Mets RHP Noah Syndergaard hasn't seemed like himself this season. The 26-year-old has a 4.93 ERA, and just hasn't looked comfortable.
Syndergaard has never been one to mince words, but his bluntness after last week's tough start stood out.
"I sucked," he said, per the New York Post. "I am still trying to figure it out."
Some have gone so far as to compare Syndergaard and Matt Harvey -- another former Mets ace with a bold personality who struggled with injuries and saw a subsequent decline in performance on his way out of the Big Apple.
However, Mets fans should pump the brakes with talks of Syndergaard's potential Harvey-esque demise.
Let's start with the numbers...
Syndergaard's ERA has gone up almost two runs and he's allowed one more home run already this year than he did all last year, though is should be noted that his FIP is 3.70 and his strikeout and walk rates are around his career norms. After parsing through other advanced numbers, it seems Syndergaard's issues center around one key problem.
For whatever reason, batters are connecting on his slider far more often than usual. Syndergaard has allowed three home runs off the pitch this year after allowing a grand total of one dinger off the slider in his previous four seasons. And it's more than just home runs.
Batters are swinging and missing less on Syndergaard's slider, and they've seen their OPS against the pitch jump from .455 in 2018 to .747 in 2019. Most concerning, Syndergaard's velocity on the pitch has dropped by about 3.5 mph -- a likely catalyst for these problems.
Syndergaard has tried to adjust. He's only used his slider for 7.9 percent of his pitches in May, which marks a huge drop in usage. Syndergaard has pointed to difficulty gripping the baseball as a reason for his lost velocity. While throwing the slider less often may work for a little bit, he can't stop throwing the pitch forever. He will need to get his slider back on track to reach his full potential.
These struggles with the slider may also suggest a reason for Syndergaard's less-aggressive approach this year. If you compare his heatmaps (which show pitch location) from his solid 2017-2018 seasons and his 2019 season, it is clear that he is not pitching inside as much this year.
Still, it's not the end of the world for Syndergaard. Although he's lost some command and velocity of his favorite pitch, potentially resulting in a lack of aggressiveness, his other pitches and metrics are mostly intact. He hasn't lost any velocity or spin rate off his trademark fastball, which means that whatever is causing the issues with his slider isn't affecting his other pitches. And as is noted above, his strikeout and walk rates are still strong.
But how do we know that things are going to be OK for Syndergaard? Let's go back to Harvey.
The difference between Syndergaard and Harvey is that Harvey's metrics completely nosedived after his return from Tommy John surgery and then Thoracic Outlet surgery. He lost precious speed and spin rate on all of his pitches, particularly his fastball.
That led to worsening strikeout, walk, home run and whiff rates. Eventually, his approach went from an aggressive, up-in-the-zone attack mentality to throwing meatballs over the middle of the plate.
With Harvey, it's pretty clear that his injuries robbed him of his A-quality stuff. We can't say the same for Syndergaard yet. So far, it's just been two bad months. Some have even said that Syndergaard's velocity drop has been intentional to create more separation between his fastball and offspeed pitches. If that's the case, it's time to go back to what was working.
Advanced metrics are often the key in figuring out if a pitcher is just in a rut or if they're really on the decline. We've seen it before with Harvey. In all likelihood, though, Syndergaard is just a slider away from being his old dominant self.