Coming off a season in which the Mets’ starting rotation was a liability despite having Jacob deGrom at the top of it, it’s hard not to dream on the potential that the 2021 rotation has. And the ideal version of that rotation includes Noah Syndergaard, who remains on track to return from Tommy John surgery sometime in the middle of the season.
Since the start of his major league career in 2015, Syndergaard has been one of the best pitchers in baseball, something that seems to get lost on some of even the most dedicated observers of Major League Baseball. Among the 77 pitchers who have thrown at least 600 innings since the beginning of the 2015 season, Syndergaard ranks 10th with a 3.31 ERA.
From the top, that list consists of Clayton Kershaw, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Cory Kluber, Gerrit Cole, Kyle Hendricks, Chris Sale, Syndergaard, Dallas Keuchel, and Jake Arrieta. Six of those pitchers have won at least one Cy Young Award over that span, and eight of them have won at least one Cy Young over the course of their own careers.
If you bump that eligibility down to 400 innings pitched since the start of the 2015 season, Syndergaard still fares very well, ranking 14th out of 142 starting pitchers by ERA. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Rich Hill, Mike Clevinger, and Blake Snell are the new names ahead of Syndergaard on that list. And like the aforementioned eight pitchers, Snell also has a Cy Young to his name.
If there’s a reason that people might be down on Syndergaard, it is that his 2019 season didn’t go particularly well. While he pitched 197.2 innings, a career high for him in a single season, he had an abnormally high 4.28 ERA and 3.60 FIP. In terms of velocity, strikeout rate, and walk rate, Syndergaard was basically the same pitcher he had been in 2018, a season he finished with a 3.03 ERA and 2.80 FIP. But home runs were much more of an issue in 2019, as they were for many pitchers, with Syndergaard’s rate more than doubling from 0.52 allowed per nine innings in 2018 to 1.09 per nine in 2019. And while 7.8 percent of the fly balls he allowed in 2018 turned into home runs, 13.3 percent of them did in 2019.
It’s difficult to isolate exactly what kind of effect the juiced baseball that was used during the 2019 season had on each pitcher who used it, as some pitchers continued to excel while others saw massive spikes in the rate at which they gave up home runs. But if everything else about Syndergaard looks normal when he returns to the mound and his home run rate reverts to pre-2019 form, it would be reasonable to chalk up some of his relative struggles in that season to the ball, which Major League Baseball is said to be deadening for the 2021 season despite never having admitted to juicing it two years ago.
Recovery from Tommy John surgery is incredibly common for major league pitchers at this point, but it’s worth mentioning that it isn’t guaranteed. Thus far, though, everything has been going smoothly for Syndergaard, and if he returns to form when he gets back on a major league mound, he could be right back up among the best pitchers in baseball. Still just 28 years old, he could very well join the pitchers who have been his peers in winning a Cy Young or two of his own. And it would be great to see the Mets retain him beyond this season, his last one under team control, both for his ability on the mound and on Twitter.