Noah Syndergaard has endeared himself to the legions of Met fans who tune in to every start he makes, hoping he turns in a brilliant performance and dazzles with double-digit strikeouts with his near triple-digit average fastball.
And while the man dubbed “Thor” has certainly hit the ground running since his major league debut back in May of 2015, there is one obstacle Syndergaard has yet to overcome, and that is holding runners on base.
Friday night’s 4-1 loss to the Washington Nationals is a perfect example of how his lack of holding runners on ended up curtailing a much better outing out of the 24-year-old right-hander. In the opening frame, Syndergaard had lead-off hitter Trea Turner in an 0-2 hole, after starting Turner off with two high nineties fastballs. Turner deposited the third straight fastball into shallow right field for a single.
Jayson Werth dug in next, and during his six pitch at-bat in which he ended up lining out hard to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, Turner stole not just second, but third base as well, for his 19th and 20th stolen bases of the season, in only 45 games played. After a Daniel Murphy walk, Bryce Harper lofted a fly ball to center, where Curtis Granderson corralled it but couldn’t muster a stronger throw home, giving the Nationals the early 1-0 lead.
But look how that inning was set up. Turner opened the inning with a lead-off single, but turned it into a triple by utilizing his speed, and knowing that Syndergaard was slow to the plate out of the stretch. Couple that with only one out in the inning, and a fly ball to the outfield was scoring Turner, which is the result that ensued. Even Daniel Murphy, with three stolen bases entering Friday’s game, stole second in the first, and isn’t exactly known as being the most fleet of foot. Syndergaard would give up a total of four stolen bases in his seven innings of work, limiting the damage to just two earned runs, the second scoring when Harper led off the fourth with a double, stole third, and later scored on Wilson Ramos‘ single.
Adding the four stolen bases from Friday’s defeat, Syndergaard has now given up a major league worst 45, compared to only six caught stealing in 162 innings pitched. That means that in his 26 games started this year (he’s appeared in 27 games, one was a relief appearance on May 31) Thor’s averaging close to two stolen bases a game, meaning more runners in scoring position and potential for more runs scored. If you look at Syndergaard’s rookie season in 2015, he allowed 15 stolen bases in 150 innings pitched, meaning he’s tripled that amount this season, and in only 12 more innings pitched! Not an upward trend Met fans want to continue to see rise over his career.
What’s alarming is that Thor’s 45 stolen bases is almost 20 worse than the second leading pitcher in Milwaukee’s Jimmy Nelson, who’s allowed 26 in 151.2 innings pitched. Syndergaard has thrown 10.1 more innings than Nelson, yet has surrendered 19 more stolen bases in that time.
If you break down the stolen bases Syndergaard has allowed per month, the trends aren’t easy on the eyes. For April, Thor allowed nine stolen bases, including an ugly five in an April 25 start against Cincinnati at home. In May he allowed six, then June he peaked to 13, including another five stolen base game against the Nationals on June 27. July was Syndergaard’s best month, allowing only two stolen bases in five starts, including three games that he did not allow any in. But then in August he was right back up to 11, and then his start on Friday night he allowed four, not a good way to open September up.
Clearly Syndergaard and the coaching staff have work to do in the off-season and in the spring to get this problem righted. What’s puzzling is that Syndergaard hasn’t improved at all this season in allowing easy stolen bases, as shown by the amount of steals he’s allowed per month, begging the question of whether they’ve even been working on alleviating the problem at all this year?
One main point that several sports sites have pointed out is his deliberate set, and then his rather high leg kick that he uses when in the stretch. Those precious seconds count for potential base runners, and their ability to time Thor’s delivery to the plate makes it easier for the opposition’s first base coach to time him more precisely, giving runners a better opportunity to get better leads and jumps.
Thor is inching closer to a few dubious records: he’s already given up the most stolen bases by a pitcher since Hideo Nomo in 2001 (52 stolen bases), and is getting closer to the single-season record of 60 stolen bases allowed, which was reached by former-Met great, Dwight Gooden in 1990.
Syndergaard understands that he needs to improve at limiting the running game, something that’s come back to bite him in games.
“I was a little out of my delivery over the first three innings or so,” Syndergaard said. “I really didn’t do a good job on (holding runners on) the basepaths. Turner’s got unbelievable speed, but I’ve got to give Rene a chance. I got out of my delivery, got slow and methodical.”
Even with pairing veteran catcher Rene Rivera to Syndergaard’s starts, to hopefully help limit the stolen bases (Rivera has thrown out 26% of base runners this year and 36% for his eight-year career, compared to d’Arnaud’s 22% and 23% for his career) Thor is just too slow to the plate from the stretch, even Johnny Bench would have just as much trouble limiting the stolen bases. Point being, it’s not simply about having better catchers behind the plate, Syndergaard is the one that needs to put in the work and recognize the situations, paying more attention to the men on base and not allowing them to get large leads.
Of Syndergaard’s 45 stolen bases, 32 have been of second base, while the remaining 13 have been of third. Syndergaard has only one successful pick-off in his career, which came this year. Again, this is not to take away from the wonderful and electric career he’s had so far through his fist 50 major league starts. However, expect to see a concentration in spring on holding runners on for all the Met pitchers, including Steven Matz who’s tied for 5th in baseball with 20 stolen bases allowed. This type of stuff is baseball 101, and is just another example of basic baseball instruction that has been lacking from this year’s Mets squad.