Noah Syndergaard’s pitch-framing dependency

It feels like ages since the Mets entered a season with an offense widely considered to be a potent weapon, but that’s the case as we head into a 2020 campaign replete with high expectations. A lineup stacked with reigning Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso, a resurgent Michael Conforto, a rising J.D. Davis, a potential batting champion in Jeff McNeil, and an outfielder with spurts atop the leader boards in Brandon Nimmo is certainly one for which we should be excited. That doesn’t even include guys like Yoenis Cespedes and Jed Lowrie who, however seemingly unlikely, could provide major contributions off of the bench.

Potential offensive potency aside, though, this team is still built on pitching and will only go as far as it takes them. This is something the Mets should keep in mind as they fill out the edges of their roster, particularly as they determine who they slot into the backup catcher position when they head north. The competition boils down to Tomas Nido, who is out of options, and frequent Met Rene Rivera, who has the longer and better track record. For the purpose of this article it actually doesn’t matter which one makes the cut, though either one will likely significantly impact the team’s success this year.

Why is the backup catcher so important on this team? There are two main points to consider in this scenario, and both of them relate to primary catcher Wilson Ramos. First, Ramos played the most games of his career as a 31-year-old last season. That’s not a trend you like to see for backstops, especially for ones where both statistics and the eye test confirm a distinct decline in his capability behind the plate. While Ramos provides the clearly superior offense when compared to any of the backup options, he’ll need to play in fewer games to keep him fresh as he ages.

Second, and more directly related to the pitching staff, the battery dynamic of Ramos and Noah Syndergaard was a continuing drama that unfolded over the course of the 2019 season. Despite denials, multiple reports stated that Syndergaard wished to pitch to Nido rather than Ramos. It’s easy to write this off as Syndergaard reaching for straws during yet another season in which his results didn’t match his potential, but the numbers actually support him. Below are a few select statistics for Syndergaard broken down by catcher for 2019:

By Catcher
Split G IP ERA SO/W BA OBP SLG OPS
Travis d’Arnaud 2 10.0 8.10 2.00 .391 .451 .565 1.016
Tomas Nido 12 78.0 2.88 3.76 .230 .284 .364 .648
Wilson Ramos 16 97.0 5.20 4.41 .258 .303 .427 .731
Rene Rivera 2 12.2 2.84 8.00 .265 .288 .408 .697
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/22/2020.

He clearly performed better when Nido was behind the plate, though it’s unclear why that was the case. Former manager Mickey Callaway noted that Nido was better at handling pitches down in the zone than Ramos, which is an important factor considering Syndergaard’s sinker is likely his best weapon. Perhaps more importantly, however, is that Nido may be an equalizer against something that’s been plaguing Syndergaard for years: his command.

Nido’s pitch framing (2.4) was rated much higher than Ramos’s (-7.6) for 2019, which may have played an important role in Syndergaard’s performance. If the right-hander can’t quite locate his pitches, that extra bit of help from his catcher could absolutely determine the outcome of any given at-bat.

A similar dynamic played out in 2018 where Syndergaard was at his best with Nido behind the plate, and Nido’s pitch-framing easily outperformed the other catchers on the roster. His 2017 was decimated by injuries, but it should come as no surprise that Syndergaard’s best season in 2016 was anchored by a trio of catchers that had superior framing numbers in Rivera, Travis d’Arnaud, and Kevin Plawecki.

Is pitch-framing really the key to maximizing a Syndergaard pitching performance? While there’s obviously any number of factors that could sway his results on any given day, the numbers sure do seem to suggest it as at least a plausible correlation. Is it enough to merit giving in and allowing Syndergaard his own personal catcher? I think so, at least.

One could argue that the greater issue, the one with the most impact on this club’s future, is the fact that Syndergaard simply needs to finally harness his significant potential. That’s obvious, of course, though easier said than done. On the other hand, it makes sense for the team to squeeze every advantage they can out of their roster, and making Nido or Rivera his personal catcher seems a small price to pay for the potential payoff.

5 comments for “Noah Syndergaard’s pitch-framing dependency

  1. NYM6986
    February 22, 2020 at 9:50 am

    Time for Noah to step up and have that big year. Ramos caught a great staff in Washington and their pitchers did well. He should be working on quickening his delivery a bit to better hold on runners. He also needs an out pitch like deGrom so he does not run up his pitch count too early. He should be a Hefner special project. Lots of good feelings going into SP games.

  2. February 22, 2020 at 10:18 am

    I’m not ready to attribute all of the difference with Noah on the mound and the various catchers behind the plate to pitch framing.

    I like Ramos but he was terrible in just about every way defensively last year, especially in the first half of the season. I think he improved as the year went on and I attribute that to more effort on his part.

    He’s never going to be a good pitch framer but it sure would be nice if he didn’t pull a KP/TDA and bounce throws to 2B on steal attempts.

    Regardless, and I’ve been banging this drum for awhile now, the Mets’ insistence on doing things “their” way, rather than the “right” way by refusing to let Nido be Syndergaard’s personal catcher is maddening.

    Having a personal catcher helps Syndergaard and it’s an easy way to limit the games that Ramos catches, giving him 32 games off. Throw in a few day games after night games and maybe a DH slot or two and suddenly you have his games caught at a manageable level.

    As for the Mets, their refusal to do this is every bit as bad as Ike Davis abandoning the batting stance he used in the second half of 2012 – the one that helped him go from a .659 OPS in the first half to an .888 OPS after the break. Davis was more interested in doing things his way and it helped cost him his career.

    • JImO
      February 22, 2020 at 11:04 am

      I agree with Brian. Designate Nido as Noah’s primary battery mate.

      • Rob
        February 22, 2020 at 7:34 pm

        I agree. If they are winning games together why the big deal? Charlie O’Brien spent most of his career as a personal catcher and the teams he was on won.

    • MattyMets
      February 24, 2020 at 3:23 pm

      I find this very frustrating. A team built on pitching should not have committed to an offense first catcher. Yes, Ramos can hit but he’s not Mike Piazza putting up MVP numbers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: