The spotlight shone on the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets last night. A major sports network televised the Pacific Coast League matchup between the Las Vegas 51s and the Sacramento River Cats, a game won by Sacramento in extra innings. There was a lot for a Mets fan to digest, such as fine performances by shortstop Matt Reynolds and catcher Kevin Plawecki, who were recently promoted from Double-A Binghamton. Heck, even former Met Doug Flynn resurfaced to provide analysis for the broadcast team. But the centerpiece of the game was Noah Syndergaard.
Syndergaard, as you know by now, was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays along with Travis d’Arnaud for 2012 Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey. Syndergaard’s fastball can touch 97 or 98 mph and he has a great curveball, but he has struggled so far in Triple-A. He has a bloated 5.35 ERA and has walked 23 batters in 69 innings. What is Syndergaard doing wrong, and how can he improve?
Acknowledging that this analysis is based strictly on last night’s game, here are some observations. Syndergaard was heavily reliant on his fastball, and that was fine the first time through the order. But even advanced minor leaguers will start to hit a guy who becomes predictable. The right-hander kept going to the well in any and every situation. No matter the count or the number of runners on base, Syndergaard threw the fastball, and eventually, he got hit.
On the rare occasion that he did throw his curveball, it looked wonderful. One can see why Mets manager Terry Collins described the pitch as “a hook from hell.” Syndergaard was able to throw it for a strike when he needed to and throw it out of the zone to get a chase. It looks like the kind of pitch he can throw on almost any count, and if he wants to reach the next level, he should start doing so. 1980s phenom Dwight Gooden had a mid-nineties fastball, but he used his outstanding curveball frequently to balance it out. Syndergaard should do the same.
Syndergaard has also had trouble with his command this year, and last night may have provided an example why. When his fastball starts to get hit, he tries to nibble the corners with it and often misses. He doesn’t necessarily miss by much, but if he has an umpire with a small strike zone, he’s going to get hurt.
In order to reach the next level, Syndergaard has to trust his stuff. He has to throw his curve more, in any count, and in turn, his fastball will be more devastating. When his fastball is more devastating, he won’t need to try to nibble with it. He needs to work on these things before he can make his debut for the Mets this year.