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November 15, 2013

Raising Aces

Bush League: Noah Syndergaard

by Doug Thorburn

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Noah Syndergaard was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the supplemental first round of the 2010 draft. Chosen out of a Texas high school with the 38th overall pick, Syndergaard put up enticing numbers as he rose through the lower ranks of the Blue Jays system. The 6'-6” right-hander was then utilized as a key component in the trade that brought R.A. Dickey to the Jays in the 2012-13 offseason, and continued along his developmental trajectory in his first season in the Mets system, reaching Double-A in June and improving as the season progressed.

Level

GS

IP

ERA

K %

BB %

H %

HR %

A+

12

63.7

3.11

24.8%

6.2%

23.6%

1.2%

AA

11

54.0

3.00

32.2%

5.6%

21.5%

3.7%

Syndergaard’s strikeout rate reached new heights in his second-half splash of the Eastern League, and his walk rate was lower than at any other stop in his professional career. From the team's standpoint, the hope is that a pitcher will maintain the integrity of his numbers as he climbs the minor-league ladder; those players who up the ante in the face of stiffer competition are playing in a league of their own.

In the case of Syndergaard, the stats might even be selling his Double-A performance short. His stat line was marred by a catastrophic outing in his final start of the season, which included 11 runs (nine earned) over the course of 3.1 innings, effectively doubling his earned runs allowed at the Double-A level on the season. He entered the game with a 1.60 ERA for Binghamton and left with a three-flat, while his home run rate was inflated by the trio of bombs that he bequeathed to the Bowie Baysox that day.

Syndergaard could make his big-league debut in 2014, particularly if he follows the path laid forth by fellow Mets farmhands Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, although his impact in Queens will be limited by his workload. Syndergaard will likely be capped around 150 innings next year, and though he was able to last five months in 2013 without cracking 120 frames, the Mets will likely expand his per-game workload as well. He registered more than 15 outs just 10 times in 23 starts last season, and he exceeded 100 pitches in just a pair of Double-A starts (both hit exactly 101 pitches).

Those century-pitch games occurred back-to-back in mid-to-late July, after which Syndergaard went on a four-start run of 59, 66, 62, and 71 pitches. Incredibly, he threw five innings or more in each of those games, and the 71-pitch effort was remarkably efficient when one considers that he punched out 10 hitters. Those abbreviated starts accounted for four of his final five outings of the 2013 season, preceding the August 26 blow-up against Bowie (which was a 93-pitch effort).

Only a pair of Syndergaard's outings are available on MiLB.tv, both of which were similar in style as well as substance. The first was his Aug 4th outing for Double-A Binghamton, in which he took the mound versus the Harrisburg Senators, and the second was his following start against the Erie SeaWolves on August 10th. Both starts were part of his late-season run of effective-yet-abbreviated outings, and he lasted exactly five frames in each game, registering a total of eight strikeouts against two walks and four hits while allowing zero runs.

It would have been ideal to evaluate his blow-up against Bowie on August 26th, but the Baysox are not one of the teams participating in MiLB.tv, so we are left with just the pair of games to get a sofa-scouting report on the right-hander. Despite the similarity of results, each of Syndergaard’s televised outings offers a slightly different perspective—the camera angle on August 4th was a bit off-center but granted more clarity, while the feed from August 10 had grating issues but provided an angle that was more centered. With these details in mind, today's evaluation will use a blend of footage from both games.

The fastball that earned a “7” from Jason Parks and the prospect crew in the pre-season reports was on full display in both games, sitting in the mid-90s with solid command. Syndergaard had an exceptional ability to paint the lower shelf of the strike zone with his heat, a feat that is all the more impressive coming from a tall pitcher with a relatively high arm slot. The combination of an elevated release and shallow destination resulted in a very steep plane, and he was able to hit targets down in the zone on both sides of the plate with the fastball.

Syndergaard also showed off a plus curveball with steep vertical break. His command of the pitch was not quite as polished as that of the fastball, though most of his misses were safely buried in the dirt. The curveball made occasional appearances on the first pitch of at-bats to catch batters off-guard, though he more typically waited until there were two strikes in the count to unleash the hammer as a strikeout pitch.

The changeup was inconsistent, flashing plus with decent depth, but Syndergaard’s command of the off-speed pitch was volatile, and there were a few cambios that lacked fade. Most of the changeups were saved for left-handed bats, which is to be expected from a right-handed pitcher, and he showed commitment to the pitch when he started lefty hitter Sandy Leon with three consecutive changes to begin the third inning against Harrisburg.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance

60

Momentum

40

Torque

55

Posture

55

Release Distance

50

Repetition

55

For an explanation on the grading system for pitching mechanics, please consult this pair of articles.

Syndergaard takes the Matt Cain approach to pitching, with great balance yet a slow pace to the plate. These elements are often interrelated, as some pitchers have difficulty maintaining balance when turning up the dials of kinetic energy with greater momentum, but Syndergaard appears to have the strength and stability to get it going without too much disruption to his balance. He also lacks an obvious gear-shift, and though I like to see such a smooth transition out of maximum leg lift, the overall strategy also limits the power that he generates from his lower half.

Syndergaard starts with a good first move that leads with the hip, but he also displayed some inconsistencies with his momentum. He had a tendency to mistime the delivery with a late arm on those pitches where he picked up the pace, a factor that indicates that his current approach might provide the best combination of momentum and timing for his delivery. Syndergaard was a bit quicker from the stretch, and though he avoided a true slide step, he did lower the leg lift as part of his adjustment with runners on base.

The combination of a lower lift and quicker delivery could lead to elevated pitches, but he has a better weapon to combat the stolen base: a quick pick-off move that will help keep runners close to the bag. Ideally, he will learn to trust the move to thwart baserunners rather than compromising his mechanics.

Syndergaard’s torque is relatively modest for a pitcher who throws so hard, indicating that he relies more on pure arm strength to hit the mid-90s with regularity. The hip-shoulder separation he generates is heavier on the hip component and reliant on proper timing to execute, and he had a tendency to lose some torque on his changeup in the games that are under the microscope.

Syndergaard also had some mechanical side effects when throwing the curve, exaggerating his spine-tilt to enhance the vertical trajectory. He had plus posture when throwing the heat, but the adjustments on the breaking ball resulted in a net grade of 55 on the mechanics report card.

The complete package is one with excellent mechanical upside, but Syndergaard has room to improve before hitting that ceiling. Pitchers of his height and posture typically find a deeper release point, and those with his excellent velocity usually rely on more torque, so he’s not yet taking full advantage of his physical gifts. These elements simultaneously raise the bar of Syndergaard’s potential and limit how well his current stuff could translate at the highest level, but he has a template for development next season that could vault him to roof-level status.

Doug Thorburn is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Doug's other articles. You can contact Doug by clicking here

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