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Week two of the baseball season is the time when poor performance from elite players starts to become concerning, and when multiple standout starts from young players begins to elicit Joy-Joy feelings that they have ascended to a new talent tier. Whereas it's easy to dismiss the whims of the first week as single-game outliers, by now most of the top pitchers have toed the rubber multiple times, and the repetition of head-scratching performance can lead us humans down the natural path of assigning causation, whether or not it exists.

Let's investigate a handful of players who have performed outside the realm of reasonable expectation thus far in 2016.

Noah Syndergaard

Maybe it's a stretch to say that Thor's performance has been outside reasonable expectation, in the sense that some might have actually expected the second-year hurler to make a leap forward this season, but last year's rookie stud has become this year's unquestioned ace, vaulting to the top of the most star-studded pitching rotation in baseball. In my last piece for Raising Aces, I mentioned how I should be gushing about Noah Syndergaard, so let me go ahead and do that here.

Game Stats

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

April 12

7.0

1

7

0

1

12

99

April 18

7.0

1

5

1

2

8

94

Thor's first outing was impressive enough on the surface, but the fact that it was the Royals that he was sending back to the dugout with such frequency – the same Kansas City club that was the toughest to whiff in each of the last two seasons – just makes the outing completely nutbar. Any pitcher who strikes out nine batters over six frames is on the short list for the day's top performance, but striking out nine Royals out of 18 outs can't help but attract attention.

He followed up that opening masterpiece with an even more dominant start, at least in terms of sheer numbers, dismantling the Marlins over seven innings with 12 strikeouts, giving him a total 21 Ks over his first 13 innings of work. IT wasn't enough to give him the win, as the offense failed to back up Synder (it didn't help that he was facing fellow wunderkind Jose Fernandez), and no sooner than when Thor left the ballgame did the Mets give up the game-losing runs.

It was more of the same in game no.3, facing the Phillies, a start that was only disappointing in light of Syndergaard's first two outings and the light opponent that he was facing, but this time the game was never really in question as Thor outdueled Jerad Eickhoff for an easy Mets victory. He spun 7.0 frames for the second consecutive start, and did so once again without clearing 100 pitches on the ledger.

I recently wrote at length about the velocity-obsessed game of the modern era, and though the piece was written from a critical point of view, I consider it a positive with respect to his future performance that Synder has been lighting up radar guns in his first few outings of the year. He led all starters last season with an average fastball velocity of 97.7 mph, and though many pitchers take a little while to find their peak velo, Thor has burst out of the gate with a new pace-setting velocity of 98.9 mph average on his fastball over the first three games. In yesterday's contest, his 25 sinkers averaged triple digits. Unreal.

Taken a step further, Syndergaard has begun integrating a new pitch into his arsenal, a hard slider (call it “the Warthen”) with a different shape that he brings at an average of 92 mph, spiking 95 with it, a number that is just not associated with breaking pitches. The slide-piece was a three-percent pitch last season, averaging 88 mph, but this year he has gone to it 22.8-percent of the time through the first three games and 14 of his 29 strikeouts this season have come on the new addition. We might be witnessing the beginning of a Cy-worthy performance from Syndergaard this season.

Adam Wainwright

Three games in, and the typically-dominant Wainwright has been knocked around in each of his outings so far this season. He has never been a big strikeout guy, has succeeded in the past despite modest velocity, and the last time that we saw him Wainwright was succeeding on the mound but was crippled by a heel injury that was suffered at the plate. His history of remarkable consistency makes the recent skid all the more alarming.

Game Stats

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

April 10

5.0

5

6

1

5

2

87

April 16

5.3

7

10

0

1

2

74

From 2008 through 2015, Wainwright walked just 2.1 batters per nine, specializing in command at the expense of raw strikeout numbers (7.8 K/9 over the same stretch). So it was a bit of a red flag when Wainwright walked five Braves on April 10, considering that it was a weak lineup that he had no reason to avoid with pitches outside the zone and that Wainwright hadn't walked that many batters in a single ballgame since May of 2012. He only walked four batters in all of 2015, an admittedly-abbreviated campaign but which involved 28.0 innings of more-refined performance.

The K rate has been on the way down for the past couple seasons, and in fact he had just 6.4 K/9 in his injury-shortened campaign of 2015, but Waino hasn't whiffed more than three batters in any ballgame yet this season. He's not missing any bats, and when opponents make contact (which is often) they've found easy success. The walks outnumber the strikeouts 9-to-7 through his first three starts, covering 16.3 innings of run-prevention mayhem, and the only bright spot is that the right-hander has kept the ball in the yard. The velocity is down a half-tick from 2014 though is right in line with last season, and given that pitch-speed is not his game, what Wainwright needs to refine is his fastball/cutter command in addition to the placement of the curve in three-ball counts (he's walked five batters on hammers already). I'm not ready to bail on his season, but he has earned bench status until we see a semblance of the command that made Wainwright a household name in the first place.

Vincent Velasquez

Sam Miller already gave us a marvelous breakdown of VV's big game against the Padres, and I encourage the readers to check it out. Sam was spot-on with the evolution of Velasquez's outing, in which he leaned heavily on the fastball and struggled to command the baseball to the arm-side for most of the ballgame, yet still had no trouble shutting down the light-hitting offense of the Padres. It was the second consecutive start in which Velasquez thoroughly dominated the competition, and one wonders if the Phillies got the better end of the Ken Giles trade without digging any deeper than VV himself.

Game Stats

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

April 9

6.0

0

3

0

3

9

99

April 14

9.0

0

3

0

0

16

113

Throwing hard is nothing new for the right-hander who averaged 95.2 mph on his four-seamer last season, nor is the two-pitch approach novel for Velasquez, who threw heaters and hammers for 87-percent of his pitches last season. He has a solid delivery that backs up a low walk rate, and though his first start impressive and his second start was against the hapless Friars, it's tough to ignore an overal K:BB ratio of 25:3 through his first 15.0 innings. In fact, he has allowed just nine total baserunners this season.

The Phillies could have chosen to give VV a breather following his 113-pitch ruination of the Padres, but he gets another go at the Mets in tonight's ballgame, the same team that he blanked the first time around this season. It will be interesting to see which side makes adjustments and what they are, given that Velasquez has thus far exhibited a rather predictable pattern of pitches and locations. It's the type of pattern that needs to be detected, and it remains to be seen whether Velasquez will look to repeat that setup or makes some changes to keep Mets batters on their toes, but his performance against the Padres (in which Velasquez didn't mix his secondaries in until the second time through the order) indicates that he has a plan.

Stay tuned.

Matt Harvey

Harvey has been supplanted as the top pitcher in the Mets rotation by Syndergaard, and though Thor's leap forward plays a huge role, the relative ranking is made easy by Harvey's struggles in the early-going of 2016.

Game Stats

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

April 10

6.0

3

6

1

2

3

95

April 16

5.2

5

6

0

3

4

86

Statistically, there's not much of a positive takeaway from Harvey's first few starts. The walks are up, the Ks are down and the hit are too high for an ace of the Dark Knight's caliber. The fact that he has walked no more than three batters in any one turn helps to take some of the sting off of his lack of control, and a few extra walks would be forgivable if they came attached to extra strikeouts, but Harvey – the pitcher who has 9.3 K/9 in his career – has just nine strikeouts in 17.3 innings this season and hasn't topped four Ks in any of his starts this season.

He's had a tendency to cruise through the first few frames before hitting a wall in the fifth and sixth innings, as 9 of the 12 runs that he has given up this season have occurred after the fourth frame. The timing of his vulnerability shouldn't obscure the simple fact that Harvey has lacked dominance, especially considering that he typically has A-grade mechanics and top-notch stuff.

Pitching coach Dan Warthen (aka the slider guy) claims that Harvey was trying to ramp it up when pitching from the stretch in his last start, and that the right-hander has a tendency to lose his delivery when trying to throw too hard, allowing the backside to collapse such that he loses balance and therefore pitch command. The eye test matches the coach's assessment, with a functional impact that interferes with his timing and saps Harvey of the incredible extension at release point that fuels his deception. He's still averaging nearly 95 mph on his fastball, but it's worth noting that he is 1.5 ticks short of last season's average velo, and the combination of lesser pitch-speed thrown from a shallower distance has made life easier thus far on opposing hitters.

There's room for improvement that Harvey could be a minor tweak away from realizing, but that's the trick when it comes to the timing of a pitcher's delivery, and sometimes it takes a surprisingly long time for a pitcher to rediscover that release point.