When last anyone heard from Jacob deGrom, he was railing at teammates for anonymously sniping at Terry Collins, expressing support for both the manager and pitching coach Dan Warthen as they were being let go, and, oh by the way…
Shocking the Mets’ faithful by cutting his hair.
A few months later, suffice it to say deGrom has a new outlook on the state of the Mets: he’s convinced that Mickey Callaway will bring positive change to the clubhouse, also further convinced this team still has the pitching to return to the postseason, while setting his sights personally on winning a Cy Young Award.
And, oh by the way…
Get used to the clean-cut look.
“It’s still short right now,” deGrom said with a laugh over the phone on Monday. “I’ll probably keep it short. It’s so much easier to care for.”
DeGrom, who said he knew the end-of-season pictures revealing short hair would “create a stir” among fans who had grown attached to his shaggy look, hopes that turns out to be the biggest controversy of 2018, after last season’s nightmare.
“We’re due for some things to go our way,” was the way he put it.
DeGrom wants to be the guy to lead the charge, and rightly so, as the one starter who was healthy last season, pitched 200-plus innings for the first time in his career, and at times looked better than ever, racking up a career-high 239 strikeouts and a career-best ratio of 10.7 K’s per nine innings.
Sporting a clean-cut look, Jacob deGrom is ready to start fresh in 2018.
By now, in fact, he has established himself as one of the top starters in the game, so I wasn’t surprised to hear the frustration in his voice when he talked about the handful or so of messy starts that inflated his ERA to 3.53 and negated at least some of his swing-and-miss brilliance.
Because deGrom knows he’s better than that.
In fact, he’s not afraid to say that he’s going into 2018 setting a goal for himself to win the Cy Young Award.
“That’s the main goal,” he said. “You set the bar high and go after it. That’s what I’m striving for.”
Don’t get the wrong idea. deGrom isn’t blind to the bigger picture, which is that the Mets need to prove they’re more the World Series team from 2015 than the 90-loss disaster from 2017.
And as something of a veteran now, in fact, he’s aware that change is needed after a losing season turned ugly the last couple of months, as the impending departure of Collins led to the aforementioned sniping from players about how they were treated.
At the time, deGrom was one of the few players who publicly condemned such selfishness, saying it was uncalled for, and looking back now, he still feels strongly about it.
“Everybody pretty much knew Terry wasn’t coming back by that point,” deGrom said. “And I didn’t feel like there was any reason to bash somebody on the way out. Terry had an open-door policy, and I had used that policy to talk to him about things at times.
Jacob deGrom expressed some frustration over a difficult 2017 season, both as a team and for him personally.
“I just felt that if guys had a problem with something, they should have gone to him about it. It was a tough year, with the injuries, the losing, the trades of some of our key guys, and then giving young guys chances to see if they were ready.
“All of that made it tough, but we have to get back to all being on the same side, pulling in the same direction. I think doing things the right way is the best way to be a leader, but if I see something going on, something’s not being done the way it’s supposed to be, I’ll say something.”
DeGrom doesn’t blame Collins for how the season spun out of control, yet it’s not hard to tell he thinks Callaway will help these Mets put last year behind them.
“I think we all feel good about getting a fresh start,” deGrom said. “I enjoyed my time playing for Terry, but I’m excited to see what somebody else brings to the table.
“I’ve talked to Mickey a few times. From talking to him, I think it’s going to be a popular change.”
DeGrom says there’s no reason the Mets can’t get back to the postseason, if they ever get some good luck with injuries, and he knows it all starts with the pitching that was so vital to the 2015 run to the World Series.
“I think we can get back to where we were as a staff,” deGrom said.
In truth, with so many lingering injury/performance questions about Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler, the odds seem stacked against the Mets’ starting rotation ever living up to the expectations that came out of the 2015 season, when the likes of John Smoltz were saying their depth of greatness could be historic.
But if deGrom indeed can pitch at a Cy Young-worthy level, and Noah Syndergaard comes back as expected, the Mets should have a 1-2 to match up with any in baseball.
As it is, degrom’s 15-10, 3.53 season was good enough to finish eighth in the 2017 Cy Young voting, but he can’t help thinking he was on the verge of something better.
In particular, he gave up 15 earned runs in back-to-back stinkers against the Brewers and Rangers in late May/early June, which he followed with a complete-game, five-hit gem against the Cubs.
Such was the nature of his season: when deGrom was bad, he was really bad — for him, anyway — and looking back he thinks he became too focused on mechanics at times, and too fastball-happy when he’d get frustrated at giving up runs.
“I always say that Bartolo (Colon) was good to watch because you’d never know how he was pitching, one way or the other,” deGrom said. “Last year I should have done a better job instead of taking a second to gather my thoughts vs. being frustrated and trying to throw the ball by everybody.”
Perhaps Callaway, together with new pitching coach Dave Eiland, will help in that regard. Callaway earned a reputation as an excellent pitching coach with the Indians in part for the mental approach he stressed, while also demanding that his pitchers throw their off-speed stuff in all situations.
In any case, deGrom says he has put last season behind him in every way. His talk of winning a Cy Young Award tells you where he is mentally. The hair is just a symbolic reminder, for the Mets as well, that it was time for something different.