With Mets pitchers and catchers officially reporting to spring training this morning, there are bound to be plenty of minor updates over the next few weeks. One of the first: Noah Syndergaard wants to throw harder in 2017 than he has in the past.
Considering he averaged 98.86 miles per hour on his four-seam fastball last year, according to Brooks Baseball, an increase almost seems unfathomable. While different systems measure pitch velocity slightly differently, Statcast and FanGraphs had Syndergaard as the hardest-throwing starting pitcher in baseball in 2016. Generally speaking, pitchers lose velocity as they age—even at young ages—as Eno Sarris explained in depth back in 2014.
Still just 24 years old, Syndergaard has bucked that trend already. Brooks had his four-seam fastball at an average of 97.76 miles per hour in 2015, 1.10 miles per hour slower than he threw in 2016. Just taking those two points and drawing the “if these trends continue” conclusion would be wrong, of course, and back-to-back increases in fastball velocity are a rarity among even the hardest-throwing pitchers.
Nathan Eovaldi pulled off the feat over the past three seasons, as his fastball dipped a bit to 96.77 in 2014 before reaching a then-career-high 97.58 in 2015 and 97.99 in 2016. Those three years were his age-24, -25, and -26 seasons, respectively. That velocity never made him particularly effective, and late last summer, he underwent Tommy John surgery, which is probably a fear in the back of the minds of Mets fans.
But in terms of that velocity increase, Eovaldi at least showed that it was possible to do it. With an already-freakish track record in the big leagues, maybe Syndergaard can pull it off, too.