Now in his fifth big league season, Noah Syndergaard has shown flashes of greatness, but has yet to establish himself as a consistently dominant pitcher. He has the stuff. He has the size. He has the swagger. He’s entering what should be his prime and he’s the hardest throwing starting pitcher in baseball with an enviable repertoire of secondary pitches. Through 91 career starts, hes got 3.09 ERA and some impressive peripheral numbers like 10K/9 and a 2.68 FIP. These are the numbers of a prototypical number two starter, minus the durability. But, injury history aside, why haven’t we seen the man they call Thor have more dominant starts like we’ve seen from Jacob deGrom and legendary Mets like Dwight Gooden and Tom Seaver? Here are a few reasons.
- Spin rate and movement. For all his velocity, Syndergaard’s fastball doesn’t move like deGrom’s or Zack Wheeler‘s. It explodes out of his hand, but it doesn’t hop with late life. It my light up the radar guns, but the best hitters can square it up when they know it’s coming. For you numbers crunchers, Syndergaard was second among starting pitchers in 2018 with an average four-seam fastball velocity of 97.5 MPH. However, his spin rate was a more pedestrian 2,174. For comparison, several other hard throwers had spin rates over 2,500. More spin often translates to either more movement or a faster perceived pitch.
- The pitch mix is off. It’s easy to forget that Syndergaard has a five pitch repertoire. He’s fallen in love with his slider and change up and throws his signature hammer curveball far less than he did earlier in his career. The slider is not always there for him. Syndergaard’s bread and butter are his two- and four-seam fastballs. The latter can hum in at triple digits and the former can sink or tail and induce ground balls when used effectively. As pitchers age they often lose velocity on their fastball but learn to rely on their secondary pitches more. Syndergaard may need to do this sooner than later, using his fastballs to set up his breaking pitches and changeups, rather than the other way around.
- He needs to put hitters away. Early on in a game, Syndergaard, with help from his catcher, needs to recognize which pitches are working best for him and which to use to put hitters away. Syndergaard has been falling victim to Sid Fernandez disease – that is, he gets two strikes on a batter who then fouls off pitch after pitch, running up his pitch count. When deGrom and Wheeler are at their best, they put hitters away and economize their pitches to make it through seven innings. Syndergaard has had too many six-inning starts the last few years and this is a big reason why.
- He’s too accurate. Speaking of putting hitters away, Syndergaard has been better so far this season about elevating, but perhaps there’s an adjustment to make as his walks have gone up. Throughout his career, one of the central issues for the big righty has been that he lives in the strike zone and allows hitters to get too comfortable in the batter’s box. Mixing pitches and speeds is great, but mixing locations is equally important.
- Base runners are a problem. Syndergaard’s slow delivery to the plate makes him an easy target for base stealers. As he gets more acclimated to working with Wilson Ramos, perhaps the two can make some progress in this area.
Just one blogger’s take, but I believe that Syndergaard is in the right place to sort this out. He’s effectively got two pitching coaches in the dugout, a veteran catcher and the collective wisdom of deGrom, Wheeler and the rest of a talented pitching staff. He’s also got the best offense he’s ever had behind him. Syndergaard will right the ship and have another very good, but not quite great season.