MLB, New York Mets

Don’t fret about Noah Syndergaard

The Mets pitcher may be struggling on the surface, but his “struggles” may be overblown.

The New York Mets are currently still in the hunt for a division title in the NL East. However long that hunt actually lasts is up to them. Their pitching staff is one of the most talented in all of baseball. Their top three guys, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler are probably as good if not better than any other three-man crew in baseball.

After tripping up a bit in April, deGrom is back to his usual untouchable self. Wheeler has been alright, with a 3-2 record and a 4.35 ERA. As for Syndergaard, things get a little bit tricky. On the surface he hasn’t pitched as well as the Mets need him to and it’s making fans concerned about him. If you get past the ERA and HR/9, things aren’t quite as bad as they may seem.

Right now Syndergaard sits at a 4.74 ERA with a 1.228 WHIP. His WHIP is essentially the same as it was last year when he was 13-4, and everybody was happy with his performance. He’s run into multiple problems this season and some of them are out of his control.

Over his first six starts, essentially everything that was put in play against him ended up being a hit. He surrendered an .827 OPS to opposing batters, and he surrendered a BABIP of .385. It is rare for pitchers to give up such a high BABIP, because it shows that the defense behind Syndergaard isn’t turning hit balls into outs.

In his last three starts, Syndergaard’s numbers have regressed back to “normal”. He’s only surrendered a .586 OPS and his BABIP is down to .241, which means the defense behind him has started making plays for him.

According to Baseball Savant, we shouldn’t even be having this conversation. This is where Syndergaard’s poor luck comes into play. Of pitchers with a minimum of 150 plate appearances he’s 19th in xBA, 15th in xSLG and 9th in xwOBA. The difference between his actual BA, SLG and wOBA and his expected numbers are incredibly high. He has the second-highest difference between when it comes to BA and SLG and the highest difference in wOBA.

The pitchers ahead of him in expected numbers include Chris Sale, Justin Verlander, Blake Snell and Gerrit Cole, who are all in the ace category. Syndergaard’s differentials are 20 or more points higher than those named above, which seems impossible given that he’s 14th in average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage. Add in the fact that his barrels per plate appearance percentage is the sixth-lowest in the league and you’ll find yourself sitting back and asking how in the world is this happening?

Is there a fix for this?

In the short term, yes, and it’s simple enough. Syndergaard just keep doing what he’s been doing in the last three starts. The Mets defense has started to help him out, and he’s done his part in only allowing two extra-base hits in his opponents last 82 at-bats. It will also help that the kind of poor luck he had doesn’t last over a full season and that his numbers will get better simply due to the law of averages.

Long-term, he should throw his four-seam fastball less and throw his slider more. Granted, it will be hard to throw his four-seamer less considering his sinker has been getting smashed all season long. It’s really been his only bad pitch.

The xBA against his slider is a whopping .167, but his actual BA against the pitch is .270. The stark difference between the two is probably due to his slider velocity dropping from last season even though the spin rate has increased. He’s also effectively stopped throwing his slider to left-handed batters and started throwing his change-up to them.

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That makes sense: sliders break away from a right-handed batter and the change-up breaks away from a lefty. But considering his slider is hit the second softest outside his curveball that he’s only thrown 77 times all season, there’s no reason why Syndergaard shouldn’t throw a pitch that produces a strikeout and is whiffed on 30 percent of the time it’s thrown.

Mets fans were worried about Syndergaard through his first six starts and some of it was justifiable. But throughout the season, his numbers have shown that what was happening over those six starts was not normal and wasn’t going to continue, and his last three starts help bolster that argument. Hopefully this stretch of good pitching continues, because the Mets need him.

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