Noah Syndergaard was a bit of an enigma this season. He showed flashes of his past dominance, but there were also missteps, weaknesses, and injuries that led to a bit of an uneven season for the righty.
The offseason did not get off to the best start for Syndergaard, who was very vocal in his support for pitching coach Dan Warthen who, in anticipation of a new manager, was let go. Eventually, he replaced by Dave Eiland. Syndergaard embraced the change and impressed his new coaches enough that he was named the Opening Day starter, although a minor back issue for Jacob deGrom also influenced that decision.
When March 29 came along, Syndergaard appeared to hit the ground running. He struck out ten Cardinal batters in the Mets 9-4 win. At the end of April he was 2-0 with a 2.86 ERA. He struck out 46 batters in 34.2 innings pitched and opposing batters hit just .226/.257/.353 against him.
However, there were warning signs in the first month of the season. His average four-seam fastball velocity was down, and the stolen bases were already starting to pile up. In May, things turned south a bit for him. He wasn’t striking out as many batters, and not going as deep into games. To make matters worse, his new pitching coach unnecessarily took a shot at him, although he did clarify his statement shortly after.
Then came the news that Syndergaard had a finger injury, and he was placed on the 10-day DL. This injury left him out of action until the middle of July against the Nationals. It was a short five-inning outing where he only struck out three batters but, unlike poor Jacob deGrom, he picked up the win. He picked up the win in his next start too which came against the Yankees. A few days later, Syndergaard was diagnosed with hand, foot, and mouth disease and had to go on the disabled list once again.
When he returned in August, it was more of the same. The strikeouts were down and stolen bases were way up, culminating in an embarrassing performance against the Phillies were he allowed five stolen bases, one to catcher Jorge Alfaro and one to Maikel Franco, his first of the season. By the end of August, his ERA ballooned to 3.51 and batters were hitting .268/.316/.363 against him.
Perhaps it was the injury and the illness that never allowed him to get into a groove up to that point. His season, when compared to what his rotation-mates were accomplishing, did not look good. He was sporting a 9-3 record at that point and was certainly a solid pitcher, just not the dominant one fans were expecting.
In September, that all changed. He pitched two complete games to bookend the month. He picked up the first complete game of the season against the Giants in San Francisco and he put an exclamation point on the season when he pitched a complete game shutout against the Marlins. He also kept eventual World Series champions Boston off the board for seven innings in another start in September.
After a strong final month, he lowered his ERA to 3.03, which would have been good for seventh in the league if he had enough innings to qualify among the leaders. However, his 9.0 strikeouts per nine was the lowest of his career and his 2.3 walks per nine was the highest.
His four-seam fastball velocity remained down all season from its peak in 2016 and it did not generate as many whiffs as it had in years past, but the slider remained an effective pitch for him all season.
Syndergaard had an inconsistent season that looked quite different at various points. He was worth 4.0 bWAR at season’s end even after he produced career lows in a few categories-not counting his injury shortened 2017 season. The strikeouts were down, but he proved he was capable of putting together a strong performance without them.
Despite his struggles, Syndergaard is still a top of the rotation starter, and a cornerstone of the 2019 team. Hopefully, next season will feature fewer health issues and allow Syndergaard to continue his growth as one of the best pitchers in baseball.