Putting an end to Noah Syndergaard’s Struggles

The New York Mets are in the midst of another up-and-down season, currently sitting at .500 (26-26) and coming in at third place in the NL East Division. After getting off to a solid 9-4 start, the Mets have dropped twenty-two of their last 39 games. Things have begun to pick up as of late. New York has won six of their last seven contests (swept Washington in a four game set and took two out of three against Detroit). The offense has been respectable (18th in the majors with 239 runs scored) for the most part, with Michael Conforto (nine home runs, twenty-one runs driven in, and a .402 OBP) and Pete Alonso (seventeen home runs and 38 runs driven in) being the two standout contributors, and the bullpen has been alright (20th in the majors with a 4.39 ERA). Closer Edwin Diaz is pitching at a very high level (1.71 ERA and 14.57 K/9) right now, as is Seth Lugo (3.12 ERA and 11.77 K/9) and Robert Gsellman (3.41 ERA and 8.81 K/9). The starting rotation finds itself in a similar boat to the offense and bullpen: it is hovering around average (18th in the majors with a 4.52 ERA). Many anticipated the Mets rotation to be the strong suit of this team; that however, has proven not to be the case. Noah Syndergaard and his struggles are one big reason why.

Through eleven starts (69.1 innings pitched), Syndeergaard has put up an alarming 4.93 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP (career high ERA: 3.24 [2015]; career high WHIP: 1.21 [2018]). His strikeout rate is only 9.35 (K/9), which seems low for a pitcher who throws as hard as Syndergaard does (98.2 average fastball velocity [FanGraphs]: highest in the majors among qualified starting pitchers). Walks have never been an issue for Noah (career 2.01 BB/9). First, let’s take a look at how hitters are faring against each of Syndergaard’s offerings (all stats below according to FanGraphs)…

Fourseam Fastball

  • SwStr%: 9.8
  • AVG: .266
  • SLG: .375
  • LD%: 29.2

Sinker

  • SwStr%: 5.9
  • AVG: .361
  • SLG: .590
  • LD%: 24.6

Slider

  • SwStr%: 14.8
  • AVG: .268
  • SLG: .512
  • LD%: 11.5

Curveball

  • SwStr%: 16.4
  • AVG: .188
  • SLG: .375
  • LD%: 11.1

Changeup

  • SwStr%: 19.8
  • AVG: .183
  • SLG: .267
  • LD%: 24.4

Based on the stats from above, one can reasonably conclude that Syndergaard’s changeup and curveball have been his two strongest pitches this season, while his sinker is lagging behind the most (his fastball is not to far behind). For that reason, you’d expect to see a fair amount of off-speed pitches from Syndergaard (and way more fourseam fastballs than sinkers). Surprisingly, that’s not been the case so far this season…

  • Fourseam fastball: 31.2%
  • Sinker: 28.3%
  • Slider: 13.1%
  • Curveball: 9.6%
  • Changeup: 17.7%

Hitters are absolutely crushing his sinker, but he’s still throwing it nearly 30% of the time. Hitters are slugging .590 against the pitch. That SLG percentage is higher than that of Peter Alonso (.587), Anthony Rizzo (.587), and even Mike Trout (.580).

Video courtesy of Baseball Savant

His sinker is clearly very straight and doesn’t seem to drop much (it honestly looks a slower version of his fourseamer). While his sinker does indeed get more gloveside run and vertical drop, it seems as though the differential between the movement on his fourseam fastball and sinker is minimal.

Here’s a look at a sinker thrown by Reds reliever Jared Hughes (whose sinker is widely considered excellent)…

Additionally, Hughes’ sinker drops an average of over ten inches lower than his fourseam fastball (per Brooks Baseball), which is three times the margin compared to Syndergaard. But in actuality, what’s more problematic than the movement on his sinker is where he is locating it…

Heatmap per FanGraphs

Based on this heat map, hitters are most likely to see a sinker right down the middle (10.5%; more than any other place in and out of the zone).

If I’m Noah Syndergaard and the Mets, I stop throwing sinkers, period (maybe once and while just to change things up). Here’s the pitch frequencies I would advocate for…

  • Fourseam fastball: 45%
  • Sinker: 5%
  • Changeup: 20%
  • Curveball: 17.5%
  • Slider: 12.5%

If this mix proves to be an issue as well, then it could be a good idea for Syndergaard to explore the addition of a new pitch, potentially a cutter or maybe a split-finger fastball (splitter).

If the Mets want to go anywhere this season and make some noise in the playoffs (if they get there of course), Noah Syndergaard is going to have to make some adjustments and find his game again.

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