Noah Syndergaard is three seasons removed from his peak, Cy Young-worthy season in 2016.
His 2017 season was derailed by multiple injuries.
In 2018 and 2019, Syndergaard returned to being a mostly-dominant, top-of-the-rotation pitcher producing the sixth-most WAR in the NL. However, I can't stop seeing those results from 2016.
It was more than three years ago yet continues to mess with my expectations for him because - as thankful as I am for what he's been - I know he has the ability to do more for the Mets.
Here are three reasons why I think he may get back to and do better than he did in 2016...
1) He'll have a new pitching coach
I'm sure Dave Eiland, who was fired last summer, is a nice, smart man, but I have zero doubt Syndergaard had an issue working with him.
For instance, each of the past two spring trainings, while standing down wind from them working together on the mound, I often heard what sounded like frustration -- or at least disagreements -- about how Syndergaard should handle pitching inside to opposing hitters.
The point is, the team's new pitching coach, Jeremy Hefner, has the opportunity to create a better working relationship between Syndergaard and the coaching staff.
Eiland, I'm told, was more "old school," but also had his own vision for what a pitcher needed to do to be successful. Syndergaard's previous pitching coach, Dan Warthen, was best known for encouraging pitchers to not overthink things and to simply go with what they felt would work best for them in the moment.
Hefner is described as a combination of the above two coaches, plus he brings a modern understanding of evidence and statistical analysis. He's also a recent player, having pitched in 2013 when with the Mets.
"It can sometimes be difficult to understand how the analytics side of things can be helpful," Steven Matz recently explained, speaking about Hefner. "He understands it and he translates it in a way that can help make adjustments."
Eiland wasn't wrong about Syndergaard needing to own the inside third of the strike zone and home plate. Syndergaard may or may not agree, I have no idea. Thankfully, based on what Matz is saying, it seems Hefner will be far better than Eiland and Warthen at turning statistical evidence into results.
2) He'll be reunited with Rene Rivera
In 2016, Syndergaard most often pitched to Rene Rivera, who was the backup to Travis d'Arnaud.
"He really helped me (in 2016) with his veteran leadership and the amount of knowledge that he has," Syndergaard told WOR's Pete MacCarthy the following winter.
Rivera's absence from the Mets in 2018 didn't stop Syndergaard from having a good season, but it wasn't up to his 2016 standards. Again, without Rivera, Syndergaard pitched well during most of 2019, though he reportedly did make it clear to team officials that he was not comfortable throwing to starting catcher Wilson Ramos.
According to reports, Syndergaard felt Ramos needed to do a better job framing pitches received down in the strike zone. Not surprisingly, this is a skill done well by Rivera, who returned to the Mets last summer.
With Rivera behind the plate, Syndergaard had a 2.80 ERA and struck out 16 batters in 12.2 innings. He had a 5.20 ERA in 16 games with Ramos behind the plate.
This is consistent with their entire time together, with Syndergaard and Rivera combining for a 2.65 ERA and 205 strikeouts during 180 innings and 30 starts.
In January, the Mets re-signed Rivera to a minor-league contract with an invite to spring training. I expect he'll begin the season as a backup to Ramos, though it would be wise to let him always catch Syndergaard.
I know, I know, Syndergaard should be awesome no matter who is behind the plate. However, are we molding him to our ideal or are we wanting him to be awesome and help get the Mets to October? If it's the former, start Ramos. If it's the latter and can get Syndergaard pitching like it's 2016, who cares about being idealistic, put Rivera behind the plate.
3) He has momentum and more support
Syndergaard didn't throw his slider much as a rookie. That changed in 2016, thanks in large part to Rivera. Since then, while throwing it roughly 20 percent of the time, he has elevated his overall results and his slider has been among the best in baseball.
He struggled with the pitch again early last season. However, after Eiland was let go, Phil Regan helped him adjust his grip and mechanics and the pitch returned with a vengeance.
Now, instead of second-guessing himself and feeling the need to tinker during spring training, he has to be feeling confident knowing that -- for whatever reason -- he was able to regain command of his most vital weapon.
If he's not striking people out, Syndergaard is a ground ball pitcher. At the same time, thanks in large part to what has been a rotating cast of mediocre infielders behind him, he's also been very unlucky on balls put in play.
The key to a strong defense is not just the ability to get to the ball and pick it up. It's also knowing and trusting who will be where and when after the ball is put in play.
This level of trust can only come with time and experience working together. The way it stands, their infield will be Pete Alonso, Robinson Cano, Amed Rosario and Jeff McNeil, all of whom frequently played together last year. They'll get even more time together this spring, when McNeil is expected to work exclusively at third base.
In other words, because he's entering 2020 with confidence in his slider, because he'll have a more familiar and sound infield, because for two years he's been among the best at managing contact, because he'll be working with a new pitching coach, and because he'll have Rivera behind the plate and in his ear for a full season, I expect Syndergaard to rival his performance from 2016.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is a senior writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. His book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime.