pounds batters with it over and over, betting they’ll struggle to make solid contact. That combination of velocity and spin rate make the pitch lethal. Why? Higher velocities pose obvious problems for hitters, but higher spin rates correlate to swinging strikes and flyballs. In a related note, deGrom punched out 269 last season.

Facing deGrom is no picnic. Just ask the Diamondbacks.

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Souza’s fun begins with a slider away.

Souza 1 slider away.gif

deGrom comes back with another slider, a tad higher, for a called strike.

Souza 2 fastball away.gif

Now we get our first fastball of the evening. Take note of the consistent locations deGrom and catcher Devin Mesoraco are working.

Souza 3 fastball foul away.gif

Souza is not in a good place here. The count is 1-2 and you just fought off a low-and-away 96 MPH fastball after seeing two sliders in the same spot. The rest of the plate is wide open.

Souza 4 fastball foul away.gif

deGrom leaves the fastball up in the zone and Souza flicks it away foul. From the broadcast, it’s clear deGrom wanted it higher, so in a sense, we can consider this a mild mistake. This is the burden of battling an ace, though — the mistakes aren’t exactly easy to punish. That fastball is no picnic by itself, but then consider the sequencing and tunneling (you notice how deGrom easily repeats his delivery no matter what he’s throwing?) and suddenly it’s impressive Souza didn’t miss, lower than desired or not.

Souza 5 fastball away ball.gif

The Mets ace comes with his third consecutive fastball, this one again outside but lower. It just misses outside. Five straight pitches all around the outside corner. Hmm.

Souza 6 change inside K.gif

Dear God. That is an absolutely nuclear changeup, out of the exact same release point as those beefy fastballs but about 12 MPH slower and diving toward Souza’s feet. Because Souza couldn’t do anything with the heat, he was completely vulnerable to a change of speed. This is the terrible fate of facing an ace like deGrom.

Take note of Mesoraco’s relaxed flip to third base. Oh, another day, another punchout. We’ll be seeing more of that.

Up next is the lefty Jake Lamb. Lamb showed some serious pop in 2016 and 2017, hitting 29 and 30 homers but also striking out a boatload. For our purposes, that’s a delightful combination. deGrom starts him with a slider away for a called strike one.

Lamb 1 slider away called strike.gif

Again deGrom works down-and-away, establishing the outside corner with a breaking pitch. He does so for a very specific reason and I promise we’re getting to it, but before you scroll down, just take a moment. Breathe.

Because what you are about to see is just flat-out unconscionable.

Ready?

Okay.

Lamb 2 fastball swinging.gif

Oh dear God. I mean, what can poor Jake Lamb do with that? deGrom flashes a nasty slider and then pulverizes him with a high fastball. I mean seriously, what can you even do with that?

Lamb 3 fastball up and in K

Alright, I think we all need a drink after that. Right? Give me a second.

Lamb 3 fastball behind catcher view

You’re right, Mr. deGrom, two drinks. Just a moment.

I went with a Tullamore Dew. That camera angle is a national treasure, by the way. Also, did you enjoy our second nonchalant toss to third base by Mesoraco? I sure did.

We’re two outs into the fourth inning and deGrom has thrown nine pitches, five of them fastballs and punched out both hitters in particularly electric fashion.

Up next is first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. The D-Backs star was scuffling up to this point in the 2018 season, particularly against fastballs. Later in the year, he’d return to form, but at this point, he wasn’t himself. I’m sure the fastball thing won’t be a big problem.

deGrom starts the third hitter of the inning with a slider.

Gold 1 slider ball.gif

Look at the intensity. The wonderful Rob Friedman — aka PitchingNinja on Twitter — loves to spotlight what he calls “pitching with intent.” For me, that calls to mind Pedro Martinez or Roger Clemens; perhaps in today’s game, Max Scherzer or deGrom. Pitchers with the stuff and precision of the Mets ace tend to exude this kind of “controlled aggression,” if you will. They want outs and they want them quick. If you are so generous as to ground out weakly, fine. If not, you can go the route of Lamb and punchout on three pitches.

They want to dominate. Look at deGrom in the above gif. He wants to tear the Diamondbacks apart; he’s insulted they’d dare step into the box against him.

The slaying continues with another slider away, but it also misses to run the count 2-0.

Gold 2 fastball away.gif

Notice how deGrom lingers just a moment, staring at the pitch. Even the umpire isn’t exempt from the look.

Gold 3 fastball swinging strike.gif

See what I mean? That’s unadulterated dominance. A pitcher powering a fastball past a batter is king of the jungle stuff, and deGrom, in a hitter’s count, just tore a hole through one of the best first basemen in the sport. Remember what we said about velocity and spin rate? There ya go.

Gold 4 fastball foul.gif

deGrom again works away, forcing the first baseman to flick a ball foul. Because of that slider and changeup, Goldschmidt has to be careful.

Gold 5 fastball foul.gif

Another hard and heavy fastball, this one snaking back to touch the outside corner. Goldschmidt barely makes contact, but in a sense, that’s a victory on its own. deGrom is incredible but not infallible; keep the at-bat alive and he’s capable of grooving a fastball or hanging a slider. Goldschmidt is a skilled hitter, not just a slugger, and keeping himself in the at-bat is proof.

Gold 6 ch away K.gif

Yeah but then that happens.

***

Jacob deGrom finished the night with a whopping 13 strikeouts in seven innings, allowing just one run (Lamb, believe it or not, doubled off him in his next at-bat). The Mets offense cobbled together three runs, enough to give the future Cy Young award winner his fourth win on the season.

Indulge me for a moment while I share some fun deGrom stats:

  • deGrom started 32 games last season and struck out at least ten hitters in 11 of them
  • He generated at least 15 swinging strikes in 18 of his 32 starts
  • He produced the highest percentage of soft contact of any starter in baseball (25.2%)

deGrom’s dominance was a bright spot in an otherwise dreary season in Queens. After a busy winter full of upgrades, perhaps we’ll be so fortunate as to see him pitching in October again.

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This was Ode to a Pitcher, a weekly feature from Adkins on Sports where we break down a brilliant pitching performance. These posts are meant to be informative and fun, just like baseball coverage should be.

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