Analysis

Thor has lost his best two weapons

Do I still have to flair Endgame spoilers? It’s been a month, anyone who wanted to see the movies or cares about spoilers has definitely seen the movie by now, right? Whatever, I’ll play it safe. If for some reason you haven’t seen Endgame, don’t read ahead or you’ll be slightly disappointed. Anyone who has seen Endgame knows that Thor isn’t Thor anymore; well, he kind of is except he’s fat and apparently unable to handle normal Thor activities. “Fat Thor” has basically turned people’s favorite character into nothing more than a joke. Fat Thor has not only lost what he believes in but he lost himself as well. He is not in his right element and he is not comfortable. Fat Thor is a huge shock and I’m sure it broke plenty of people’s hearts. Jump back out of the Avengers Universe and into the real world and we have Noah Syndergaard, who has been known as Thor his whole career. Almost fittingly, a month after the movie came out, Noah Syndergaard has turned into fat Thor.

If you haven’t seen this 2019 Mets season or just aren’t caught up and don’t want to hear spoilers than stop reading. Just kidding. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about the Mets this season, as they always seem to be the center of attention for whatever stupid non-horse related shenanigans they’re getting into. But, in perhaps the biggest surprise, Noah Syndergaard has turned into fat Thor and lost his powers. Aside from the one shutout he had against the Reds, Syndergaard owns a 5.85 ERA this season. He’s sporting career-highs in both HR/9 (1.19) and FIP (3.61). Somehow, he is currently worth 1.6 WAR- Jacob deGrom is only worth 1.4 WAR- yet it seems like he is pitching worse than Jason Vargas.

Watching Syndergaard on the mound, you can just tell he is bad, he’s off, something is not right with him out there, but the underlying explanations might not be so clear. Take a look at Noah’s BaseballSavant rankings from 2018 and 2019. They’re pretty similar.

The most obvious thing to jump out is his hard hit %, exit velocity, expected wOBA and expected slugging are down from last season, but they are all still in the upper 70th percentile for all qualified pitchers. Sure, it’s not the 90th percentile he is so accustomed to but a pitcher in the 70th percentile for these statistics should not have a 5+ ERA. In 154 innings in 2018, Syndergaard had a 3.03 ERA, a 2.80 FIP, and 0.52 HR/9. In 75 innings in 2019, Syndergaard has a 4.90 ERA (+1.87), a 3.61 FIP (+0.81), and 1.19 HR/9 (+0.67).

Syndergaard’s trouble comes from a loss of command on two pitches: his slider and sinker, or Thor’s Mjolnir and Jarnbjorn (his hammer and axe).

Slider

In 2018, more than one-third of Syndergaard’s strikeouts came from the slider. Opposing hitters were slugging .235 and had a wOBA of .202. In 2019, only one-fourth of Syndergaard’s strikeouts have come from the slider, his second lowest among his five pitches. Opponents are slugging .488 ­and have a wOBA of .331 –– although the xSLG and xwOBA are only .317 and .223 respectively.

Take a look below: Syndergaard is throwing his slider less (20% in 2018 to 12% in 2019) and throwing it slower than ever before (from 92 mph in 2018 to 88 mph in 2019).  There are three possible conclusions that I can draw from this.  Hitters could be seeing the slider earlier out of his hand making it easier to pick up, and it’s also less horizontal so it’s easier to hit for swing paths. It’s also very likely that he just lost the feel for it, which happens sometimes and leaves us to hope that he’ll find it again soon.

Moreover, Syndergaard is leaving his slider in the strike zone more than ever. More than half of his sliders are thrown inside the strike zone, which is not a good thing at all. This means his slider, which now has less horizontal movement, so it’s easier to hit, is just sitting over the middle of the zone. It’s fairly common knowledge that if you get a nice hanging slider, that ball is leaving the park. Perhaps more importantly, it’s drawing a career-low swing and miss percentage. Fewer hitters are chasing at Syndergaard’s slider and he’s throwing it in the zone more. It’s getting hit more, and when it gets hit, it gets hit hard. This year it is getting barreled 11% of the time, the highest among all of his pitches this season and 11% higher than the 0% barrels he had in 2017 and 2018. It’s interesting to note that the expected batting average of his slider is .164 compared to the actual .256 and the expected slugging is .317 compared to the actual .488. Syndergaard should be pitching a lot better with his slider, but he appears to be getting unlucky. Until Syndergaard figures out how to fool pitchers with his slider again, he is going to continue to have problems on the mound.

Sinker

Syndergaard’s sinker suffers from the same problem as his slider. Hitters are slugging .560 against the sinker opposed to .425 from 2018. Hitters already have more home runs off his sinker in two months of 2019 than they did in all of 2018 (5 in 2019, 4 in 2018). The sinker is a groundball pitch due to its hard-downward movement. When it’s effective, it induces some of the weakest contact off the bats of opposing hitters. Sinkers induce a ton of double plays and very few longballs. The problem is that so far, Syndergaard’s sinker is doing the exact opposite. The groundball rate of his sinker is at an all-time low and the fly ball rate of his sinker is at an all-time high.

Sinkers are supposed to induce some of the weakest contact for a pitch, yet Noah’s sinker owns a 47% hard-hit rate and a career-high eight-percent barrel rate as well as 90 mph average exit velocity.

While Syndergaard’s slider and sinker have been awful this season, his curveball and changeup have been phenomenal. Syndergaard is starting to utilize his changeup more –– up 3% from last season ­­–– but has plateaued with his curveball usage at around 10%. Hitters are hitting .179 and .143 against his changeup and curveball respectively. It feels as if his pitch sequence is too predictable, and the lack of usage in his slider has really weakened him to a two-pitch pitcher. Syndergaard has to figure out his slider to get his sinker back and the best way to do that would be to utilize his curveball and changeup more and sprinkle in the slider until he is comfortable throwing it again. Syndergaard needs to be at least a four-pitch pitcher to be successful again, and if he can get all five working, he’s among the most lethal pitchers in baseball.

Fat Thor’s powers are still there: he has the talent, he is still just as strong, he just needs to find himself. Hopefully, the same is true for Syndergaard. He has the talent, he has the weapons, he just needs to find himself again. Met fans have already watched the Dark Knight fall, let’s hope they don’t lose another hero.

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