Player Background

Syndergaard was taken by the Toronto Blue Jays with the 38th pick in the 2010 draft. The longhaired Texan didn’t appear on Baseball America’s top 200 prospects for that draft, and I don’t cite their rankings to indict the evaluation; theirs was just the most publicly available when I fired up Google last night. They weren’t alone. Some draft-day analysis called the Syndergaard pick a reach and others more charitably called it an upside play.

It didn’t take long for that upside to become evident as a professional, with Syndergaard adding velocity and flashing plus projection with his secondaries almost immediately. He ranked as our 93rd-best prospect in 2012, shot up to 28th in 2013, 11th in 2014, and entered the top 10 at ninth overall this season. In the middle of that ascent, he was traded to the Mets in the deal that sent R.A. Dickey to Canada. Syndergaard was considered the secondary piece to Travis d’Arnaud, but given his placement on our top 101 lists, he was a top shelf prospect in his own right.

What Went Right In 2015

For starters, Thor made it to the major leagues. Syndergaard began 2015 where he spent all of 2014: Triple-A Las Vegas. Last season, he pitched though minor arm ailments while getting knocked around a bit, but showcased the same premium stuff he had throughout his professional career. The Mets opened 2015 with a pitching surplus and Dillon Gee—remember him?—was the fifth member of their Opening Day rotation. When Gee was ineffective, injured, and ultimately designated for assignment, Syndergaard got the call and stuck.

As you might expect from any rookie pitcher, there was some game-to-game inconsistency. For example, in the three starts following his debut, Syndergaard yielded two earned runs in 19 1/3 innings while striking out 16 and walking only one. In his next outing, Thor produced one of the season’s strangest lines, striking out 10 and allowing 10 base hits in only four innings. Later, he followed up a string of seven consecutive quality starts by allowing 13 earned runs in 21 innings across four games.

On the whole, Syndergaard threw an even 150 innings and finished with a 3.24 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 9.96 punchouts per nine innings. That was good enough to rank 26th among starting pitchers according to ESPN’s player rater. The performance is largely supported by more advanced pitching metrics. His 3.28 FIP is right on top of his ERA and his 3.57 DRA shows he more or less earned what he deserved. Relative to his starting peers, Syndergaard’s DRA- of 80 is 30th best among those who threw 80 or more innings. On true talent the picture is even rosier, as a cFIP of 82 fancied Syndergaard the 17th-best starter in baseball.

In J.P. Breen’s excellent piece on Jacob deGrom Monday, he detailed the pitchers since the Deadball era that have struck out hitters more often than deGrom’s 27.3 percent rate while also bettering his 5.1 percent walk rate. You should go read the article for more detail, but the complete list was Pedro Martinez (twice), Clayton Kershaw (twice), Chris Sale, Curt Schilling (thrice), Max Scherzer, Randy Johnson, Ben Sheets, Steven Strasburg, and Matt Harvey. Had he pitched enough innings to qualify, Syndergaard’s 27.5% strikeout rate and 5.1% walk rate would have nearly put him in the company of those nine pitchers, an incredible accomplishment for a rookie who pitched most of the year at age 22.

As if the regular season success weren’t enough, Syndergaard started Game Two of the NLDS on Saturday night and his electric stuff jumped off the screen. Thor added playoff adrenaline to fastball velocity that was already double-plus and ran 11 pitches to the plate in excess of 100 miles per hour. In keeping with a late-season trend, he also leaned on a devastating slider that he is able to consistently bury on the glove side against both left- and right-handed batters. To the Dodgers’ credit, they were able to lay off 11 of the 17 sliders Syndergaard threw, but of the remaining six, zero were put in play and four resulted in a swing and miss. Syndergaard’s 58.97 whiff-per-swing rate was highest among all pitchers who threw at least 50 sliders and if he continues to increase usage of that pitch as he did late in 2015, it will be one of the league’s premier put-away offerings.

What Went Wrong In 2015

Besides the aforementioned inconsistency, there’s not much to rightfully complain about regarding Syndergaard’s rookie season, but if we must, one potential area for improvement is performance on the road. Syndergaard’s 4.23 ERA and 1.33 WHIP away from Citi Field stand in fairly stark contrast to his superb 2.46 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in Queens. Road and home FIPs of 3.10 and 3.44, respectively, and a 94-point BABIP spread might tell you that the underlying performance wasn’t all that different, and his last two road outings of the year were clearly his best. I’m not overly concerned about this issue, such as it is. Where I own him, I’m starting Syndergaard every turn regardless of locale.

The only other nitpick is his innings total, which now stands at 186, regular and postseason combined. That’s 53 more frames than his previous career high and he stands to make as many as four more starts if the Mets get by the Dodgers in Game Five tonight. That could push him to 200 or beyond, and while Syndergaard does have an ideal frame and projects as a 200-plus inning workhorse in his prime, in today’s environment we’re conditioned to express concern about a 50 percent year-over-year increase this early in the development curve.

What To Expect in 2016

deGrom and Harvey will deservedly rank ahead of their junior rotation-mate entering 2016 but it wouldn’t shock me at all if Syndergaard has the best season of the trio. Were it not for Kershaw, Syndergaard might be the best bet to lead the National League in strikeouts, and as mentioned above, there’s not much in his underlying performance this year to suggest his ratios are due for regression. The NL East figures to remain the weakest division in baseball, with Atlanta, Miami, and Philladelphia still rebuilding and Washington due for a roster overhaul this offseason. I don’t like speculating on win potential, but the Mets’ situation should offer their starters a slight value boost next season.

If anything, we should expect improvement from a player with Syndergaard’s blend of youth, talent, and track record, and if he can tighten up his command, he’ll join the game’s elite. I have him solidly in SP2 territory in 12-15 teamers. If you’re inclined to skip the priciest starters and build your rotation the way Bret Sayre and Mike Gianella did on their way to a LABR Mixed championship, I’d have no problem if Thor was the first starter on your roster, provided you don’t jump too early and you pair him with one or two more solid SP2s with SP1 upside.

The Great Beyond

Syndergaard ranked 31st on Bret’s preseason ranking of the top 175 starting pitchers for dynasty leagues, so the 23-year-old will push himself well up 2016’s version of that list in light of his 2015 success. If we’re looking for an analog from 2015’s list, perhaps it’s Gerrit Cole, who Bret ranked 14th. Cole was coming off his second (injury-shortened) season, so he had more big league experience than Syndergaard has now but was also a year older and neither of his major league seasons were as good as what Syndergaard just offered. I haven’t actually gone through the exercise of putting rankings on paper, but off the top of my head, I wouldn’t hesitate to drop Syndergaard into the top 15 and could make an argument for him as a top-10 pitching asset, especially if your competitive window is a year or two out.

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I think the innings count is much more than a nitpick. It is is downright scary - it is just not fun to talk about.
I agree. Even though I'm a Nats fan, I don't wish ill will on an exciting young pitcher like Syndergaard. I just think there's a good chance he'll run into big arm problems next season.
Some guys get hurt and some guys don't. It is as simple as that. He does not throw from the frightening "W" position. The position that looks like an indicator of future trouble. He is 6'6" and 240, which does not do anything for his arm of course, and I think he might be able to withstand the heavy load he took on this year.