New York Mets rookie Jacob deGrom came out of nowhere to capture the Sporting News NL Rookie of the Year Award this season. The unheralded prospect wasn't on anybody's fantasy radar before he burst upon the scene and forced us all to reckon with him. If you were the guy who managed to pluck deGrom off the waiver wire in your league then chances are you ended up having a very good season.
DeGrom went to small-time Stetson University as a light-hitting, slick-fielding shortstop. He didn't start pitching until his Junior year. He performed well enough to convince the Mets to select him in the 9th round of the 2010 draft. Soon after that he tore a ligament in his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery, missing the entire 2011 season. Rehabbing alongside Johan Santana, deGrom worked with the former Mets ace to improve his changeup, which is now a key component of his repertoire.
After recovering from surgery, deGrom's ascent up the Mets' minor league ladder went quickly. In 2012 he put up a 2.43 ERA in Low-A and High-A ball. In the following offseason he broke his pitching finger while castrating a calf. How does that happen? I don't want to know. 2013 was a mixed bag (no pun intended). On the one hand his combined ERA went up to 4.51 as he climbed rapidly from High-A through AA to AAA during that season. On the other hand, his peripherals were still just as solid as they were during his excellent 2012 campaign. He had some tough luck with a .340 BABIP and a very low strand rate. Looks like the Mets' minor league defense needed some help that year and wasn't doing DeGrom any favors.
The state of the Mets' minor league pitching staff helped deGrom reach the majors faster. The Mets had several good pitching prospects get hurt, Zack Wheeler and Carlos Torres graduated to the majors, and Collin McHugh was traded to the Astros (big mistake). Those moves created a vacuum in the upper minors, giving deGrom an opportunity to rise to the top in unusually quick fashion. This is especially true when you consider that deGrom didn't even become a pitcher until 2009 and then missed all of 2011 after TJ surgery. This kid hasn't done much pitching yet in his life but he is already one of the better pitchers in major league baseball.
Just one year ago nobody could have foreseen deGrom's meteoric rise in 2014. Last offseason we saw a kid new to pitching with uninspiring statistics in the minors. Now we see the NL Rookie of the Year who had a 2.69 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP with a 9-6 record and 144 strikeouts in 140 innings. Wow! You could even make a case that deGrom was perhaps the best pitcher in fantasy baseball after the All Star break. In the 2nd half deGrom's ERA was 2.16, his WHIP was 0.93 and his record was 6-1.
Here is the good news for his fantasy owners: deGrom's performance was real. It was not a fluke and he was not just lucky. His .297 BABIP was league average and there is no reason to predict regression. His 77.4% strand rate was a little fortunate but not enough to have a big impact on his ERA.
DeGrom's 2.67 FIP was almost identical to his 2.69 ERA. His 3.03 xFIP and 3.19 SIERA were a little higher but were still very good. In fact all of those metrics are in the top 30 in baseball, his FIP was 11th.
His 17.9% K%-BB% (which I consider to be the most important pitching metric) was 28th-best among all starting pitchers. His 9.24 K/9 was excellent. His 2.76 BB/9 was subpar. It's not high enough to be a real problem but it does limit his K/BB ratio to 3.35, which is better than average at 59th among SPs but it needs to improve to match his ranking in the other key metrics.
DeGrom has a stiff fastball at 94.5 mph, which is well above average. He also has a sinker, slider, curveball and changeup. That is a 5 pitch arsenal. Most starting pitchers have 3 or 4 pitches. He uses each of them at least 10% of the time, making it very hard for hitters to guess what is coming. DeGrom is still fairly new to pitching and presumably still has quite a bit to learn. That is a good thing because it means he still has room to grow and improve as he hones his craft. He may get even better over the next few years.
DeGrom finished the season ranked as the 50th-best starting pitcher in 5x5 leagues and the 79th-best starting pitcher in points leagues despite missing the first third of the season. How should we expect him to rank next year? Conservatively he has to be considered a top 30 pitcher at the least. If he pitches a full season I think he will be a top 20 pitcher in 2015. Between the minors and majors this year, deGrom threw a combined total of 179 innings, so he shouldn't be on an innings limit next year until the last week or two of the season.
Moving forward I would expect an ERA very near 3.00 with a 1.15 ERA and a 14-10 record with 200 strikeouts. We might see his home run rate climb a little bit, accounting for the predicted increase in ERA. If the Mets improve their offense he could exceed 15 wins. Given those numbers we can consider deGrom a very solid #2 fantasy starting pitcher and a major asset for your roster.