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deGrom's velocity increase has no parallel

Mets ace has added nearly 5 mph to his fastball since '16
@mattkellyMLB
August 8, 2020

In the 2015 All-Star Game, a lanky, long-haired, pitcher named Jacob deGrom blew the American League’s hitters away with what FOX broadcaster Joe Buck called “the best stuff we’ve seen all night.” In 2018-19, deGrom combined for a 2.05 ERA, struck out more than 11 batters per nine innings and

In the 2015 All-Star Game, a lanky, long-haired, pitcher named Jacob deGrom blew the American League’s hitters away with what FOX broadcaster Joe Buck called “the best stuff we’ve seen all night.”

In 2018-19, deGrom combined for a 2.05 ERA, struck out more than 11 batters per nine innings and won back-to-back National League Cy Young Awards.

And deGrom did all of that while throwing softer than he does now.

Fresh off his 32nd birthday in June, the Mets’ all-world ace is suddenly firing the ball harder than he ever has before. On Opening Day against the Braves, deGrom hit 100 mph for just the third time in his career. He hurled four more triple-digit pitches in his next start against the Red Sox, including two 101.1 mph heaters that tied for the fastest pitch thrown by any MLB starter (excluding openers) in three years. By the time deGrom made his most recent start against Atlanta, 100 was just part of his repertoire.

Baseball’s best pitcher is adding several mph to his fastball as he ages into his 30s. And this isn’t a new thing for deGrom; his velocity has climbed steadily for five years running now.

deGrom’s average fastball velocity, by year

2016: 93.9 mph (T-38th of 142 SP, min. 750 fastballs)
2017: 95.1 mph (T-16th of 140)
2018: 95.8 mph (T-6th of 132)
2019: 96.9 mph (3rd of 128)
2020: 98.7 mph (1st of 155, min. 25)
Fastballs: 4-seam, 2-seam / sinker

Put another way, a much higher share of the 32-year-old deGrom's fastballs are now straight gas; nearly every heater he throws is coming in at 98 mph or faster, whereas he rarely hit 98 in a game just three years ago.

If all of this sounds extremely rare to you, well, you’d be correct: Though pitch tracking data only goes back to 2008, it’s fairly safe to assume that few starters, if any, were routinely challenging triple digits before then. And in that 12-year sample, MLB.com’s manager of baseball research and development Jason Bernard only found eight other starters who increased their fastball velocity from the previous season at least four straight times, like deGrom is doing. But that’s really where the comparisons end; even when looking at deGrom's five closest comparables in either age or velocity, none of them come close to him in both categories at once:

Charlie Morton might be deGrom’s closest match in the pitch-tracking era after he added about 3 mph on his fastball assortment across the span of his age-30 through -34 seasons. But even that’s a little generous; Morton was a soft-tossing sinkerballer who decided to start throwing harder and transformed into a fastball-curve savant with the Astros and Rays. deGrom was always a more max-effort power pitcher, and now he’s found extra juice in his back pocket -- at an age where almost every other power pitcher starts losing a tick or two.

So, how is deGrom doing this? All it took was a little extra time off and a little more tinkering, according to the man himself.

“This [coronavirus] break -- and even in spring, just working on my delivery -- I actually feel like it’s coming out with less effort than in years past,” deGrom told MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo on Monday. “I think just with that time off, I continued to work on my delivery, and feel like everything’s kind of in line where I want it to be.”

If only it were that simple for everyone, because you can almost feel deGrom’s zen-like state of confidence when he steps on the mound this year. deGrom is not only defying Father Time on his hardball -- he’s also throwing the hardest slider ever tracked and mixing in 91-mph anvil changeups for good measure. Put it all together, and deGrom’s opponents are missing on 38.3% of their swings, easily the highest whiff rate of his career.

deGrom has been adding velocity for a while now, but for a pitcher who was already so accomplished to go and add this much heat? Well, maybe that’s a storyline that could only happen in 2020. Then again, we’ve never seen an ace quite like Jacob deGrom -- cherish him as he keeps pushing his own sky-high boundaries.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.