The New York Mets’ season is over, but Noah Syndergaard did his best to keep it alive in the National League Wild Card game on Wednesday night at Citi Field. He was simply dominant as he shut out the Giants for seven innings. He struck out ten, walked three, and allowed only two hits. Perhaps the game would have ended differently if Terry Collins had stuck with him past the seventh inning, but the decision to go to Addison Reed for the eighth and Jeurys Familia for the ninth was perfectly reasonable at the time.
By Syndergaard’s standards, three walks was a relatively high total, which merely speaks to how good he’s been thus far in his major league career. In thirty starts during the regular season this year, he walked three hitters just four times. He walked four hitters once. But Syndergaard’s Wild Card start was more impressive, relative to his norms, when it came to hits allowed. The recently-turned 24-year-old gave up two hits in just three of his starts during the regular season, one of which was the short one that he left early after his velocity took a large dip in the third inning. Even in the context of a great season—one that should have had him among the names in the Cy Young discussion—Syndergaard’s lone postseason start was among his very best.
The velocity readings are always impressive for Syndergaard, and this start was no different. He averaged 97.7 miles per hour with his four-seam fastball and 98.3 with his sinker—or “two-seam fastball” if you prefer that terminology—according to Brooks Baseball. His slider averaged 91.7, his changeup 89.3, and his curve 83.8 miles per hour. It wasn’t his hardest-throwing game of the year by any means, but clearly he was throwing hard enough.
What set the start apart from all of that other starts in Syndergaard’s career was his reliance upon the sinker. Of the 108 pitches he threw, 69 of them were sinkers. That’s 63.9%, by far the highest percentage of the time he used the pitch in his major league career.
That’s not quite the drastic change in approach that Matt Carpenter rolled out at the plate on the last day of the regular season, but it was different from what Giants hitters might have expected going into the game. Syndergaard got two swings-and-missed with the pitch in the first inning and four more in the second. So it’s understandable that he stuck with it, and he finished with 13 swinging strikes with the sinker. He’d never even come close to that many swinging strikes with his sinker before.
It stands to reason that he’d get more whiffs with the pitch since he used it a lot more than he typically does, but his 18.84% swinging strike rate with it ranked third among all of his major league starts.
After the sinker, Syndergaard threw 17 sliders, 9 changeups, 9 curveballs, and just 4 four-seam fastballs. By whiff rate, his changeup was the most effective at 44.4 percent, and his slider followed at 17.7%. The curveball came in at 11.1%, and none of the four-seam fastballs he threw generated swinging strikes. Given that sort of dominance, it’s almost surprising that he only struck out ten Giants hitters in the game.
For a Mets franchise with a rich pitching history, dominant performances are nothing new, especially in the years that the team has made the postseason. But Syndergaard’s start was still among the very best. By game score, a Bill James metric devised to compare starting pitching performances, Syndergaard’s start tied Tom Seaver’s ten-inning performance in Game 4 of the 1969 World Series for the fourth-best postseason start in Mets history. Syndergaard and Seaver would be tied for fifth in that regard if Al Leiter’s shutout in the 1999 Wild Card tie-breaker—good for a game score of 86—were considered a part of the postseason rather than the regular season.
But officially speaking, here’s the rundown of the Mets’ top ten postseason starts as measured by game score, which isn’t flawless but works well as a baseline comparison.
- Jon Matlack, Game 2, 1973 NLCS: 9.0 IP, 0 R, 9 K, 3 BB, 2 H, 89 game score
- Mike Hampton, Game 5, 2000 NLCS: 9.0 IP, 0 R, 8 K, 1 BB, 3 H, 88 game score
- Bobby Jones, Game 4, 2000 NLDS: 9.0 IP, 0 R, 5 K, 2 BB, 1 H, 88 game score
- Noah Syndergaard, 2016 Wild Card Game: 7.0 IP, 0 R, 10 K, 3 BB, 2 H, 80 game score
- Tom Seaver, Game 4, 1969 World Series: 10.0 IP, 1 R, 6 K, 2 BB, 6 H, 80 game score
- Jacob deGrom, Game 1, 2015 NLDS: 7.0 IP, 0 R, 13 K, 1 BB, 5 H, 79 game score
- Jon Matlack, Game 4, 1973 World Series: 8.0 IP, 1 R, 5 K, 2 BB, 3 H, 77 game score
- Jerry Koosman, Game 2, 1969 World Series: 8.2 IP, 1 R, 4 K, 3 BB, 2 H, 77 game score
- Tom Seaver, Game 1, 1973 NLCS: 8.2 IP, 2 R, 13 K, 0 BB, 6 H, 76 game score
- David Cone, Game 6, 1988 NLCS: 9.0 IP, 1 R, 6 K, 3 BB, 5 H, 76 game score
Syndergaard was no slouch in the 2015 postseason, either, as the Mets won the National League pennant and ultimately lost the World Series to the Royals. In total, he’s now thrown 26.0 innings in the postseason. He’s struck out 36, walked 11, and has a 2.42 ERA.
The Mets have enough other good pitchers that Syndergaard might not be the obvious candidate to start the first game of a playoff series a year from now, should the team make it back to that point. But given the uptick in his performance, both during the regular season and in the outstanding Wild Card start, it is hard to imagine at this moment that anyone else could convincingly make that case in a year’s time.