For Mets fans, the All-Star Break was enjoyable for many reasons. Obviously the pomp surrounding the last remaining All Star exhibition in sports worth a damn marching through Queens had a lot to do with that. The game, the derby, the fanfare. All of it was fun to experience.
But perhaps the most exciting moment of the weekend came, not from the All Stars themselves, but when the minor leaguers took the field. More specifically, the moment when Noah Syndergaard introduced himself to the entire baseball universe as the club's new top prospect -- and the third in a three-pronged future attack that promises better days to come in Flushing.
Even before starting the Futures Game, the 6'4" Texas native had quickly become all the rage among Mets fans and scouts alike in 2013. Throughout his most recent campaign he's been lauded for his top shelf stuff paired with dominant results, first at Advanced-A and now Double-A.
It's been the sort of season that validates the statement that caught so much attention when Syndergaard was first acquired from the Blue Jays back in December -- about being ahead of Zack Wheeler at a similar age. Some were quick to point out the semantics of that thought; being 'ahead' doesn't necessarily mean the ceiling is the same, nor does it promise the same results going forward.
Now, however, scouts don't feel the need to be quite so measured in their superlatives. In the weeks leading up to the Futures Game, a scout in Binghamton, for instance, reacted to Syndergaard's final start before the exhibition by describing the big righty as 'Harvey-Wheeler good.' And he's not the only one. The idea that the 20-year-old is of the same ilk as the two most exciting players currently on the Mets roster has evolved from something of a longing to a downright expectation. And with good reason.
I already mentioned the stuff. Evaluators are writing the equivalent of scouting pornography en masse in attempts to describe Syndergaard's high-90s heater, potentially plus curve, and the spot-on command with which he utilizes both offerings. But then there are the stats.
As I write this, Syndergaard has 52 starts under his belt* as a professional. I decided it would be a lark to jump in the Wayback Machine and take a look at how Harvey and Wheeler both fared through the same amount of minor league starts.
Now obviously, this isn't a perfect comparison. For one, Harvey only ever made 46 minor league starts. There's also the idea of context; obviously there won't be any perfectly like-for-like matches when comparing the amount of time spent at each level. But we're not splitting the atom here -- just having some fun looking at how awesome a trio of really awesome pitchers were in the minors.
Out of sheer reverence we'll start with Matt Harvey. As previously mentioned, Harvey made only 46 starts in the minors before being called up to The Show. Not worlds away from Syndergaard's 52 so we'll move forward with the comparison intact. But it's not surprising considering that Harvey is the only college pitcher of the group -- an important fact when considering that idea of context.
Matt Harvey's ERA after 46 starts: 3.48
And for posterity let's take a drilled-down look at how those starts were distributed.
Triple-A (20 starts - 43%): 4.53
Double-A (12 starts - 26%): 3.68
Single-A (14 starts - 30%): 2.37
Next we'll take a look at Wheeler. This is a much closer comparison; if not apples-to-apples, at least papaya-to-mango. The two were both prep products, pitched similar percentages of their minor league careers at the same levels, and even did so at similar ages. Both were even acquired by the club in blockbuster trades.
In total, Wheeler made 73 minor league starts. His first 52 came almost perfectly across Low-A, Advanced-A, and Double-A. Unlike Harvey, Wheeler was featured out of the bullpen a few times during the span of those first 52 starts -- so obviously we'll filter out those appearances before parsing the numbers.
Zack Wheeler's ERA after 52 starts: 3.43
Pretty close to Harvey's totals -- with the qualifier that these starts happened at lower levels.
Double-A (17 starts - 33%): 3.26
Advanced-A (22 starts - 43%): 3.46
Low-A (13 starts - 25%): 4.35
Finally, let's see where Noah Syndergaard currently stands after 52 starts. Like Wheeler, Syndergaard pitched in relief a few times during his career so we'll filter those data out.
Noah Syndergaard's ERA after 52 starts: 2.14
Obviously, that's pretty darn good. Better, in fact, than what Wheeler and Harvey did in their same samples. Here was the breakdown:
Double-A (5 starts - 10%): 2.16
Advanced-A (12 starts - 23%): 3.11
Low-A (21 starts - 40%): 1.61
Short Season-A (4 starts - 8%): 2.00
Rookie-Level (10 starts - 20%): 1.93
Again, is this the perfect comparison? No. Context is a major factor when evaluating a prospect and it's sort of on a sliding scale here. We also know that ERA can be a rather blunt tool at times.
I, however, like to think of this as a directional exercise that gives us a directional idea of how we should think of Noah Syndergaard going forward. Is he definitely better or worse than either Harvey or Wheeler? We can't really say that. But what we can say with a rising degree of certainty is that he belongs right alongside those two when we discuss the reasons why the Mets will compete again in the future.
*See? Like scouts, I have trouble keeping it clean when discussing the Mets' newest top prospect.