AAA Tuesday: Jacob deGrom and the Nature of Learning a Curveball

AAA: @ Las Vegas 51s 4, New Orleans Zephyrs (MIA) 3 

Position Players
C Travis d’Arnaud (.314/.486/.588 – 17 gms): 0-for-2, 2 BB

d’Arnaud now has drawn 18 walks and fanned just 10 times in 17 games in AAA. That is very, very good.

1B Lucas Duda (.200/.355/.200 – 8 gms): 0-for-4

Duda, who again played first for the third straight night, has just played a little over a week’s worth of games in AAA, but it has not been a good week.

CF Matt den Dekker (.286/.350/.484 – 39 gms): 0-for-4,
RF Kirk Nieuwenhuis (.231/.326/.447 – 53 gms): 0-for-3, BB

Nieuwenhuis has fanned 57 times in 53 games in AAA this year and just enjoyed his 26th birthday. The window for him to establish himself in the big leagues is rapidly drawing closed.

SS Ruben Tejada (.265/.329/.329 – 40 gms): 1-for-3

The 23-year-old Tejada has a platoon split .794 OPS vs. LHP in 33 PA and .614 vs. RHP in 141 PA this year in AAA that mirrors his MLB platoon split (.608 vs. RHP and .739 vs. LHP). Omar Quintanilla does not hit lefties at all (career: .180/.232/.205 – 225 PA). Could a Tejada/Quintanilla platoon work for the Mets in the big leagues if there is no satisfactory everyday SS available via trade or free agency this off-season? A team cannot really carry both Tejada and Justin Turner as bench pieces at the same time.

 

deGrom
deGrom WarmUp PSLStarter Jacob deGrom had a solid night both on the mound and at the plate, where the former college shortstop was 1-for-2 with his first professional homerun. His pitching: 6.2 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR.

After a 6.43 ERA in July, the 25-year-old deGrom is down to a 3.32 ERA in three starts in August. His strikeout to walk ratio, which was 3.2 in July (19 K/6 BB) has improved to 4 in August (16 K/4 BB). He’s striking out basically the same number of batters – 19.5%, but his walk rate this month is down to a very strong 4.9%. deGrom is a personal favorite of mine, he’s long and lean with a great pitcher’s build and a plus fastball that sits in the low-mid 90s and he can run up to 96. He was new to pitching when the Mets drafted him, and he missed the 2011 season with Tommy John surgery, but he’s thrown lots of strikes as a minor leaguer.

The question I had about deGrom was whether his slider would develop enough to complement his fastball and keep him in a starting role in the big leagues. Now, the Mets have him working with a curveball, rather than the slider.

When queried about deGrom’s slider, Mets’ pitching coordinator Ron Romanick, talked about deGrom’s new weapon, “His slider, I like it more as a curveball.  The last time I was in Vegas, he threw some on the side – basically, the same grip, but just throw it like a curveball. And deGrom, he threw it, and I’m like, “that’s a curveball, I like how that comes out of your hand. It looks natural.”

Romanick compared deGrom to the 1980s starter Mike Witt. The tall, slender Witt was a big leaguer for 12 years, almost exclusively as a starter, with a career ERA+ of 105 and two All-Star selections, including a career year in 1986 when he placed third in the Cy Young award voting.

Romanick also mused about the nature of teaching or improving young pitchers’ curveballs and pointed out that deGrom was going through a similar adjustment period to Noah Syndergaard in learning the pitch. Romanick wants to see pitchers maintain deliveries on their breaking stuff that mimics their fastball motions as nearly as possible.

For deGrom, he said, “It’s like Syndergaard – he was trying to throw his curveball “like a curveball” instead of like a fastball and when he started doing that, [throwing it like a fastball], here’s a plus curveball. The [goal is] the mentality of a curveball grip, but you throw everything like a fastball. And a lot of the guys who throw curveballs, it has that “high school loop” in it and that’s the wrong mentality. That’s one of the things you talk about. Not how much it breaks, but how late it breaks. And a true curveball, the grip will produce the rotation to it.  Syndergaard’s the same way. They get this mental picture of what it’s supposed to look like. It’s supposed to look like a fastball. You gotta have the same stroke you do on the fastball. “

 

 

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