Recently we discovered that Marcus Stroman‘s fastball usage went up significantly when he joined the Mets. Was this something the team – the assumption being that the majority of pitches are called in the dugout, not by the catcher – was doing to try to help Wilson Ramos do better throwing out runners? Let’s see what the numbers show.
We have a good way to compare because the five starters who began the season in the rotation for the 2019 Mets all threw significant innings for the club in 2018, too. Let’s look at the percentage of fastballs thrown, with 2019 first and 2018 second:
If our hypothesis was that the dugout was calling more fastballs to protect Ramos, we’d have to say these numbers reject that idea. But, sometimes when you’re looking for one thing, you stumble upon something else interesting. To me, the most interesting thing here is that Syndergaard’s fastball percentage went up noticeably in 2019.
After throwing his fastball 53.6% of the time in 2018, here’s how Syndergaard’s numbers played out in the beginning of 2019:
53.4, 59.2, 68.4, 60.8, 57.0, 64.0, 60.6, 54.5, 64.7, 70.7
After being just a hair beneath his 2018 average in his first start of the season, Syndergaard ripped off nine consecutive starts with a FB% above his 2018 average, with seven of those being at least 5% above. In those nine starts, Syndergaard had two good outings against the Nationals and the complete game shutout against the Reds. But those were his only three Quality Starts in the stretch. In the other six games, he allowed 24 ER (plus 3 UER) in 33 IP for a 6.55 ERA.
In all, Syndergaard had 15 starts last year in which he threw his fastball at least 60% of the time and two more where it was over 59%. Compare that to 2018, when his FB% reached 60% just five times. On the flip side, he had just five games last year where he threw his fastball beneath his 2018 average. But it’s not like he did well in those starts. Combined he allowed 18 ER in 24.1 IP for a 6.66 ERA.
Syndergaard had his best stretch from July 13 to August 22. He made eight starts in that span and posted a 1.82 ERA in 54.1 IP. He allowed just one homer in these games and batters, who typically post a strong BABIP against him, managed just a .279 BABIP. Here were his FB% in those eight starts:
56.2, 51.9, 54.6, 55.7, 61.5, 57.7, 54.4, 57.5
In seven of those eight starts, his FB% was within 5% of his 2018 average. You might recognize the dates in this span, which is right when the Mets started playing their best ball of the season.
But in his final seven starts of the year, Syndergaard threw more fastballs, his BABIP went up to .375 and he posted a 6.69 ERA. Here are the FB% to close the season:
59.4, 61.1, 62.8, 63.7, 67.3, 52.9, 60.6
It’s important to note that right now, all of this is more in the category of “interesting,” rather than “definitive.” If given the option, my preference would still be to have Tomas Nido as his regular catcher, rather than Ramos and fewer fastballs.