Check the forecast in Queens for thunderstorms—Thor has his hammer back.
The Mets’ hard-throwing right-hander, Noah Syndergaard, has struggled mightily through much of the first half of the season. He posted what would be a career-high 4.71 ERA before the All-Star break; New York sat 13.5 games behind Atlanta in the NL East and seven games behind Philadelphia for the second wild card slot. And all the while, rumors and discussions about selling Syndergaard off to a contender are whirling, but some dread the prospect of dealing the 6’6” righty when his value was at its lowest.
Yet just as New York City has gotten oh so hot over the past two weeks, so too has Syndergaard. While the Padres, Yankees, and Astros have all been linked to him in the past, the Mets, however, have control over Syndergaard’s contract through 2021. And if things keep trending in the direction they are it, may behoove the Mets to turn their phone off and ride the lightning. Syndergaard has reclaimed his Mjolnir: his slider.
In his past two starts since the All-Star break, Syndergaard has gone seven innings twice, and he allowed just two runs in his first start and one in his second—and he didn’t allow a home run in either start. A great sign after his HR/9 swelled to 1.05 from .52 last season, even with 10 of his 19 starts coming in pitcher-friendly Citi Field.
Over the course of the season, Syndergaard has thrown far fewer sliders while making the difference up with a few more fastballs, curveballs, and changeups. This seems to be more a reaction to the results he was getting with the pitch rather than being a specific game plan. So far, Syndergaard has given up four home runs on sliders; last year, not one batter sent one of those pitches deep. This is in part because he’s averaging 88.8 mph on them this year, down from 92 mph last season, but also look at how many sliders have ended up in the middle of the plate this year as opposed to last:
Fortunately, if his past three starts are any indication of the rest of the season, Syndergaard has rediscovered his slider. The difference since the All-Star break has been night and day.
Although he didn’t factor into the decision in the Mets’ 16-inning loss to Madison Bumgardner in San Francisco, he went seven innings with six hits, one walk, one earned run, and eight strikeouts—four of which (his last four of the game) came on sliders.
It was the same story in his previous start against the Miami Marlins. Syndergaard gave up five hits and two runs through seven while striking out nine and not walking anyone. Early in the game, he finished batters with offspeed pitches; by the middle innings, he had recorded four strikeouts—three of them looking—with his four-seamer and his sinker. But once again, by the end of his start, he had recorded his final two strikeouts with 90 mph sliders.
“We saw it last game. It has the depth you want,” manager Mickey Callaway said of Syndergaard’s slider after the loss to San Fransico. “He’s feeling more and more confident with it. He kind of carried that over into today, and it was really good again.”
It’s been a small sample size, but it’s also exactly what Mets fans and fantasy owners would want to see. In his starts against the Giants and Marlins, Syndergaard had 16 swings and misses on his slider. In his previous 14 starts dating to April 15, he had a combined 17 swings and misses on that pitch.
Even his most recent start against San Diego, in which he gave up eight hits and four runs, Syndergaard looked better than he had before the break. He still had eight strikeouts over seven innings and settled in after a three-run third inning, although Fernando Tatis Jr. was able to double off a slider later on. But overall, there were positives to be found even in a loss.
The solution to Syndergaard’s issues came during a two-week stint on the IL after he was diagnosed with a right hamstring strain in mid-June. During that time, he worked on the pitch with the 82-year-old Phil Regan, then-interim pitching coach.
All those years of experience paid off when, as reported by Tim Healy of Newsday, they tweaked Syndergaard’s delivery. Regan explained that by placing his feet closer together as he comes set and begins his delivery, it is easier for Syndergaard to get his arm up earlier, which helps the slider’s movement and comes with the added bonus of speeding up his delivery preventing more stolen bases.
“When he throws a good slider, it’s (low 90s), that’s a strikeout pitch,” Regan said. “He needs that. He needs that to win. And he needs to command it.”
Syndergaard noticed the improvement immediately, telling Regan, “I haven’t had that slider all year,” after the win in Miami.
New York is reportedly coming around to the idea of trading Syndergaard. Cashing in on prospects may be their best move as he’s looked more like his old self in his last few starts and has under team control through 2021. The Mets can demand a major haul from teams looking to compete not just this year but for the next few seasons. Some teams that fit this description include the Astros, Twins, Padres, or even the Mets’ rivals, the Braves and Yankees.
Should these changes Syndergaard made with Regan stick, the Mets, the rest of the league, and fantasy owners alike can expect to see a version of Syndergaard that’s closer to the Cy Young candidate we saw in the past than the version that struggled early this season. This time Thor’s going for the head—metaphorically, of course.
(Photo by Bennett Cohen/Icon Sportswire)