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How Jacob deGrom’s elbow surgery robs us of one of MLB’s best – again

How Jacob deGrom’s elbow surgery robs us of one of MLB’s best – again


David Schoenfield, ESPN Senior WriterJune 6, 2023, 8:49 p.m. ET

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With his first pitch in a Texas Rangers uniform, Jacob deGrom threw a fastball at 99.6 mph. His next five fastballs, on his opening day in March, recorded 99.4, 99.5, 99.7, 100.1 and 101.0. He lasted just 73 pitches in that outing, his first with the Rangers after signing a five-year, $185 million deal as a free agent, but deGrom would throw 16 at 99 mph or faster, plus another dozen at 98 mph.

It seemed like a bright omen of things to come. Instead, his last throw of 2023 came 29 days later on April 28. He went to IL a day later, and it was announced Tuesday that deGrom would undergo surgery to repair his ulnar collateral ligament. He’ll miss the rest of the season and likely much of 2024, which means for Texas in 2023 — and possibly next year, too — he’s thrown 451 pitches. The most bittersweet statistic of all: 189 of them were driving at least 150 km/h, or almost 42%.

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With the news, my first thought was my colleague Jeff Passan’s book, “The Arm”, in which he captures the importance and fragility of the arm, at a time when Major League Baseball was seeing an unprecedented number of surgeries Tommy John. A basic summary might be that the human arm, with over 20 muscles in the arm and forearm, is simply not designed to repeatedly throw a small leather sphere at 100 miles per hour – little no matter how much fun we have watching it does. “One thing I know now,” Jeff writes, “is that despite all its labors, all the heartache it may cause, all the frustrations left in its wake, the arm is capable of wonderful things.”

This has certainly been the case with deGrom.

Few pitchers in the history of the sport have matched his level of excellence. He led the ERA league in 2018, when he won the first of his consecutive Cy Young Awards, and he made at least 30 starts in four of the five years following his rookie campaign. In the first half of 2021, he went 7-2 with a 1.08 ERA in 15 starts for the New York Mets, striking out 146 and walking just 11 in 92 innings. He had mastered an unbeatable combination of speed and command.

Even this year, until he quit his sixth and final start in the fourth inning, he remained dominant: 45 strikeouts, four walks and a .171 batting average allowed. Since 2018, deGrom has been the best starter in baseball when healthy enough to go to the mound.

Sadly, the second half of his career now reads like this:

2020: 12 starts (season shortened by COVID) 2021: 15 starts (forearm strain) 2022: 11 starts (stress reaction in right scapula) 2023: 6 starts (elbow surgery)

All may not be lost. Yes, deGrom will be 35 in a few weeks, which means he’ll be 36 if he hopefully returns after the all-star break next season. But hey, Justin Verlander returned from Tommy John surgery last season at age 39 and won a Cy Young Award.

Even if deGrom returns at this point, it’s still a shame to miss over a year watching him work his magic.

The announcement of deGrom’s operation followed the sad news that 34-year-old Stephen Strasburg could have thrown the last pitch of his career. Strasburg, who signed a $245 million contract with the Washington Nationals in December 2019, last pitched in June 2022. He has made eight starts since the Nationals won the world championship four years ago. years. The Washington Post reported on Saturday that the 2019 World Series hero had been completely deprived of physical activity.

With Strasbourg and deGrom, there’s just something about their careers that makes you wonder, “What if?”

Among pitchers with less than 1,500 career innings (not including relievers), deGrom and Strasburg rank first and third in career WAR via Baseball-Reference:

1. from Grom: 41.92. Brandon Webb: 33.03. Strasbourg: 30.94. Aaron Nola: 30.85. Teddy Higuera: 30.3

The injuries to those two aces certainly reveal the risks of signing pitchers to those big, long-term contracts. The Post reported that due to Strasburg’s previous injuries before the $245 million deal, the Nationals couldn’t even get insurance on him. They will likely end up picking up a win with their high-stakes bet.

These are not isolated cases. The Seattle Mariners signed Robbie Ray to a five-year, $115 million deal ahead of 2022. He made a start this season before having to undergo Tommy John surgery. The New York Yankees signed Carlos Rodon to a $162 million deal last offseason, and he’s yet to pitch after dropping out in spring training with health issues. forearms and back. Chris Sale helped the Boston Red Sox win the World Series in 2018 and signed a $145 million extension that didn’t take effect until 2020 (not pitching at his previous high level of dominance). And the list goes on and on.

But the lure of the arm that is “capable of wonderful things” is just too much for front offices to resist. The Rangers – desperate to start throwing after ranking 25th in ERA rotating majors in 2022 – not only brought in deGrom as a free agent, but they signed Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney; re-signed Martin Perez when he accepted the team’s offer to qualify; and traded for Jake Odorizzi (and all after signing Jon Gray as a free agent in 2022).

Of those five pitchers, four spent time on the 2022 injured list, with only Perez escaping the season unscathed. Odorizzi won’t pitch at all for Rangers; he is already out for the season after shoulder surgery. But Texas general manager Chris Young said he was going for depth with exactly those sorts of injuries in mind — and he struck gold with Eovaldi by signing him to a $34 million deal on two years (which also includes a 2025 vesting option). Eovaldi is one of Cy Young’s top contenders so far, with an 8-2 record and a 2.24 ERA.

Now Eovaldi can also be a source of inspiration for deGrom. This will be deGrom’s second elbow surgery, having undergone one as a minor. Eovaldi also had two Tommy John surgeries – the first in high school and then a second in 2016. Eovaldi hasn’t been completely healthy since then – he missed time in 2019 with “loose bodies” in his elbow and has Had two separate stints on the IL last season with back inflammation and then shoulder tightness – but at 33, he’s pitching the best baseball of his career.

With Gray also throwing well, Texas is second in ERA rotating majors in 2023 and, in fact, has been humming in first place without deGrom for weeks already.

So, yeah, the Rangers apparently have an ace they signed in free agency — just not the one everyone thought — plus a powerhouse roster that will see them face the Houston Astros in the American League West. . Now Texas just needs Eovaldi, Gray & Co. to stay healthy.




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