What’s causing Noah Syndergaard’s struggles in 2019?

Last year Noah Syndergaard was 13-4 with a 3.03 ERA but it seemed like there was more complaining about his year than celebration over his numbers. Depending upon who you were talking to, he gave up too many steals, or too many hits, or he took too many pitches to put guys away, or he didn’t pitch up in the zone. It seemed that no matter what he did, it wasn’t enough.

His last eight starts of the year, it seemed he had silenced all of the complainers. In this stretch of 53.2 IP, he was 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA. Opposing batters hit just .219 off him and while he was giving up multiple stolen bases per game prior to this stretch, he allowed just seven steals in this closing run. It seemed like a springboard to a dominating 2019.

Whoops.

Syndergaard enters Sunday with a 5.14 ERA and that’s with a complete game shutout among his eight appearances. In his other seven games, he’s allowed 28 ER in 40 IP for a 6.30 ERA. In all of his appearances, Syndergaard has a .354 BABIP, which has led to a .279 AVG and a .771 OPS against. The stolen bases are at the same rate as last year’s closing stretch – seven in eight games – so that clearly hasn’t been the issue.

Last year’s kick had him throwing strikes 68% of the time, with a 15% called strike percentage and a 12% swinging strike percentage. This year those numbers are 68%, 19% and 12% – or virtually identical, with a few more called strikes. He has a 26.2 K% and a 5.8 BB% this year, compared to rates of 23.1 and 8.3 in last year’s final eight games.

Syndergaard is getting more called strikes, he’s striking out more batters and is allowing fewer walks. And the running game is identical to what it was down the stretch last year. So, what the heck is the problem?

As alluded to earlier, the problem is that when batters do make contact, too often it’s for a hit. And it’s not only unlucky singles finding a hole. His HR/9 has jumped from 0.52 a year ago to 1.29 this year, which goes a long way to explain how his ISO has leapt from .098 in 2018 to .168 this season.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that the batters who are doing the damage to him are RHB. Righties have an .815 OPS against Syndergaard this season, with a .204 ISO. Previously, the highest mark against him in a season was the .656 mark they tallied against him in the injury-shortened 2017. And in that year RHB had just a .034 ISO.

Currently, 12 of the 32 hits RHB have off Sydnergaard have gone for extra bases, including five homers.

Let’s check the pitch distribution to see if things have changed from a season ago. According to Brooks Baseball, Syndergaard threw the following pitches to RHB in 2018:

Pitch Type Count AB K BB HBP 1B 2B 3B HR BAA SLG ISO BABIP
Fourseam 179 39 10 4 0 3 1 0 2 .154 .333 .180 .148
Sinker 414 101 20 5 3 18 6 1 3 .277 .446 .168 .321
Change 69 20 10 4 1 2 1 0 0 .150 .200 .050 .300
Slider 344 91 35 2 0 20 2 0 0 .242 .264 .022 .393
Curve 119 23 7 0 0 5 1 0 1 .304 .478 .174 .400

And here are the totals so far this year:

Pitch Type Count AB K BB HBP 1B 2B 3B HR BAA SLG ISO BABIP
Fourseam 154 29 9 3 0 4 2 1 0 .241 .379 .138 .350
Sinker 143 36 8 2 0 7 2 0 2 .306 .528 .222 .346
Change 48 11 3 1 0 1 1 0 0 .182 .273 .091 .250
Slider 108 32 10 2 0 7 1 0 2 .313 .531 .219 .400
Curve 38 6 3 0 0 1 0 0 1 .333 .833 .500 .500

We see that in 2018, Syndergaard attacked RHB with sinkers and sliders primarily. His third option was his four seam fastball, which batters had the worst BABIP against, but when they did make contact, they had the highest ISO. This year, the righties have a SLG mark over .500 against both his sinker and slider so Syndergaard is responding by throwing more fastballs. The results have been better with his heater, although the best results of all have come from his change.

Typically, pitchers prefer using the change as a weapon against batters that enjoy the platoon advantage, as usually the pitch moves away from those hitters. Is it simply the element of surprise, that righties aren’t expecting the change from Syndergaard, which accounts for his results with this pitch? That’s certainly a possibility but at this point it might be worth finding out for sure by throwing it more often.

Syndergaard struggling against RHB is a pretty big surprise, at least to me. But what’s equally alarming is that his troubles crop up most often his second time through the order. Batters have a .687 OPS against Syndergaard the first time they see him but that jumps up to a .921 mark in their second look of the game. In 72 PA the second time through the lineup, opposing batters have 8 XBH, including 5 HR. Third time through, his OPS against falls back to .702, with most of that damage coming against the Twins when he went out for the eighth inning, faced three batters and allowed a single, double and triple before being removed from the game.

My opinion is that the pitch calling may be part of the problem. Syndergaard has had six games caught by Wilson Ramos and two by Travis d’Arnaud. The ones with Ramos have been mediocre, as with Ramos behind the plate, Syndergaard has a 4.38 ERA. But compare that to the two games caught by d’Arnaud, where he allowed 9 ER in 10 IP for an 8.10 ERA.

There will be no more starts with d’Arnaud behind the dish. But it’s hard to imagine why they haven’t paired Syndergaard with Tomas Nido yet this year, especially since Mickey Callaway made sure that Nido caught him last year as much as possible. In 11 starts with Nido in 2018, Syndergaard had a 1.97 ERA. But Callaway has seemingly made Nido the personal catcher for Jacob deGrom here in 2019. Nido has caught deGrom three times now, including Saturday night, and deGrom has allowed just 1 ER in 21 IP with 4 BB and 28 Ks.

Those are outstanding numbers and it’s hard to imagine not continuing to use Nido with deGrom. But it’s a fair question to ask if Callaway should use Nido with Syndergaard, too. It’s unlikely to happen today, with it being a day game after a night game. And with the weak-hitting Marlins as the opponent, it’s a good chance for Syndergaard to get back on track, regardless of who the catcher is. But another poor outing by Syndergaard with Ramos and Callaway won’t have much choice but to go back to the pairing that worked so well in 2018.

22 comments for “What’s causing Noah Syndergaard’s struggles in 2019?

  1. NYM6986
    May 12, 2019 at 7:11 am

    Thanks for the in-depth look at Thor. It is often overlooked who a pitcher throws to but it’s hard to believe that Ramos will get pushed aside since we do need his offense, and will obviously wait for it to return. Another complaint voiced is Thor’s inability, unlike deGrom, to put hitters away and that if there is not sufficient movement on his pitches that the impressive triple digit offerings will be smashed by MLB hitters. That’s what I would think Mickey and Co. should be working on. Seems our pitchers are starting to hit their stride and hoping our hitters, aside from McNeil and Alonso remember that we need runs to win. It’s not been our Sunday history, but let’s take the broom to the fish today.

  2. Mike Walczak
    May 12, 2019 at 3:27 pm

    Dwight Gooden threw a fastball that was as straight as an arrow. Hitters started to lay off his high fastball and his performance dropped. (Amongst other off the field activities)

    Syndergaard should learn the split finger fastball.

  3. TJ
    May 12, 2019 at 5:43 pm

    Nice piece. From the uneducated TV-aided eye test, hitters just look too comfortable most of the time against a guy with his arsenal. Ultimately it comes down to command. Not to make excuses for Noah, but pitching consistently to an elite level is an incredidibly difficult human endeavor, and the number of humans that can do it each generation can be counted on one hand.

  4. MattyMets
    May 12, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    I’ve posted previously about the need for him to vary location more and not allow hitters to get comfortable. Since then I’ve read and heard in a number of places that he’s really been struggling with his slider this year. Blames the new baseballs with flatter seems, cold early season weather. Then adapt and focus on your other four pitches and don’t throw every pitch knee high. Time to make adjustments, not excuses.

    Hel’ll face the Nats on Tuesday and Rendon has owned him and Robles has two HRs in just a handful of ABs.

  5. Chris F
    May 12, 2019 at 6:00 pm

    Sybdergaard continues to believe he has enough “stuff” to just get people out by throwing strikes. Its a huge mistake. His plan is for a called or swinging K right in or marginal to the zone. Unfortunately it leads to tons of foul balls (which has its own set of problems). Because he seems unable to confidently learn to pitch to all quadrants (Duquette says its because he’s too big) and so all he throws is down down down. What he seems to fail at is being able to throw things that look like strikes for a split second but really are balls way out of the zone. He never seems to bounce pitches and he has to. Challenge with stuff is no longer his best move. And so he gives up what seems to be a lot of hits in pitcher counts, esp 0-2. At 0-2, no pitch a batter sees should be within 3″ of the zone, and preferable further than that.

    • Name
      May 12, 2019 at 6:36 pm

      “At 0-2, no pitch a batter sees should be within 3″ of the zone, and preferable further than that.”

      aka Steven Matz approach… and it results in 0-2 quickly becoming 3-2 and bloating the pitch count. For someone who loves citing pitch per out, i can’t understand why you would espouse this approach. The goal is to get outs, not strikeouts.

      • Chris F
        May 12, 2019 at 7:09 pm

        the goal is to not give up hits. and people expand like mad when behind. he needs to be able to move the ball around not provide the same thing pitch after pitch. Matz its different…he cant find the zine with it being 85 mph.

    • May 12, 2019 at 7:36 pm

      Texas Leaguers has foul ball information.

      Noah has thrown 799 pitches this year and 147 of those have ended up a foul ball. That’s 18.4% of his pitches.

      Jake has thrown 817 pitches this year and 181 of those have ended up a foul ball. That’s 22.2% of his pitches.

      But while the foul ball hypothesis doesn’t appear valid, it looks like you’re on to something with 0-2 counts. After the count reaches 0-2, batters have a .255/.264/.431 line against Noah this year and 47% of the PA end in a strikeout. But MLB pitchers as a group limit hitters to a .157/.187/.252 line once the count reaches 0-2 and they wind up with a strikeout in 48% of those PA.

      • Chris F
        May 12, 2019 at 7:39 pm

        But how many foul balls once the count is in his favor? just curious. I have this mets blinder on that we get more foul balls than opposing teams.

        Anyway, the 0-2 frustrates me enough, that its real…even if I didn’t do the research….data data data…i just don’t know how to ge the info I want or the time to compile.

        As always, thanks for the very thoughtful and well researched effort to educate us all.

        • May 12, 2019 at 8:08 pm

          They do not have it broken down by count.

          I looked at all of the PA for Noah in his last start against the Padres, one where he allowed 5 R in 6 IP.

          He got to a two-strike count on 15 batters and four of those had a foul ball after two strikes. Is that a lot? I don’t know.

  6. Mike Walczak
    May 12, 2019 at 7:55 pm

    Maybe it is time for him to get a little Bob Gibson in him.

    • José
      May 13, 2019 at 7:24 am

      Speaking of Gibson, I’m reminded of one of my favorite BB anecdotes, although I don’t know for certain that it’s not apocryphal.

      There’s an old story about Bob Gibson, who hit a batter in the head and sent him to the hospital, and subsequently went to visit him:

      Gibson: I’m sorry I hit you in the head
      Batter: It’s OK Bob, it was an accident
      Gibson: I meant to hit you in the neck…

      Editor’s Note – Please do not capitalize words in your post, as that is a violation of our Comment Policy.

  7. David Klein
    May 12, 2019 at 10:03 pm

    Great work as always Brian I feel like his pitch sequencing is bad as he’s throwing so many hittable pitches ahead of the count imo and not expanding the zone ever.

  8. Metsense
    May 13, 2019 at 7:00 am

    Superior article Brian. Syndergaard has the obvious Talent but it is not being executed properly my him or the team. The Analytics Department should give the coaching Department these types of results. The coaching Department should sit with syndergaard, Ramos and Nido to form a game plan. In this way, everyone is on the same page. In the end, syndergaard has to be accountable for the results. He doesn’t throw enough pitchers to back batters off the plate therefore the slider away isn’t as effective. Pedro Martinez said yesterday that he didn’t throw at people but he also laid claim on the inside of the plate. Syndergaard does not do that. I think personally, syndergaard doesn’t have the personality to pitch that way.
    BTW I think during the regular season there should not be designated catcher for a pitcher. The coaches, the pitcher and all the catchers should be on the same page.

  9. José
    May 13, 2019 at 7:19 am

    Interesting thoughts about Thor and Jake having better results when pitching to Nido compared to Ramos. Is there any way to measure, in terms of say WAR, if the Mets are better off choosing Nido’s non-offense contribution over Ramos and his superior hitting?

    • May 13, 2019 at 8:14 am

      Tomas Nido – 0.0 fWAR
      Wilson Ramos – (-0.5) fWAR

      But right now Ramos is hitting worse than Nido, too. Ramos has a .586 OPS compared to a .636 mark for Nido. But Ramos is in a terrible slump right now and this might be a highwater mark offensively for Nido.

      They added catcher framing to fWAR recently, so it’s better at measuring defense for a catcher than in the past. Yet it’s still not as accurate as it likely is for other positions. There’s no input for game calling but it’s easy to see why,as that is a nebulous term. Should Nido get a lot of credit for being a master handler of pitchers if he’s primarily catching Jacob deGrom? I hear that deGrom is pretty good, even without Nido.

      Personally, I think there’s little doubt that some catchers get more out of certain pitchers than others. But we have to always keep sample size in mind. Nido caught Syndergaard for 11 starts last year. You can’t make sweeping generalizations off that few starts. But it’s getting harder to ignore Syndergaard’s results the past two years with and without Nido.

  10. May 13, 2019 at 9:19 am

    Syndergaards FIP is 3.56….. a few missed pitches…a few pieces of Hitter Luckiness—5 plus ERA.

    He looks generally better than his box scores, although he’s still not a guy who is out executing his own stuff, or adding brains to the Brawn. His faults seem to be of execution and attack plan.

    • May 13, 2019 at 11:38 am

      I don’t agree that Syndergaard has looked better than his box scores. He’s looked good against the Twins and the Reds and maybe the second game against the Nats. Otherwise, he’s looked pretty mediocre

  11. Eraff
    May 13, 2019 at 2:13 pm

    Is an FIP of 3.56 Mediocre?…or is it just well beneath expectations, and history?

    I’ll assume that those FIP and ERA numbers should come to a better reconciliation, rather than being over a point and a half apart. I’m not a fan of short measures, but Noah’s downside seems to be as it always has been…He’s reliant on Great Stuff, and Great Stuff Alone.

    I’ve not been biggest Noah Fan in terms of forward projection as a Pitcher….too much Arm, not enough Brain and Execution. He’s been talking approach, so I’m hopeful….but his execution and his choices remain geared to Brawn, in Big Spots. I also believe he’s been selectively unlucky by a bit, this year.

    • May 13, 2019 at 2:51 pm

      FIP normalizes strand rate. Typically, Noah has been better than average in strand rate but this year he’s been much worse, in the bottom 10 of qualified pitchers.

      You can say he’s due for some better luck in the category but it’s not like he’s giving up the same number of hits and it’s just sequencing that is doing him in. He’s giving up more hits (and more homers) over his already elevated hit rate, at least among top of the rotation starters.

      If he keeps allowing 9.7 H/9 and 1.3 HR/9 — I don’t see him ending the year with a 3.56 ERA.

  12. Eraff
    May 13, 2019 at 6:10 pm

    Yeah…it’s not a given that ERA/FIP would reconcile back to the more optimistic rate.

    When we discussed Extending Pitchers last year, i was reticent on Noah… I would not want to give a No Brain/All Stuff Guy lots of long money. His talk has changed—maybe there’s better ahead

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