The 3 ways deGrom has gotten even better

June 10th, 2021

is Jacob deGrom, right? The best, most dominant pitcher in the world, same as usual.

Well, yes -- it's hard to interpret anything otherwise when the Mets ace has a 0.62 ERA, 0.569 WHIP and 14.4 strikeouts per nine innings entering his 10th start of the season -- but it's more than that. The deGrom taking the mound this season has been dominating by doing things even the Cy Young Award-winning deGrom of 2018 and '19 didn't do.

Here are the three key ways deGrom has evolved in 2021.

1) He's all-in with his fastball

As pitchers league-wide throw fewer and fewer fastballs than ever before, deGrom is going all-in on the heat. Which you can do when you throw harder than everybody else.

deGrom's unprecedented year-by-year velocity gains have only continued in 2021, when he's averaging 99.2 mph on his four-seamer and dwarfing the league in triple-digit heat. deGrom has thrown 121 pitches over 100 mph. The next-closest starter, the Rays' Shane McClanahan, has thrown … 10.

And, incredibly, deGrom has averaged 100-plus mph with his fastball in back-to-back starts now. He's the only starting pitcher in the entire pitch-tracking era, which goes back to 2008, to average 100 mph in a single game … and he's done it twice in a row.

Armed with the fastest fastball of any starter, deGrom is throwing four-seamers at a career-high rate -- more than 15% of the time more than he's ever thrown them before -- and at one of the highest rates in the Majors.

Highest 4-seam fastball usage, SP, 2021
Minimum 500 total pitches
Triston McKenzie (CLE): 64.2%
Jacob deGrom (NYM): 63.4%
Chris Paddack (SD): 62.0%
Luke Weaver (ARI): 62.0%
Andrew Heaney (LAA): 59.9%

deGrom's previous high for four-seam usage in a season was 48.1% in 2019. He's generally hovered in the 40-45% range for his entire career. Until now.

When your fastball is completely overpowering, why not throw it over and over again? Hitters have whiffed on 32.5% of their swings against deGrom's four-seamer, a top-five mark among starters (behind only Lance Lynn, Max Scherzer and Yusei Kikuchi). And when he throws it with two strikes, it puts the hitter away 39.3% of the time -- making it the best strikeout four-seamer among starters.

2) He's pounding the glove side of the plate

One of the coolest parts about deGrom's season is how well he understands his own arsenal. It's so deep, but he never pulls out too many of his tricks if he doesn't need to.

If his fastball-slider combo is enough to overwhelm his opponents, he doesn't stray from that one-two punch. Like in his first start of the season, when every single pitch he threw in six shutout innings was a four-seamer or slider -- zero changeups, zero curveballs.

Those two pitch types, fastball and slider, account for nine of every 10 pitches deGrom's thrown this season, his highest share ever. Only one out of 10 pitches is a changeup, and functionally none are curveballs (he's thrown only three curves all season).

And if he can relentlessly attack one side of the plate all game long, he does. Consider where his four-seamer and slider are most devastating in tandem: on the glove side of the plate -- that is, outside to a right-handed hitter, inside to a lefty.

Why? Because those pitches tunnel so well together. deGrom can throw a righty batter a fastball up in the zone, then get him to chase a slider, because that slider also comes in at well over 90 mph and looks just like the four-seamer until it takes a sharp turn down and away. To a lefty, he can pump in a rising fastball up and in above the hands, then bury a slider in the traditional lefty dead zone, down and in.

The effectiveness of that fastball-slider combination to hitters in either batter's box means that deGrom is able to target one region of the zone like never before. His 91 mph changeup is elite in its own right and yet somehow almost more a luxury than a necessity this season, meaning he hasn't even had to work that much to the arm side in 2021.

Nearly 70% of the pitches deGrom has thrown this season have been to the glove side, the highest rate of his career by more than 10 percentage points and the highest rate among right-handed starting pitchers this season by just as much.

Highest % of pitches to glove side, RH SP, 2021
Jacob deGrom (NYM): 69.2%
Corey Kluber (NYY): 58.4%
Luis Garcia (HOU): 56.8%
Jeff Hoffman (CIN): 55.8%
Dylan Cease (CWS): 55.7%

On top of that, close to half of his total pitches (44.4%) have been spotted up right on the glove-side edge of the strike zone or in the "chase" zone just off the plate. That's also the highest rate of his career and the highest among righty starters this season.

As wipeout as deGrom's stuff is on his own, when he's commanding the edge of the strike zone like that, it takes his 100 mph fastball and 92 mph slider to a whole new level.

3) He's made his secondary pitches into elite chase pitches

deGrom's chief target region for his slider and changeup has gone from "right on the edge of the strike zone" to "just off the edge of the strike zone." And it's proving impossible for hitters to lay off, which means they have no chance.

First, deGrom attacks the zone with his fastball -- he's throwing his four-seamer in the zone at a career-high rate. You just still can't square it up, because it's 100 mph and elevated at the top of the zone. Then, he breaks his slider off the low-outside corner, and buries his changeup below the bottom of the zone. Both of those pitches are out of the strike zone at a career-high rate.

deGrom's slider, in particular, is an elite chase pitch. More than 70% of his sliders are out of the strike zone, the second-highest percentage among starters, and over a third of them are specifically in the "chase" zone -- that's more than a baseball's width outside the strike zone, but not so far out of the zone that hitters can easily take the pitch for a ball. No starter has thrown a higher rate of chase-zone sliders.

Highest % of sliders in the chase zone, SP, 2021
Minimum 100 sliders thrown
Jacob deGrom (NYM): 33.5%
Michael Pineda (MIN): 33.2%
Blake Snell (SD): 31.5%
Sonny Gray (CIN): 31.1%
Jeff Hoffman (CIN): 30.5%

But here's the important part: Hitters are swinging. deGrom is inducing the highest chase rate among all MLB starters, regardless of pitch type, as well as the highest chase rate on breaking and offspeed pitches specifically. Hitters are chasing more than half the time against deGrom's secondary stuff (55.4% of the time vs. his slider, 38.0% of the time vs. his changeup).

Highest chase rate induced, SP, 2021
Minimum 250 out-of-zone pitches thrown
Jacob deGrom (NYM): 39.1%
Corbin Burnes (MIL): 36.0%
Domingo Germán (NYY): 35.9%
Alex Cobb (LAA): 35.8%
Julio Urías (LAD): 34.5%

Highest chase rate on breaking/offspeed, SP, 2021
Minimum 100 out-of-zone secondary pitches thrown
Jacob deGrom (NYM): 50.3%
Yusei Kikuchi (SEA): 45.0%
Alex Cobb (LAA): 44.3%
Zach Davies (CHC): 42.9%
Dane Dunning (TEX): 42.4%

It probably also helps the slider and changeup's efficacy as chase pitches that deGrom is getting a little extra movement on both of them, too. deGrom's slider is getting about two inches more drop and one inch more horizontal break than in 2020, and the same goes for his changeup.

You can barely hit deGrom's stuff when it's within the strike zone. If you're swinging at his breaking and offspeed pitches when they're out of the zone? Good luck.

Actually, no matter what you're doing to try to hit the 2021 version of Jacob deGrom, you're going to need more than that.