On June 6, the Texas Rangers announced that its ace Jacob deGrom will undergo Tommy John surgery for the second time and miss the remainder of 2023, as well as likely all of next season. It’s a major blow for both deGrom and the Rangers, and one that comes with a lot of unknowns.
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A Look at deGrom
Two-time NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom‘s first season in Texas went well for the first month of the 2023 season after the 34-year-old missed the first few weeks of Spring Training. After a rough Opening Day start against a familiar foe in Philadelphia, deGrom gave up just six runs (4 ER) and struck out 38 over 26.2 IP for the Rangers in the month of April — numbers we’ve come to expect of the starter.
deGrom’s advanced numbers were also strong. The 34-year-old posted an astronomical Whiff% rate of 53.3% on his slider, and strong numbers with his ridiculous four-seamer — which sat at about the same velocity as 2022 — and sparsely-used changeup.
However, deGrom went down yet again with an injury during a late April game against the Yankees. The Rangers placed deGrom on the 15-day IL shortly thereafter, and then moved to the 60-day IL on June 5. A day later, the Rangers dropped the bomb that deGrom will need UCL reconstruction surgery, which should be keep him out for at least 12-18 months.
Given that this will be deGrom’s second Tommy John surgery, it’s likely that the right-hander will be on the longer end of that time frame. Assuming deGrom returns at the start of 2025, the right-hander will have two complete ulnar elbow ligament reconstructions behind him and will be just shy of his 36th birthday.
It would be highly unwise to assume that deGrom will be rearing back 102 MPH fastballs upon his return, but it’s not impossible, either. However, it’s become painfully obvious that deGrom’s style of pitching, coupled with bad luck, have derailed his career in a major way.
What it Means
From the Rangers’ perspective, this is a massive blow. While Texas knew full well about deGrom’s injury history, the Rangers invested $185M over five years with the hope that his injury troubles were in the past. That has proven not to be the case.
The good news for the Rangers, though, is that Nathan Eovaldi has stayed healthy. The right-hander was exceptional in May, as was deGrom’s replacement in Dane Dunning. In five starts in the rotation since deGrom’s injury, Dunning is 2-1 with a 2.28 ERA and 21 strikeouts over 27.2 IP.
It’s also fair — from a fan’s perspective — to wonder about deGrom’s Hall of Fame chances. The 34-year-old — in his prime — proved to be arguably one of the game’s most overpowered pitchers. Yet, it’s hard to argue that deGrom would enter the Hall of Fame at this point of time.
One indicator that’s become en vogue in recent years is WAR7, which indicates a player’s worthiness of entering Cooperstown. deGrom’s 39.8 bWAR7 is quite good, but not near the average Hall of Fame pitcher bWAR7 of 49.9. Much of that is thanks to injuries that cut short his 2021, 2022, and 2023 campaigns, and strong, but not Pedro Martinez-like numbers from 2014-17.
deGrom’s career has been incredible, but it’s not hard to wonder what it could have been had health not been an issue for the flamethrowing right-hander. But the more pressing question now is how deGrom, who will undergo his second UCL reconstruction surgery, will he be able to come back from this and return to an elite form?
There have been quite a few pitchers in recent years to undergo the procedure twice, but the results have been mixed. Former Brave Brandon Beachy did very well in Atlanta in 2011-12, but he made just two more MLB outings after his second surgery in 2014. Former Padres closer Kirby Yates is a more recent example of a pitcher who hasn’t been able to replicate his pre-TJ success after undergoing the procedure for a second time.
However, there are examples, like Chris Capuano, of pitchers who were been able to find success. However, we should note that in Capuano’s case, he underwent his second reconstruction surgery at the age of 29, not 34.
No matter how one looks at it, it won’t be easy and it may require a serious amount of adjustments once he ultimately does return to the mound.