John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
West Palm Beach, Fla. -- Scouts wondered why Noah Syndergaard was trying to turn himself into more of a sinkerballer last year than a flamethrower capable of blowing hitters away with high heat?
Now, Syndergaard admitted he's on a mission to be more of a true power pitcher again in 2019.
"Yeah, I fell in love with the two-seamer last year," Syndergaard said on Monday after striking out two Astros in two scoreless innings in his spring training debut, "just because it's an artsy pitch. It's cool when you harness it, but sometimes if you've got a little tweak in your mechanics the two-seamer might move way too early and so it just ends up drifting to the middle of the plate.
"So, yeah, I just want to establish myself with the four-seamer. It was encouraging to see some swings and misses against my four-seamer today."
It's the mindset he should have, especially the way the baseball is trending. Thanks to the launch-angle revolution, hitters are more vulnerable than ever to the high fastball, so Mickey Callaway is delighted at the way Syndergaard is thinking.
"If he can make that part of his game, I think that would really help him," Callaway said. "The hitters just gear down on him because he's down, down, down.
"If he can elevate, even if they're swinging at it, it changes the eye level a little bit and makes his other pitches more effective."
Last season, featuring his two-seamer, Syndergaard's strikeouts were down a tick -- his 9.0 K/9 rate was the lowest ratio of his career.
Meanwhile, he needed to only look at the success Jacob deGrom has had in getting hitters to chase high fastballs, often setting them up with something else to get to a strikeout pitch. And that's with 96 mph or so, not the triple digits that Syndergaard has hit regularly during his career.
Syndergaard wasn't throwing 101 mph on Monday, as he did in his spring debut last year when he was extra-amped to show his stuff to the then-defending world champs, but the 98-99 mph he threw Monday is plenty hard enough, especially in February.
Syndergaard said he was throwing with "pretty much max effort," but perhaps he's a year older and wiser at this point, after dealing with nagging injuries last season that perhaps were a factor in making him less dominant than previous years.
Heck, the big righthander even put a shirt on for his postgame press session, unlike last year in this same spot outside the Mets' clubhouse. He even started his interview by joking about it.
"I know you guys are disappointed that I'm not shirtless," he said. Then, noting the overcast skies, he added, "I couldn't get a tan."
Bottom line: While Syndergaard likes showing some personality, especially on social media, he badly wants to re-establish himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball.
He seemed to get back to that level by September 2018, when he went 4-1 with a 1.73 ERA, lowering his season ERA to 3.03, but September isn't always the best gauge for a team that was long out of any race for postseason contention.
So the way he comes out of the gate in 2019 could go a long way in determining where the Mets are headed. If he can return to ace form, along with deGrom and perhaps Zack Wheeler as well, the Mets might just make good on Brodie Van Wagenen's bold talk about being favorites in the NL.
With that in mind, I asked Syndergaard if he was thinking like deGrom, who at this time last year was openly saying he wanted to make good on his ability and win a Cy Young Award, and then delivered in historic fashion.
Syndergaard clearly wasn't comfortable with the idea.
"I try to control the controllables, go out there and win every pitch," he said. "If that gives me a Cy Young, it gives me a Cy Young, but I'm not going to put that kind of goal on myself. I'm just going to go out there and be the best teammate I can be."
He said he wants to keep it simple, which is understandable after the last couple of seasons, missing most of 2017 due to a torn lat muscle and then his various ailments last year, including the bout with hand, foot, and mouth disease.
Syndergaard mostly wants to get back to the playoffs, and as such he seems energized by the moves Van Wagenen has made.
"The thought of approaching this 2019 season as a whole, it gives me goose bumps," he said. "It gets me excited, brings me back to that feeling we had in 2015. It's tough to describe with words, but there's a lot of excitement. A lot of guys are holding each other accountable, pulling for one another, trying to make each of us the best baseball players we can be."
For Syndergaard, a return to throwing his high fastball might accomplish just that.