The plan was hatched about two weeks before the draft. Every indication was that most of the first round was going to go pitching with more pitching and finishing with a little bit of pitching. Knowing that there was a clear top six + Trout (and assuming that the Melonheads go hitting), the only wild card was what the newly attentive Brawlers would do. Looking at the options that could have been left to me:
- Jake Arrieta – Too wild
- Justin Verlander – Don’t want to overpay for an outlier 2016
- Jon Lester – Too lucky in 2016
- Chris Archer – Had a down 2016
The only player who I could not poke a hole into was Johnny Cueto (hindsight really is 20/20), who I ended up taking with my first overall pick. Thinking that some combination of the aforementioned four pitchers and some hitters (Kris Bryant/Josh Donaldson/Jose Altuve) would be taken by 18 Wheeler and the Web Gems, I plotted to shock the world (or just the 11 other draftees). My second pick was going to be so far down everyone’s draft board that I was going to hear snickers, but it was one that would propel me to the three-peat.
Justin looks down at phone
Phone reads “Lester for the first one, Yu Darvish for the next”
My heart skipped a beat. Why would anyone else be looking at Darvish this early coming off an injury? What if I just told everyone that Ben wanted Jose Altuve? That would be believable, right? Then I could just take Darvish and pretend like I read it wrong. Oh crap, what do I do now?
Misha: Kris Bryant!
I hear the yell from the corner of the room. Mike doesn’t even have a computer, how did he pick so quickly? Do I follow what most people think and just take Verlander? I think I would rather have Archer. Verlander. Archer. Verlander. Arch…
*5 4 3 2 1…*
Justin: Jacob deGrom?
I almost caught the words as they came out of my mouth. What have I done? I knew I liked deGrom, but I did not plan to take him this early, or really taking him at all. Little did I know, I ended up getting the guy I wanted after all…
On the outside, Darvish and deGrom couldn’t be more different. Growing up on opposite sides of the globe, Darvish was a highly touted prospect from Asia while deGrom was never expected to be much more than an average starter. During their first years in the league, Darvish was the pitcher with the “strikeout stuff” and deGrom was the pitcher who would “paint the corners”. Think Roger Clemens vs. Andy Pettitte. John Smoltz vs. Greg Maddux. Clayton Kershaw vs. Zack Greinke. However, something has happened in the early stages of the 2017 season that allowed deGrom to channel his inner dragon and turn into Yu Darvish (on the stats sheet).
Out of all qualified starters, deGrom currently ranks second in zone contact percentage. These are pitches that are judged to be over the plate and seemingly hittable. To be grouped in with pitchers such as Chris Sale, Danny Salazar, and Max Scherzer shows the electricity that deGrom has possessed so far in 2017. This is unfamiliar territory for deGrom, so it’s worth taking a deeper look into what could be causing this. Low zone contact percentage can come from two places: superior velocity or superior movement.
It’s no surprise to see that deGrom’s velocity is up from his 2016 season, which ended with an arm injury. However, the only pitch that has a significant velocity change from 2015 is deGrom’s changeup, which has increased in velocity each year since he broke into the league. First indication could be that this is something that deGrom has tweaked with the help of teammate Noah Syndergaard, who has averaged the fastest changeup in the league (89.1 mph) since he reached the majors in 2015. Considering that deGrom only throws his changeup 10% of the time, it is difficult to place all of his recent success on this phenomenon.
Looking at the movement that deGrom has seen on his pitches in 2017, we can begin to form a picture as to what has been making him look Darvish-esque. Each of his three pitches that have historically had the most movement (two seam fastball, four seam fastball, and changeup) are setting career highs in that department. The changes are not trivial, as each pitch has between 20%-30% additional movement compared to 2016.
With the additional movement, deGrom has seen an increase in his swinging strike rate from 10.7% to 15.2%. To put in perspective how large of a change 4.5% is, it would rank second out of all qualified starters for a season to season change of swinging strike rate since 2010. Read another way, deGrom’s improved combination of velocity and movement is the second best of any pitcher this decade.
We get it, deGrom is throwing as fast as ever and has found additional life on his fastballs and changeup, but how does this translate to fantasy? deGrom has been able to turn his additional swings and misses into strikeouts (+1 in NYFBL) in a way that mimics Yu Darvish. Ironically, Darvish’s K/9 is hovering historically around deGromian levels.
As Uncle Ben said: “with great power comes great responsibility”. deGrom has yet to learn how to fully control his new repertoire, which can be seen by the highest BB/9 levels in his career by a large margin. It’s going to be worth monitoring over the rest of the season if this is something that deGrom learn to control. If so, there may be an article coming about how deGrom has turned into Chris Sale or Max Scherzer. Until then, it looks like the Crush may have to settle for the player they wanted, Yucob deDarvish.