There’s a few weeks left in the season and the New York Mets have a commanding lead in the National League East, so it’s a real possibility that some poor, unfortunate team will have to face and somehow attempt to *gasp* BEAT their pitching staff.
While the entire staff has been a strength for them there are three that stand above the others: Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Noah Syndergaard. These righties have carried the staff and can dominate on any given night.
When facing a pitcher that has a tendency to overmatch hitters, either with his stuff, command, or a combination of both, the best thing a hitter can do is simplify his at-bat. Look for a certain pitch or for a certain location, and ignore all else until you get it. Even Mike Trout, with his unlimited skills and talent, can’t approach every at-bat with a “see it hit it” approach. To survive, sometimes you have to give yourself any edge you can which includes picking up on any tendencies for you to take and run with. Here is an attempt to find those tendencies.
“Powerful”. “Efficient”. “Glorious hair”. These are the terms most often used when describing Jacob deGrom. He’s one of the few guys who can average more than a strikeout an inning (9.44 K/9 to be exact) while keeping his pitch count at a manageable level (15.43/IP), so you know he’s a strike-thrower.
Most everything you’re going to get with deGrom is hard. He throws his fastball (mostly 4-seam with some 2-seam mixed in) 63% of the time, which it’s average velocity being just under 95 MPH. His next most common pitch is his slider, thrown 16.2% of the time with an average velocity of 89.5 MPH. Isn’t that what you usually see from a closer? His curveball (81.7 MPH) and changeup (85.4 MPH) are also thrown harder than usual, giving you a full repertoire of fast pitches to have to deal with.
This will sound backwards considering how hard he throws everything, but the directive to give any hitter facing deGrom should be to “stay back”. Why? Because he constantly pitches hitters away and you need to wait for the ball “to get deep” to be able to hit the other way. Here is how often he pitches away to righties throughout the at-bat.
- 0-0 count: 79%
- Ahead in count: 55%
- Behind in count: 75%
- Even counts: 64%
- 0-0 count: 60%
- Ahead in count: 51%
- Behind in count: 62%
- Even counts: 59%
He does tend to pitch inside slightly more in two-strike counts though: 58% away to righties and 49% away to lefties.
So although he does have overpowering stuff and strong command a hitter can make his job easier on himself by channeling in on the outer half of the plate.
Lately there’s been some drama associated with his name having to do with an innings pitched limit. A max of 180-185 has been set for him and the Mets to feel comfortable with his workload heading into the postseason. While there’s concern over how it will affect the team’s chances these final few weeks, we can all agree it’s at least a smart way to handle him in hopes of ensuring his long-term health.
One factor not being included in his workload discussion is the fact he’s throwing fewer pitches than in years past. This season he’s averaging just under 15 pitches per inning (14.8). In 2013 he average 15.1 and 16.5 in 2012. So keeping that pace, he’ll throw fewer pitches this season even as he passes his previous season innings total.
Building on that thought it’s really simple how he’s become more efficient with his pitch counts: he’s reduced his number of strikeouts. This season he’s averaged 8.55 K/9, down from 9.64 K/9 in 2013 and 10.62 K/9 in 2012. While that may be seen as a sign of regression it’s been balanced by the fact his number of walks has gone and stayed down (1.84 BB/9 this year, 1.56 BB/9 in 2013, and 3.94 BB/9 in 2012). Strikeouts and walks take more pitches so reducing both of them is how he’s become a more efficient pitcher.
When looking at the breakout of his pitch types you can make a good guess as to how he’s reduced his strikeouts. The number of sliders and changeups he’s thrown has gone down while his number of fastballs thrown has gone up. In 2015 he’s thrown his fastball 66% of the time (combination of four and two-seamers) while his slider and changeup rate sit at 15.3% and 6.3%. In 2013 he threw his fastball 60% of the time, his slider at 19%, and his changeup 8.4% of the time. Finally, in 2012 he threw his fastball 66% of the time again while his slider and changeup rates sat at 12.3% and 11.5%.
With a fastball that averages over 95 MPH you can’t blame him for trusting it that much. Opposing hitters need to be ready.
Thor and his hammer (curveball) have taken the league by storm. He features a 96 MPH fastball and throws it 64% of the time. Inside that 64% is his sinker, which he throws 23.7% of the time and is also over 96 MPH. You didn’t read that wrong, that’s a sinker being thrown at 96 MPH which just isn’t fair.
Much how we talked about with deGrom, when a pitcher has electric stuff a hitter has to “take something away” to make things easier on himself. For Syndergaard his curveball has been one of his best weapons. At 59.3% it has the lowest contact rate of all his pitches so it’s a big reason he averages 9.40 K/9. However, his best weapon could be one of his weaknesses too since he only throws it for a strike 40% of the time.
The best approach a better can take is to lay off and not swing if he sees spin out of Syndergaard’s hand. Considering the curveball is his highest thrown pitch after his fastball at 24%, that’d be a lot of extra balls being taken therefore giving the hitter a slight edge. If he’s on with his curveball and throwing it for a strike though, you’ll just have to try to hit it, so good luck.
Now obviously I’m not saying a team can “own” these guys by taking these tidbits with them to the box, but they just might help enough to give them an extra edge therefore making those guys not as tough to face.