Noah Syndergaard will enter the 2019 season as a member of the New York Mets, something that was not a foregone conclusion over the winter.
Early on this offseason, Brodie Van Wagenen seemed particularly determined to land Miami Marlins’ All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto, a move which required some creativity given Miami’s exorbitant and, quite frankly, asinine asking price. It was at this moment that rumors began to focus on the Mets entertaining a three-team deal that involved clubs like the San Diego Padres and the New York Yankees, with Realmuto coming to the Mets and Syndergaard going to the third participant. A one-for-one swap was also discussed and promptly shot down by New York. In the end, Syndergaard remained in orange and blue.
To his credit, Syndergaard — whose social media presence has become a big part of his overall brand — seemed to have fun with it. In the midst of all the chatter, the hard-throwing right-hander pivoted away from his ongoing feud with Mr. Met and set his sights on SNY with a Twitter bio that read “SNY is trying to trade me”. The move poked fun the team’s broadcast company for continuously pushing stories centered around a Syndergaard trade. With no trade materializing, Syndergaard eventually switched his bio to “SNY decided to keep me”, and normalcy returned.
With that, it’s time to focus on Syndergaard the pitcher. Overall, Thor had a fine 2018 across the board (154.1 innings, 155 Ks, 3.03 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 9.04 K/9, 2.27 BB/9, 0.52 HR/9, 4.2 fWAR). Among National League starters who registered at least 150 innings, he finished tenth in strikeout rate (24.1%) and walk rate (6.1%), eighth in ERA and fWAR, and fourth in FIP. However, he was hindered by injuries for a second consecutive season, which prevented him from matching or surpassing his All-Star 2016 campaign (183.2 innings, 218 Ks, 2.60 ERA, 2.29 FIP, 10.68 K/9, 2.11 BB/9, 0.54 HR/9, 6.3 fWAR), when he led all qualifying National League starters in FIP and fWAR and finished third in ERA. If he can sidestep injuries in 2019, there’s reason to believe he can attain those numbers again.
Coming off a 2017 season in which he made only seven starts — all but three innings came prior to suffering a partial tear of his right lat muscle in April — Syndergaard started 2018 with a solid month of April before struggling a bit in May. After his start on May 25, he sported a 3.06 ERA and 2.60 FIP while opposing batters were hitting .250/.299/.364 against him — again, respectable numbers all-around.
That’s when the injury bug bit Syndergaard and disrupted his season. It began with a strained finger ligament which cost him six weeks, quickly followed by a bout of hand, foot, and mouth disease. He returned to have his worst month in August, posting a 4.64 ERA and a much more palatable 2.74 FIP in 38 innings.
Syndergaard excelled in September and bookmarked the final month with two impressive complete game victories — the first two of his career. He sported a sparkling 1.74 ERA in September, although he FIP settled in at 3.24 thanks in part to the allowing a season-high three home runs while walking a season-high 14 in his six starts that month. Still, closing out the year with a complete-game, five-hit shutout at home while tossing just 101 pitches gave the team and its fans reason to believe that the best is yet to come.
Syndergaard was able to work far more efficiently in the season’s final month, averaging less per inning (14) than he did in the previous five months (16) and generally pitching deeper into games. His improved overall numbers in September coincide with a steep drop in BABIP, which registered at .241 in September after coming in at .350 through August 31. This could speak to better defense and more luck behind him than anything. On the season, Syndergaard also allowed the lowest Hard% among all starting pitchers in baseball with 21.9% while coming in with the second-best soft% (25.3%) behind Boston’s Chris Sale, so while his final numbers weren’t elite, there’s still plenty of positives to take away from his solid season.
Curiously, his strikeout numbers were down — he closed the year out with a 24.1% strikeout rate, as compared to 29.3% in 2016 and 27.4% in 2017 — which is something worth watching in 2019. In total, he only registered three double-digit strikeout performances, two of which came in the season’s opening month. His velocity on his hard pitches also dipped from the previous two seasons, although not dramatically enough that it should warrant concern.
Syndergaard also allowed the most stolen bases of any pitcher in baseball, a problem that has reared its ugly head throughout his career. His difficulty with holding runners on has been discussed ad nauseum, but it’s something worth noting when discussing his body of work. In total, he allowed 32 stolen bases, topping his teammate Steven Matz, who allowed 28. Since his debut, 97 out of 112 base runners have stolen successfully against Syndergaard, an alarming 86.6% success rate for the runner. The club did sign veteran catcher Wilson Ramos this offseason, who threw out 30% of base runners in 2019 compared to 21.1% thrown out by the five catchers the Mets used. Having a veteran like Ramos behind the plate could be a great benefit to the talented, but still young, Syndergaard.
In looking ahead, Steamer’s projections for Syndergaard aren’t all that kind, as they forsee Syndergaard finishing 2019 with a 3.50 ERA and 3.29 FIP — both would represent career highs — while making 29 starts and tossing 176.0 innings. They are also predicting a 9.32 K/9 — a slight improvement on his 2018 number — but a 2.34 BB/9, which would surpass his career-worst mark from 2018. In total, they see Syndergaard being worth a 3.6 fWAR. PECOTA’s projections are a little more flattering in terms of ERA (3.02) and K/9 (10.02), but they have Syndergaard posting a 2.46 BB/9. PECOTA is anticipating that Syndergaard will finish with a 3.2 WARP.
For Syndergaard to follow in Jacob deGrom’s footsteps and become a Cy Young contender, he will need to work on recapturing the excellent command and pitch location he displayed in 2016 and the early part of 2017. Prior to suffering his injury in 2017, he had not walked a batter. He finished the year with three walks in 30.1 innings and was well on his way to posting elite-level numbers for the full season. This is something that can help him reclaim that dominance in 2019.
While Marvel’s Thor will be busy helping the rest of the Avengers defeat Thanos this April, the Mets’ Thor will enter April looking to build on the positives from last season to help guide the Mets back into the postseason. If he can take the next step — like deGrom did — and become the elite starting pitcher that the team and its fans have been waiting for, 2019 could be a special year.