Noah Syndergaard has gotten off to a brilliant start this year, having yielded only one earned run in his two starts, which translates to 0.69 ERA. He also has 16 strikeouts and zero walks so far. He’s not going to keep up this pace, but, barring injury, the young fireballer does seem destined for a tremendous year and career.
The larger than life Syndergaard (he’s 6’6) is only 24, yet he has established himself as a dominant starting pitcher with exceptional velocity. His fastball averaged 97.9 mph last year to lead the majors. Surprisingly for someone who throws so hard, he is stingy with walks, giving up 2.1 walks per nine innings last year. He complements his fastball with a curve, a wipeout slider and a changeup that has been clocked at over 90 mph. He is not afraid to throw inside, as Alcides Escobar learned in game three of the 2015 World Series when Syndergaard brushed him back with the first pitch of the game.
Syndergaard can hit, his slash line from last year was .190/.277/.397 with three homers, pretty decent for a pitcher. He enjoys being in the limelight, he has already had a small role (as Thor!) in the “Kevin Can Wait” program, and is scheduled to appear in a “Game of Thrones” episode this year.
Is there a pitcher from the past who compares with Syndergaard, one who had the characteristics listed above? One who comes to mind is Hall of Famer Don Drysdale, who hurled for the Dodgers from 1956-1969, first in Brooklyn and then Los Angeles, after the transcontinental shift of the franchise in 1958.
Let’s address the elephant in the room first, that is there is one big characteristic in which they were different. Drysdale’s delivery from the mound was mostly a sidearm style, whereas Syndergaard has a more over the top release. Other than that there is much that is comparable between the two pitchers.
The 6’5 Drysdale had overpowering stuff, but like Syndergaard he had great control. A good example was his 1963 season, where he notched 251 Ks, third in the National League. The same season, he was fourth in walks per nine innings with a 1.63 mark. He finished with a lifetime record of 2.24 walks per nine innings, excellent for a power pitcher. Besides his fastball Drysdale had a big sweeping curve and a sharp breaking slider.
Drysdale didn’t just throw inside, he hit more than his share of batters. It was a different era then but Drysdale was on a level all by himself. He led the league in HBP five times, and had a lifetime total of 154. That kind of pitching would probably get him run out of the game today.
Drysdale was one of the best hitting pitchers of all time. In 1965 he hit .300, with 7 home runs and SLG of .508. He was the only .300 hitter on the team. Over his career it was not unusual for him to bat higher than ninth in the order, at least once he batted sixth.
He also liked being in the spotlight, Drysdale had roles, usually cameos, in such programs as “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.” After his playing career was over he broadcast games for a variety of teams, doing play by play as well as color commentary.
His career highlights include a Cy Young award (1962), and Hall of Fame induction. There are Met fans who wouldn’t be surprised if Syndergaard equaled or even exceeded those achievements.