Perhaps no pitcher on the staff has the chance to benefit more from new pitching coach Jeremy Hefner than Noah Syndergaard. Sure, sure – Edwin Diaz‘ results may be more important to the club. But would Hefner get credit for that or would it be the offseason work with Pedro Martinez that Diaz has supposedly done that would get the credit?
We’ve seen firsthand the raw materials that Syndergaard possesses. They’re topnotch yet Syndergaard has one fatal flaw. No, it’s not his ability to keep runners from stealing. So far that’s proven not to hurt him as bad as one might think. Instead, it’s Syndergaard’s inability to put batters away once he gets to two strikes on a hitter.
Starting pitchers in the NL last year had a combined .253/.317/.434 line. Meanwhile, Syndergaard allowed opposing hitters a .714 OPS allowed, 37 points better than the league average. But once the count gets to two strikes, NL pitchers saw their OPS allowed drop to .524, a decline of 227 points. Syndergaard’s OPS allowed with two strikes was .543 – a decline of 171 points.
How could Syndergaard be able to get to two strikes better than other league starters yet fare worse once he got there? Some say his inability to pitch inside effectively is the culprit. Others think that his slider is not the weapon it once was, leaving him without a go-to pitch. Maybe it’s one of these, maybe it’s both or maybe it’s something completely unrelated.
Regardless, Hefner has a chance here to make a big difference.
We’ve talked here earlier and more often about how effective Syndergaard is pitching to Tomas Nido than any other catcher on the team over the past two years. With Nido catching him over 24 starts and 153 IP, Syndergaard has a 2.41 ERA and a .610 OPS allowed. Overall in those same two seasons, Syndergaard has posted marks of 3.73 and a .686, respectively. Here are the ERAs allowed by Syndergaard with other backstops catching the past two seasons:
Travis d’Arnaud – 10 IP, 9 ER, 8.10 ERA, 1.016 OPS
Jose Lobaton – 6.1 IP, 2 ER, 2.84 ERA, .914 OPS
Devin Mesoraco – 28 IP, 10 ER, 3.21 ERA, .718 OPS
Kevin Plawecki – 47 IP, 24 ER, 4.60 ERA, .678 OPS
Wilson Ramos – 97 IP, 56 ER, 5.20 ERA, .731 OPS
Rene Rivera – 12.2 IP, 4 ER, 2.84 ERA, .697 OPS
Those six have combined for 201 innings and 105 ER for a 4.70 ERA.
The Mets’ refusal to pair Syndergaard with Nido on a regular basis is nothing short of madness. Ramos caught too many games last year, anyway. Why not give him 30 or so scheduled days off? They say pitchers do better on a regular rotation – why not catchers? Give Ramos those days off and a breather on some day games after night games and he can have a more manageable 115-120 games played, rather than the 141 games he logged last year, a career-high at age 31.
Okay, let’s get to the forecast. We’ll start by seeing what the computer models predict for Syndergaard in 2020:
ATC – 186 IP, 3.76 ERA, 191 Ks, 47 BB, 22 HR
Marcel – 174 IP, 4.03 ERA, 179 Ks, 48 BB, 20 HR
Steamer – 195 IP, 3.89 ERA, 200 Ks, 52 BB, 24 HR
ZiPS – 186.2 IP, 3.33 ERA, 197 Ks, 45 BB, 21 HR
As expected for a player with an established track record, the computer models are all pretty much in agreement here, with the exception of ZiPS and its bullish ERA forecast. This time last year, a 3.33 ERA wouldn’t have been considered a bullish ERA prediction for Syndergaard. But it’s not like we can forget the 4.28 ERA he posted last season.
Can Hefner have an impact that Dave Eiland and Phil Regan before him did not have with Syndergaard? Will the Mets not be so dogmatic with their idea that no pitcher should have a personal catcher? Will Syndergaard and Ramos work better together in their second season? Those questions will go a long way towards answering what kind of year Syndergaard will have in 2020. Here’s my totally biased prediction:
IP – 190.2 IP
ERA – 2.93
K’s – 197
BB – 42
HR – 15
You’ll have more credibility in the future if you chime in now with what you think Syndergaard will do this year. Next, Jeff McNeil goes under the forecast microscope.