Mets rookie pitcher Noah Syndergaard seemingly has all the making of a future ace. He’s young, healthy and 11-feet tall with a golden arm. He can throw a marshmallow through a battleship and drop a hammer that make a batter’s knees buckle. He’s also got a solid changeup and surprisingly good control. Unlike a lot of rookies, he limits his walks. When Noah gets in trouble, like this past Tuesday night in San Diego, and in many games in Las Vegas last season, he gives up strings of hits. Despite a massive mound presence and filthy strikeout/groundout stuff, Noah has a habit of “letting hitters get too comfortable at the plate” and this can lead to big rally innings. Can this be fixed? What is the problem?
Thor Is a Really Nice Guy
Not to say Matt Harvey is a big jerk, but he possesses that bullish confidence and arrogance that classic workhorse aces like Tom Seaver, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez and Nolan Ryan also demonstrated. These guys owned the strike zone and made it abundantly clear to the batters that faced them that they should not get too comfortable in the batter’s box. Harvey, like his predecessors has a way of establishing dominance like an alpha dog. He glares back from the mound knowing that home plate is his, not the batter’s. He seizes control of every at bat by aggressively working his fastball from up and in to low and outside and everywhere in between. No batter can lean over the plate or sit comfortably back on his heels waiting for his pitch.
Syndergaard has shown very good control of both his fastball and secondary pitches thus far, however there is a noticeable hesitation to come inside on hitters. Perhaps he’s afraid of hurting someone – not an uncommon issue for young pitchers. Maybe he once injured a player in the low minors or even high school and felt terrible about it and it still haunts him. Or maybe he’s just leery of putting a runner on base via hit-by-pitch. Whatever the reason, Syndergaard is leaving a very important tool in the box.
Ryan, Clemens, Martinez and Seaver prevented hitters from getting comfortable by coming inside. A batter with a little anxiety has “oh crap, I might have to jump out of the way of a blazing fastball” circling in their head along with “what pitch is he gonna throw?” and “is it hittable?” This added hesitation or an actual backing off the plate makes hitters vulnerable. Martinez would follow up a brush back pitch with a sinking changeup just off the plate that resulted in many strike threes and feeble ground outs. Seaver would hit the black with a slider and Clemens throw a splitter in the dirt.
Ryan threw high 90’s chin music that would plant a player on the dirt. He’d glare at him like an intimidating gunslinger as the batter dusted off his backside and stepped back in the box. If the batter spit and glared back, Ryan might come back high and in again. It was his strike zone, his plate and his at bat. Once that was established, he’d either throw a high outside fastball the batter couldn’t catch up with or a looping hook that froze him in place.
If Syndergaard weren’t so nice, he could emulate these guys. He’s got the heat. He’s got the hammer. He just needs a killer instinct.