Noah Syndergaard is the latest Mets pitcher to struggle in the first inning

Noah Syndergaard gave up three runs in the first inning Tuesday night, making him the latest Mets pitcher to struggle in the opening frame. For the year, Mets starters have allowed 21 runs in 27 games in the first inning, for a dismal 6.67 ERA. The NL mark in that inning is a 4.90 ERA. Lineups are typically stacked to maximize runs in the first inning. Still, the Mets struggles there stand out. Their .906 OPS allowed in the first frame is the third-worst mark in the league.

Prior to yesterday’s outing, Syndergaard had only given up one run in six games in the first inning. But now Jacob deGrom is the best on the club, with two runs allowed in six games. Steven Matz has been acceptable in this regard, giving up three runs in five games. But then it gets ugly. In nine starts combined Matt Harvey, Jason Vargas and Zack Wheeler have surrendered 12 runs and Harvey’s 1.098 OPS allowed is the best mark of the three.

The second and third innings have been much better. We expect the second inning to go down and Mets pitchers have a 2.00 ERA and a .559 OPS allowed in the frame. The third inning’s numbers are 4.00 and .623, respectively.

So, why is the first inning such a problem?

We could speculate it being a small size sample. Or we could hypothesize that the pitchers aren’t executing their pitches. Perhaps the new catchers are taking a while to figure out what offerings that day’s pitcher has working. Of course maybe the answer is simpler than all of that. Maybe the pitchers aren’t as good as we might think.

And to compound the matter, the issue isn’t just runs or OPS allowed. Even in innings when the opposition doesn’t score any runs, the Mets’ starter is throwing a ton of pitches in the first inning. Last night Syndergaard threw 26 pitches according to the ESPN box score in the opening frame when he allowed three runs. But in his start against the Brewers, Matz needed 24 pitches in the first inning when he did not allow a run. And you’ll forgive Mets fans if they think that Wheeler has turned this particular issue into an art form.

In his last outing against the Padres, Wheeler needed 30 pitches in an inning that featured two walks, two strikeouts and ended with the bases loaded but no runs crossing the plate. He gave up two runs in the first inning his previous start but in the one before that, against the Nationals, Wheeler required 19 pitches, saved only by an over-aggressive rookie who grounded into a double play on the second pitch of the AB, right after Wheeler had surrendered back-to-back walks. Even in his strong game against the Marlins to open the season, Wheeler needed 20 pitches to get out of the first inning.

One of two things need to happen – either the Mets pitchers need to be more efficient in the first inning or the brain trust has to stop being terrified of the 100-pitch bogeyman. Otherwise they are doomed to five and six-inning starts for the rest of the year.

With a 6.67 ERA in the first inning, it’s not like the Mets would lose a whole lot by asking their pitchers to do something different when they first take the mound. Maybe they can nibble less in the first inning. Or maybe they can look for easy contact rather than a strikeout right away. But those may not be practical solutions. As for allowing guys to go longer in the game, all that requires is a careful eye to see how the pitcher is executing on that particular night.

Syndergaard had retired seven of the last eight batters he faced before he was pulled after 91 pitches. Why was he pulled? No, they didn’t pinch-hit for him. Rather, it was a page from the Terry Collins playbook. The Braves had two lefty batters leading off the inning so reflexively the Mets went to Jerry Blevins. It’ didn’t matter that the first batter, Freddie Freeman, owns Blevins. The Mets escaped a bullet when Freeman hit a ball that landed one step shy of the wall in left field.

The Mets took out a pitcher who had found in his stride during the game so they could play matchups. They could have gotten another inning from Syndergaard, possibly an inning-plus if his turn to hit didn’t come up. And this is not rare. We regularly see times when the starter had gotten himself together and is cruising only to find him lifted because he’s brushing up against 100 pitches.

It was one thing when the weather was cold. But that certainly wasn’t the case last night. It’s one thing if the bullpen has been lights out. But that hasn’t really been the case here recently, either. It’s not that the bullpen has been bad. But the fat lady isn’t singing at the top of her lungs when a reliever enters the game.

The Mets should be looking for a way, a reason to keep effective pitchers in the game. Mickey Callaway has embraced that with his relievers, frequently asking them to throw more than an inning at a time. That’s great to see. Now he needs to use that same approach with his starters, allowing them to throw 110 or 115 or even 120 pitches occasionally when the situation merits.

Of course, the Mets starters could do themselves a favor and look to get out of the first inning with just 13 pitches, too.

14 comments for “Noah Syndergaard is the latest Mets pitcher to struggle in the first inning

  1. Michael
    May 2, 2018 at 10:21 am

    Nothing to do with the article but I have 2 questions:
    1) why was Rosario allowed to bat in the 9th when you have Reyes available? You’re asking a free swinging rookie to perform a “butcher” play when you have Reyes (probably the team’s best bunter) on the bench.
    2) how about sending Conforto down for a few weeks until he gets his stroke back? I don’t care about him reaching base 20 straight games because he looks terrible at the plate. Barely hitting .200 and every AB seems to be a pop up or a K. Time for Nimmo/Lagares to patrol CF.

    • May 2, 2018 at 10:48 am

      Please put comments not related to the article in the catch-all threads, which are posted Mondays and Fridays.

      • Michael
        May 2, 2018 at 11:57 am

        Will do.

  2. Madman
    May 2, 2018 at 10:47 am

    Take care of your pitchers. It’s only May 2,why push your ace in a game you’re losing? No Syndergard,DeGrom or Familia and the season is over. 100 pitches is poohpooed but the analytics show it is a legitimate number for both effectiveness and risk of injury. Harvey and Strasberg both come to mind.

    • May 2, 2018 at 11:11 am

      Asking a pitcher to give more than 91 pitches is far from pushing him.

      If you know of a study that shows 100 pitches equals safe for an MLB pitcher and 110 as unsafe – please post the link. Overall, we can assume that the body is going to get beaten up to some degree anytime you throw a baseball at a high-intensity for any significant amount of throws. However, the idea that there’s one magic number for every pitcher in every situation to maximize his health is, quite frankly, ludicrous.

      • Mike Walczak
        May 2, 2018 at 3:06 pm

        Every pitcher should have a different limit and it should change based on conditions as well.

        Syndergaard is a horse, he should go more than 91 pitches. I also don’t go with the third time through the lineup stuff either. If your ace is in and pitching well, leave him in. Did Tom Seaver get yanked out of games after 100 pitches when he was pitching well? No –

  3. Eraff
    May 2, 2018 at 10:53 am

    There is an old saw about getting to great pitchers early. The Braves hitters were ready to hit at pitch 1, a good strategy against a power pitcher. It was a combination of poor location/stuff and early attack hitting

  4. TJ
    May 2, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    I was actually thinking about this phenomenon, and as well the flip side of it, the Mets lack of scoring from the get go. For a first place team with a winning record, it sure seems like they are down early in most games.

    In the little of what I saw last night, it struck me that Syndergaard was beaten by a twenty year old call up. But, what struck me most, is how much better this kid looked than our 2-5 starters that have been touted as part of the “5 aces” for years. The kid had excellent stuff, was poised, and just looked like he was in command, on the road which I think was his first big league game.

    To follow up on Eraff’s recent point, it looks like every team has a group of “fab 5” young guns, and it looks like the Met group is among the worst. If the Braves and Phillies have more kids like this in the pipeline, the Mets are staring into a world of darkness. Why am I even thinking like this with a hot shot new manager and the team in first? Are my eyes deceiving me or is it in my head as a long time Met fan?

    • May 2, 2018 at 12:34 pm

      The Mets have scored 12 runs in the first inning, which is tied for 12th in the NL, with only the Brewers and Reds being worse. Brandon Nimmo has batted in the first inning six times and scored four runs. Maybe they should look to get him back in the lineup on a regular basis.

  5. TexasGusCC
    May 2, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    Can it be that the inexperienced catchers aren’t adjusting their pitch calling? For instance, I wrote how the Braves jumped all over 97-99 mph heaters in the first inning, and seeing a replay of Freeman’s double shows a very short quick swing that was noted by the enemy announcers. Maybe more seasoned catchers see this early? Hopefully, yesterday was a learning lesson for future batteries.

    And while we talk about Syndergaard “settling down”, not quite. The Braves left 12 on base and had two thrown out, they had more chances but the Mets pitching kept doing just enough to avoid damage. Dangerous living, however.

  6. Mig
    May 2, 2018 at 1:43 pm

    I seem to recall Doc having a similar issue for a while, years ago. The prescription was to give him five extra minutes warming up, and that did the trick, though that was before the pitch count era.

  7. Pete In Iowa
    May 2, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    The reason the Mets give up lots of runs in the first is simple — aside from deGrom and Syndergaard they have horrible starting pitchers. Last time I looked, starters pitch the first inning. It is no surprise the two good starters they have are best on the club at not allowing first inning runs.
    As far as pulling Syndergaard goes, it is merely a byproduct of analytics dominating managers thinking — and all aspects of the game — which has now gone on for years. Though I cringed at Blevins on the mound to open the 7th, I wasn’t surprised in the least. I’ll bet all 30 managers would have made the same move. It seems they constantly are looking to pull effective pitchers until they find one who is having an off night which ultimately costs them the game.
    The more beholden the wizards of smart are to ruling the game with their analytics, the worse the game is being played. Pitching is worse, hitting is worse and defense is worse. What’s left?

    • Steevy
      May 2, 2018 at 3:48 pm

      Some day managers will be replaced by a computer.

  8. Chris F
    May 2, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    Starting pitching and cant score runs.

    My money says thats a bad mix.

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