By any rational account, Noah Syndergaard‘s rookie campaign has had its ups and downs. He made his MLB debut in Chicago versus the Cubs, and surrendered three runs over 5.1 innings, striking out six, walking four and surrendering one home run. While good for a first go around versus a potent offensive club, it was only scratching the surface of Syndergaard’s immense potential. Over his next three starts he allowed two earned runs against 19.1 innings pitched, struck out 16 and walked just one batter.
The new king had arrived! Those trials and tribulations of 2014 down in Las Vegas had paid off, and now Mets fans had another ace to slide in right next to Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey. Then the weirdness set in. He struck out 10 batters in his next start and walked no one while visiting San Diego. He also allowed seven runs over just four innings of work in that same start. Over his next three games he pitched 16 innings, struck out 16, walked five, and allowed eight runs to score. It seemed like no one knew what we were going to get from Syndergaard from start to start.
He started to settle down a bit more, becoming more comfortable with his array of pitches. From June 26th to August 2nd, Syndergaard pitched to a 1.44 ERA, striking out 51 and walking just 10. He was dominate in a way that Mets fan had only dreamed of. He pitched better than some impressive competition, including Jordan Zimmermann, James Shields and Clayton Kershaw. But of course, like clockwork, there were the downs.
From August 8th to September 19th his ERA skyrocketed to 5.09, and while he was still striking out over a batter per inning, his K/BB% slid to 4.50. Not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but not quite like the 5.20 it had been in the previous good times. When he got hit, he was getting hit hard, and it was carrying over from start to start. The noticeable difference was that he was throwing his changeup more and more often. From his first start until August 8th the most he had ever thrown his changeup was 20.5% against the Atlanta Braves on June 20th, and it averaged from that same period just 12.1% of his pitches. From August 8th to September 19th he threw that same pitch 18% of the time. That might seem like a lot, but with a changeup that averaged over 88mph, it was more like a soft fastball than an off speed offering to mess up hitters’ timing.
But things did get better. As the whole Harvey innings-limit drama ensued, the organization began to not only limit its superstar’s innings, but that of deGrom and Syndergaard as well, It could be the most important decision the front office has made outside of trading for Yoenis Cespedes. All three studs were clearly tiring later into September, and their stats were showing it. Syndergaard wasn’t struggling the most, but he certainly rebounded the best.
His last two starts against Cincinnati and Washington were revelations. He struck out a combined 21 batters, and walked just one. Over 14.2 innings, he gave up just three runs, and two of them were via solo home runs. His command was impeccable, and his fastball/changeup combination was particularly impressive. It appeared as though Syndergaard, with the help of some timely rest, was regaining the form that was so desperately needed heading into the postseason.
Now Syndergaard is faced with his biggest challenge yet. He is going into Los Angeles for Game 2 of the NLDS, most likely facing Zack Grienke. But unlike his early struggles, Syndergaard has been handling away assignments much easier. Against albeit inferior competition, his last four road starts have garnered a 2.59 ERA, with 34 strikeouts to five walks. He is looking refreshed and raring to go in what will be the most important games the Mets have played in nearly a decade.
Syndergaard has had a very exciting first year in the majors. He’s been a god-send and a scapegoat at times, like many athletes in New York can attest. Right now is his moment to shine. With one of the best pitching arsenals the Mets fanbase has ever seen, the sky’s the limit for this kid. I just hope he takes along for the ride through the clouds in 2015.