The reasons why New York Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard is a prolific pitcher in the modern-day major leagues.
Last season, New York Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard didn’t exactly maximize his talents to full potential. The veteran pitcher finished with a 10-8 record, a 4.28 ERA, and a 1.234 WHIP. This led to speculation he would be traded this offseason, much like the rumors that arose around last July’s trade deadline.
But what makes Thor valuable is his overall presence on this current Mets rotation, despite it being one that includes two Cy Young Award winners. Yes, there are advantages and disadvantages to employing Syndergaard. Nonetheless, both sides contribute to why he’s a prolific pitcher in this league.
Mets dilemma: Noah Syndergaard is too valuable to trade and too expensive to keep
The Mets have a difficult decision to make. Should they keep Syndergaard for a 2020 pennant chase or deal him while he commands maximum trade value? With a surplus of starting pitchers and his unrestricted free agency status lurking in 2022, a critical decision needs to be made.
Noah “Thor” Syndergaard is the ultimate wild card challenge for the New York Mets. His supporters believe that he will become a lights out ace, win twenty games, and compete with teammate Jacob deGrom for the Cy Young Award. His detractors expect him to be a disappointment and revert to his 2019 performance when he had a 10-8 record, 4.28 ERA and offered up 24 gopher balls. What are the Mets to do? The clock is ticking. Tick-tock, tick-tock.
Syndergaard is an enigma
Syndergaard is a maddening puzzle. He is a pitching diva with too few chart-topping hits. Yet, with his flowing blond locks, leading man good looks, and action hero nickname, he is almost too good to be true.
Thor could be the product of an ingenious science experiment to create the perfect pitcher. He’s a 6-foot-5, 240-pound volcano of weight lifting might, baseball thunderbolts, and verbal lava. At times, he looks and acts like the Marvel Comics creation, Thor Odinson, the mythical superhero son of Odin – the All-Father of the Asgardians. At other times, he seems like a narcissistic prima donna. He actually has two personas, the Good Thor and the Bad Thor.
The good Thor
Noah electrified Mets fans in 2015 when he arrived in the majors with his 100 mph fastball. He pitched to a 9-7 record and won the only game in the 2015 World Series against the Kansas City Royals. He came in fourth place in the MLB Rookie of the Year voting. He also proved to be a dangerous hitter with a three-hit game and multiple home runs. He looked like a sure-fire superstar.
In fact, his baseball future looked brighter than Jacob deGrom’s as Noah was named opening day starting pitcher in 2017 and 2018. He finished an injury impacted 2018 season with a 13-4 record, 3.04 ERA and a 4.0 WAR (Wins Above Replacement). One danger sign did arise. He led the major leagues in this injury-shortened season by giving up 32 stolen bases in 36 attempts.
The bad Thor
In 2019, while his flame-throwing gifts remained intact, Thor regressed. He led baseball pitchers in three key negative statistics that sabotaged both his and the team’s success He literally couldn’t field, couldn’t hit and couldn’t hold baserunners. Even his WAR dropped from 4.0 to 2.2.
What happened? Did Noah’s petulant antics to challenge Met management to “Pay the man,” in supporting deGrom combined with a demand to have a personal catcher in Tomas Nido sap his mojo? Actually, there is more to the story. Noah’s baseball fundamentals betrayed him.
Last season, Noah’s batting average dropped to .092, including 47 strikeouts in 65 at-bats. He had zero sacrifice bunts. He gave up 42 stolen bases in 45 attempts, yielding a pathetic seven percent of runners thrown out. Compounding matters, he issued fifty walks and gave up 125 singles. In essence, he gifted 175 EZ-PASS invitations for baserunners to land on second base.
It would be convenient to blame his fall to mediocracy on a lousy bullpen and a weak defensive catcher. It’s true that starting catcher Wilson Ramos gave up 94 stolen bases while throwing out just seventeen or fifteen percent of opposing baserunners. This weak performance, combined with poor pitch framing, made him a defensive liability. However, Ramos was a major offensive contributor with his .288 batting average that ranked among the highest catcher production in baseball. So what’s the answer?
Can Thor improve?
Yes and no. Thor’s full-body torque allows him to summon superhuman speed on his pitches. This motion also glacially slows down his delivery to the plate. Can he correct this flaw?
He’s tried, and the answer is no. To change his pitching motion further would be like teaching a Clydesdale to dance Salsa. Picture that!
Noah doesn’t need to throw a 200 mph fastball to improve. He needs to invest in his craft by working hard to become a more fundamentally sound baseball player. Better fielding, hitting to make contact, limiting baserunners, and reducing stolen bases will change his performance from mediocre to meteoric. He also needs help in getting a superior defensive catcher who can keep baserunners honest while delivering decent hit production.
The solution isn’t keeping his favorite catcher, Tomas Nido (.178 batting average), unless the backstop recaptures his hitting stroke. Despite Syndergaard’s bromance with Tomas, the anemic combination of having these two hitless wonders in the lineup is devastating. In fact, getting virtually no production from both the eighth and ninth hole in the lineup literally takes the bat out of the hands of the seven-hitter. This lineup weakness translates into losing thirty-three percent of the team’s offensive production. You can’t compete with the division-winning Atlanta Braves, World Series Champion Washington Nationals, and retooled Philadelphia Philly’s with a significant hole in the lower third of the batting order. Another matter complicates Syndergaard’s good standing with the Wilpon’s, Brody Van Wagenen, and future owner Steve Cohen.
Biting the hands that feed him
We all remember when Noah challenged the Mets management to “Pay the Man” in supporting his Cy Young award-winning teammate, deGrom. Looking back, was this a thinly veiled attempt to get his own contract extension? Can you blame him? It was a win-win strategy. Help a teammate and help himself.
Syndergaard isn’t a villain, no matter how hard he tries to claim that title. He’s cunningly smart by paying forward for a future $100 million-plus payday. His teammates loved his rebel-with-a-cause antics. The Mets hierarchy and specifically the Wilpons were infuriated. Many Mets fans thought he was biting the hand that fed him. Regardless of the reactions from supporters and detractors, Noah made a calculated bet and won. Here’s why:
Syndergaard is a steal
With a 2020 salary of $9.7 million, Syndergaard (age 27) is a steal. He is arbitration-eligible in 2021 and a free agent in 2022. Let’s look at some comparable pitchers and salaries.
Zack Wheeler (age 29), who posted similar statistics last year (11-8 record, 3.96 ERA in 27 starts and 195 innings), scored a five year, $118 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies with an average salary of $23.6 million. Noah’s teammate Jacob deGrom (age 31), arguably the best pitcher in baseball, was rewarded with a five year, $135.5 million contract in May of 2019, averaging $27.5 million a year.
If Syndergaard has a similar year to Wheeler, he will command a contract at or above $25 million per year. If he has a career year and wins 20 games with improved baseball fundamentals, a superior bullpen, and a defensive catching solution, he could command a Gerrit Cole (age 29) level contract in the $324 million and $36 million a year range. Wow!
My bet is that Noah will improve in every category. Plus, despite his antics, he is a good guy with a big heart. He raises money for the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation to fight a disease that has affected his mother.
The Mets should lock up Syndergaard to a five-year extension somewhere above Wheeler’s deal and below deGrom’s. His age, arm talent, and untapped upside make Syndergaard perhaps the third most valuable Met after deGrom and Pete Alonso.
Clearly, you don’t trade a superhero who had a cameo role in Game of Thrones. Think of all the adoring fans who currently fill otherwise empty seats at Citi Field in costumes, blond wigs and sporting magical hammers. Where would they go if their hero departs?
Finally, you don’t trade a god for mere mortals. This sin would violate the Marvel Comic code of protecting superheroes. The Mets must keep Thor. You don’t want to make fans or the gods angry.
Byline: Richard Dodd is a lifelong New York Mets fan and launched the MetsWhisperer website and blog. He is a published author. His personal essays have been placed in the NY Daily News, Newsday, and The Huffington Post. He volunteers and leads tours at the September 11 Memorial site. He can be contacted at [email protected] and www.metswhisperer.com.