Is Jacob deGrom a bigger injury risk than other pitchers his age? An orthopedic sports surgeon weighs in

Oct 8, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom (48) in the sixth inning during game two of the Wild Card series against the San Diego Padres for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 8, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom (48) in the sixth inning during game two of the Wild Card series against the San Diego Padres for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports / © Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

As the Mets and others have been weighing how much to give free agent Jacob deGrom in terms of both years and dollars, much of the conversation has understandably revolved around his health.

Is deGrom past the elbow and shoulder injuries that shelved him for just over a year between July of 2021 and August of 2022?

And is the 34-year-old (deGrom will turn 35 next June 19) positioned to again be the reliable pitcher he was from his rookie season in 2014 through the middle of 2021, when he exceeded 200 innings three times while throwing a combined 1,261.2 innings?

As is the case with deGrom and literally any other pitcher, it's impossible to know how they'll hold up. But it is possible to do some fact-based medical analysis.

For that, we turned to Deepak Chona, MD, founder of SportsMedAnalytics and a Stanford and Harvard-trained orthopedic sports surgeon who does not personally treat deGrom.

"DeGrom has missed substantial time in recent years, but his injuries don't necessarily indicate an anatomic weak point that should make us think he's injury-prone," said Chona. "It's unlikely that a stress reaction in his scapula is related to the elbow inflammation that sidelined him previously. Furthermore, both of these injuries generally heal well without any lingering performance or durability impacts.

"Could he get hurt again? Yes, absolutely. The forces of throwing a fastball put the shoulder and elbow at elevated risk in every pitcher. But there's nothing about his recent injury history to suggest that his risk is higher than any other pitcher of his age."

Upon his return in August, deGrom looked as dominant as ever. He was firing 102 mph fastballs and 95 mph sliders as he made hitters look downright foolish.

Oct 8, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom (48) throws a pitch in the first inning during game two of the Wild Card series against the San Diego Padres for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 8, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom (48) throws a pitch in the first inning during game two of the Wild Card series against the San Diego Padres for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports / © Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Over his last couple of starts of the regular season, deGrom was more human, allowing more hard contact while his usually impeccable command came and went, and losing a few ticks of velocity on his fastball. Whether that was him getting tired after more than a year on the shelf, intentionally dialing the velo back, or something else is not known.

But in deGrom's only playoff start, as he led the Mets to a win over the San Diego Padres in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series, the high velo was again there as he hit triple digits with regularity early on before settling in the high-90s.

As Chona mentions above, it is unlikely the 2021 injury (elbow) and 2022 injury (scapula) were related.

If so, that means that deGrom might simply have been dealing with a freak injury in 2022, which would of course give teams pause after all the time he missed in 2021. But as we noted, deGrom does not have a history (aside from the recent 13-month span) of injuries.

On the contrary, deGrom's history from his debut to the middle of 2021 was one where he pretty much always took the ball when his turn came up.

If the Mets want to have two aces at the top of their rotation, their options to pair with Max Scherzer are deGrom, Carlos Rodon (who has a scary injury history), and Justin Verlander (who is about to turn 40, but just won the AL Cy Young award).

There's also Kodai Senga, who has top of the rotation upside, but comes with some significant question marks as he looks to make the transition from Japan.

And as people talk about deGrom, it's important to keep things in the proper context. His injuries the last two seasons should give any interested team pause, but this is not a historically injury-prone pitcher.