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Noah Syndergaard should be in the Cy Young conversation

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Don’t be fooled by wins and ERA. Syndergaard is as good as any pitcher in the National League.

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New York Mets v Miami Marlins Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Mets fans have witnessed Noah Syndergaard’s dominance throughout the 2016 season. The righty has anchored a Mets rotation marred by injuries and leads his team in virtually every pitching category. By most objective metrics, he has also been among his league’s best pitchers.

Oddly, Syndergaard’s name has barely registered in the National League Cy Young discussion. The conventional wisdom—see this, this, this, this, and this—is that the award is down to a three-man race between Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Max Scherzer, with Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Clayton Kershaw, and the late Jose Fernandez hanging around the periphery. However, the numbers show—pretty convincingly—that Syndergaard is having as good a year as any of those pitchers and deserves to be in the conversation right alongside them.

By fielding-independent metrics, Syndergaard has been the NL’s best pitcher. Among qualified pitchers, the righty leads the league with a 2.28 FIP and a 55 FIP-. Kerhsaw leads Syndergaard in both categories, but will not qualify for the ERA title because of the significant time he missed to injury.

Syndergaard’s 10.68 K/9 ranks fourth in the league, his 2.11 BB/9 ranks eighth, and his 0.54 HR/9 ranks first. Among the Cy Young candidates mentioned earlier, only Fernandez and Scherzer have struck out more batters per nine, and only Cueto and Kendricks have walked fewer. Syndergaard’s 218 strikeouts are the fourth-most in the league, fewer than only those of Scherzer, Fernandez, and Bumgarner.

Syndergaard has also been elite when it comes to preventing runs. Among qualified pitchers, the right-hander’s 2.60 ERA and 65 ERA- are the third-best marks in the league. Only Hendricks and Lester lead him in those categories.

Player FIP Player ERA Player K Player K/9
Syndergaard 2.28 Hendricks 1.99 Scherzer 277 Fernandez 12.49
Fernandez 2.30 Lester 2.28 Fernandez 253 Ray 11.40
Cueto 3.03 Syndergaard 2.60 Bumgarner 246 Scherzer 11.16
Scherzer 3.16 Bumgarner 2.71 Syndergaard 218 Syndergaard 10.68

Syndergaard’s dominant performance has put him at the top of the leaderboards in WAR. Fangraphs’s version of WAR, which relies heavily on fielding-independent metrics, ranks Syndergaard as the best pitcher in the NL, alongside Kershaw. Baseball-Reference’s WAR, which uses run prevention as its baseline, ranks Syndergaard fifth. An average of the two WAR metrics places the Mets’ righty as the third-best pitcher in the league.

Player fWAR Player bWAR Player Average
Syndergaard 6.5 Scherzer 6.6 Scherzer 6.2
Kershaw 6.5 Lester 5.7 Kershaw 6.0
Fernandez 6.2 Cueto 5.5 Syndergaard 5.9
Scherzer 5.8 Kershaw 5.5 Cueto 5.3
Cueto 5.1 Syndergaard 5.3 Fernandez 5.3
Bumgarner 4.7 Roark 5.3 Lester 5.1
Lester 4.4 Hendricks 5.2 Bumgarner 4.9
Hendricks 4.4 Martinez 5.0 Hendricks 4.8
Strasburg 4.0 Bumgarner 5.0 Roark 4.2
Arrieta 3.8 Teheran 4.3 Martinez 4.0

One could make a credible Cy Young case for most of the pitchers on this list. Again, though, it’s strange that no one has even attempted to do that for Syndergaard. The only plausible explanation is that many in the baseball world still rely heavily on wins and ERA to evaluate pitchers. It’s no surprise that six of the seven Cy Young candidates mentioned have the six top spots on the NL’s wins leaderboard. Syndergaard’s 14 wins are fewer than those of 11 other pitchers. In fact, in the case of Hendricks, it’s nearly impossible to argue that he’s had a better year than Syndergaard unless you rely exclusively on wins and ERA.

The problem, of course, is that wins and ERA are team-dependent stats. Lester and Hendricks have the support of the best lineup in the National League. They also have the benefit of pitching with a historically good defense behind them. Had Syndergaard pitched with such strong offensive and defensive support, he’d very likely be at the top of the leaderboards in both wins and ERA.

This is why team-independent metrics are so valuable. If the goal is to recognize the best pitcher in the league, it’s important to identify the factors over which pitchers have control and to be wary of the ones over which they do not. By reliable and holistic metrics like FIP and WAR, Syndergaard is among the best pitchers—if not the best pitcher—in the league. It’s unfortunate that he is not being regarded that way.

Perhaps the writers will give Syndergaard a stronger look if the Mets clinch a Wild Card berth. Given that the right-hander is the only remaining ace-caliber pitcher of a rotation that was supposed to include Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler, Syndergaard’s “pitching the Mets to the postseason” may become a popular narrative that gains traction. However he gets recognition, it’s recognition well deserved, because Thor has quietly built a strong case to be this year’s National League Cy Young winner.