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April 6, 2016

What You Need to Know

Noah Syndergaard and the 95 mph Slider

by Emma Baccellieri

The Tuesday Takeaway
Since last October, the pairing of Noah Syndergaard and Alcides Escobar has stood in for all sorts of weighty questions on the concept of revenge and unwritten rules and where we draw the lines of safety through the code of convention. On Tuesday, though, the pairing signified something more simple again—a pitcher, a batter, the start of a baseball game.

This time, Syndergaard’s first pitch was a bit outside, swung on (but of course) and fouled off by Escobar. Four pitches later, the Royals shortstop took the ball the other way for a triple. But that at-bat had little in common with the ones that followed—for the rest of the afternoon, Syndergaard was lights out, unveiling a new slider to great effect.

In six innings, he walked just one while striking out nine, with six of those Ks coming from the slider. Though it was no secret that the 23-year-old had been working on the pitch in spring training, its effectiveness Tuesday was eye-opening, not least of all for the Royals’ lineup.

Of his 92 pitches, 16 were sliders, generating 12 swings on 14 strikes. The pitch was particularly impressive when the stakes were highest—with the bases loaded in the sixth inning, Syndergaard turned to the slider three times in a row to strike out Kendrys Morales in as many pitches.

While his fastest slider of the day was reportedly clocked at 95 mph at the stadium, other readings were a hair more modest—93.9 mph from Pitch F/X and 93.2 mph via Statcast. Regardless, though, it was a decidedly different incarnation of the slider Syndergaard occasionally showed last year. As a rookie, his version of the pitch hovered around 88 mph, an option he turned to only sparingly and toward the end of the season.

The rest of his arsenal was in fine form as well—with his four-seamer and sinker each crossing the 100 mph threshold—and the results compensated for the Mets’ low run support, which came in the form of a two-run Neil Walker homer.

Quick Hits from Tuesday
With the season scarcely begun, baseball’s new rule regarding takeout slides was thrust into the spotlight during Monday’s Nationals-Braves match-up. It garnered attention again Tuesday, this time at a far more pivotal moment. Down by one with bases loaded in the ninth, the Blue Jays momentarily appeared to take the lead as two runs scored on an Edwin Encarnacion groundball. But a replay review said otherwise, determining that Jose Bautista had made illegal contact with Rays second baseman Logan Forsythe and ending the Blue Jays’ rally as a result.

Bautista made his frustration with the ruling clear after the game, as did Toronto manager John Gibbons (albeit in less considerate terms). Just as was the case with the Nick Markakis slide yesterday, Bautista’s situation presents something very different from the Utley slide after which the rule was named—while contact between the players is clear as Bautista comes off the bag, there does not seem to be any real chance of injury for the fielder or anything other than a good-faith effort from the runner. But as Daniel Rathman noted here yesterday, it is not the runner’s intent that matters.

***

The Tigers’ season got off to a pleasant start, with Justin Verlander taking a no-hitter into the sixth and the team up 5-0. But Dee Gordon had something to say about the no-hitter, and Giancarlo Stanton had something to say about the five-run lead, and suddenly everything was a little less comfortable for Detroit.

The Marlins followed Stanton’s three-run shot a few innings later by jumping all over Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth—perhaps a way of saying “it’s not just you” to Jose Valverde and Joe Nathan. Thankfully for Rodriguez, though, redemption came in the form of an 11th-inning Ian Kinsler single to score Anthony Gose.

***

Earlier this week, Trevor Bauer showed that he was not particularly interested in speaking about his recent demotion to the bullpen. Rest assured, though, Bauer suffered no identity crisis from the move—he showed Tuesday that he still presents the same maddeningly poor command and high home run rates, with flashes of something potentially great hidden behind them. The only difference is that with Bauer in the bullpen, we now get to experience all of that over the course of a single inning. Taking the mound for the ninth against the Red Sox, Bauer looked fairly nice with two strikeouts, and decidedly less nice with a walk and a David Ortiz home run.


The Defensive Play of the Day

Carlos Correa would like to let you know that he does not believe in the sophomore slump (further proof: this diving catch came shortly after Correa’s first home run of the season).

What to Watch on Wednesday

Kenta Maeda, he of the intriguing contract, will make his first major-league start Wednesday against the Padres. Though a seemingly endless series of injuries made spring training something of an exercise in back-up plans for the Dodgers, Maeda was a rare bright spot for the team, staying healthy and appearing to make the transition from Japan smoothly. Following Clayton Kershaw’s very Clayton Kershaw destruction of the Padres Monday and Scott Kazmir’s win yesterday, the Dodgers look to go for the series sweep.

Jose Fernandez will attempt to preserve his perfect record in Marlins Stadium as he starts against Detroit Wednesday night. Passed over for Miami’s Opening Day starter slot in favor of new teammate Wei-Yin Chen—supposedly as a way of keeping Fernandez on an innings limit—the 23-year-old will hope to pick up where he left off last year. After being sidelined by Tommy John and battling an oblique injury shortly after he first returned, Fernandez looked close to his old self last year, striking out more than 11 per nine with his fastball back to 97 mph. Miami will be watching his innings closely in an attempt to preserve that, but getting to watch Fernandez at all is something of a gift.

Recovered from the stomach flu, Sonny Gray will take the mound Wednesday against the White Sox. Initially described as food poisoning, the unexpected ailment robbed us of the exciting Gray-Chris Sale matchup we were promised for Opening Day and has apparently now claimed Kendall Graveman as well. But with Gray said to be healthy, he’ll now face off against Carlos Rodon in an attempt to deliver the A's their first win of the season. `

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

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