Expectations were sky high for Noah Syndergaard coming into 2017. A year after breaking out as a legitimate ace and receiving significant down-ballot Cy Young votes, Thor came into camp having added muscle and expressing a desire to throw harder. During spring training and the early part of the season, that goal seemed totally in reach, as he posted some truly gaudy average velocities: 99.50 on his four-seam fastball, 98.81 on his two-seamer, and an absurd 93.09 on his slider. All of those velocities would have been the fastest among qualified starters by more than a full mile per hour.
With stuff like that, the Cy Young seemed very much in reach, but it was not to be. After missing a start with what was diagnosed as biceps tendinitis, Syndergaard refused to undergo an MRI. That proved to be a costly mistake, as he tore his right lat in his next start against the Nationals. The injury cost the 24-year-old almost the entire season.
There’s blame on both sides in this situation. Syndergaard was being nothing but stubborn and foolish by ignoring the advice of medical experts and refusing a non-invasive test. At the same time, the Mets needed to take control of that situation and ensure that arguably the most important part of their roster was healthy by whatever means they had at their disposal. There’s an argument to be made that the Mets’ medical staff botched the injury from the initial diagnosis, as well, as lat injuries are often misdiagnosed as biceps tendinitis.
Syndergaard made a couple of abbreviated starts at the end of the season, but his year effectively ended in April. In the 30.1 innings he did appear in, Syndergaard was filthy, running a K/9 over ten and a BB/9 under one, good for a 1.31 FIP. Project the 1.4 fWAR he posted in his brief season over a full 200-inning slate and Syndergaard is the most valuable pitcher in baseball by a wide margin (Chris Sale led the league at 7.7 fWAR). That’s obviously not a fair projection to make, but it does offer some context on just how good he was when he was on the field.
Heading towards next year, Syndergaard has expressed a desire to focus more on flexibility and cardio rather than brute force as he did last offseason. Perhaps that means somewhat less velocity, but losing half a tick on a 93 MPH slider really isn’t a huge problem. Hopefully his new training regimen will keep him healthy for a whole season. As long as he’s on the mound, Syndergaard will have a chance at a Cy Young, and the Mets will have a chance to return to the postseason.