It's strange to think that just over a month ago things weren't looking great for the New York Mets. Losing Zack Wheeler would be a devastating blow to any team, but their rotation depth -- which Alderson opted to keep as opposed to trading it away for much-needed depth in the field -- seemed to provide a serviceable replacement in Dillon Gee. Sure there seemed to be some sheepish optimism, but none of our writers picked the Mets to finish first and the consensus was that they would finish third in the NL East. However, one month into the season the Mets are in first place, 3.5 games ahead of the 2015 World Series winning* Washington Nationals and boast the the fourth-best rotation in the majors by FIP, buoyed by the outstanding work of the hero Gotham deserves and needs right now.
* - warning, series not yet decided.
But even the Mets' depth's depth is being tested and, with Dillon Gee making a trip to the DL, it's time for Noah Syndergaard to make his mark on the majors. Affectionately nicknamed Thor, he will be the second superhero to pitch for the Mets this season. Blue Jays fans may remember him as the guy Anthopoulos traded away (with Travis d'Arnaud) in exchange for R.A. Dickey. Despite Dickey being a very serviceable pitcher, Blue Jays fans are still pretty sore about giving up two top prospects, even though Syndergaard never progressed beyond A-ball as a Blue Jay. In fact, they're so sore about it that Mike Wilner, host of Blue Jays Talk, anticipates some phone calls on the topic:
However, this is why trades like this are made. Anthopoulos, at the time, was putting together what was supposed to be a contender and Alderson was dealing from strength with aspirations for the future. Tuesday is the future Alderson dreamed about in 2013. With Syndergaard coming off an 8-inning victory for AAA Las Vegas' 14th straight win, expectations will be sky-high -- maybe even as high as the home run he clobbered in the same game. What should we truly expect of Syndergaard when he faces off against the Chicago Cubs?
Syndergaard's prospect profile suggests that his peripheral pitches have yet to catch up with his major-league-ready fastball. Narrative suggests that a pitcher can "get by" on a good fastball in the minors, but the test of a prospect is how their breaking ball and off-speed pitches perform and progress against major league bats. If I had to guess what broadcasters will discuss during Syndergaard's first start, it would be that. He may even be compared in this way to Carlos Rodon, who made the first start of his young career this past Saturday night, and flashed his very impressive slider a few times while striking out eight over five innings. That being said, Baseball Prospectus likes his changeup which "offers excellent deception from both a velocity difference (typically in the high 70s as compared to the 94-96 mph fastball) and his ability to keep that difference without losing much arm speed."
What about Thor's pre-season projections? Both Steamer and Depth Charts agree that, over 45 innings pitched this season, Syndergaard will amass 0.8 fWAR at 3.44 FIP in 8 starts. To put that in better perspective, Matt Harvey has accumulated 0.9 fWAR over 39.2 innings. Perhaps the best comparison we have to that is Corey Kluber who, over 44.2 innings has collect 0.9 fWAR. It's never an unfavourable comparison when you get mentioned in the same breath as a Cy Young winner, even if he does have a 5.04 ERA (which is heavily-inflated by his .364 BABIP).
PECOTA tells a slightly different story though. Characteristically the pessimist in the projection family, the pre-season projections for Syndergaard indicate quite a bit of promise. Garnering favourable comparisons to Gerrit Cole and Danny Duffy, PECOTA thinks Syndergaard will be worth 1.1 WARP in 2015. Where PECOTA gets wildly optimistic is in how long Syndergaard stays in the majors, pitching 120.1 innings over 25 starts. Neither of these are altogether impossible to achieve when you get called up at the beginning of May, but Syndergaard may have an uphill battle as performance alone may not keep him in the majors. But hey, rotation-mates Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom pulled it off in 2013 and 2014 respectively, so I wouldn't necessarily bet the under either.
Whether Syndergaard makes his stay a longer one than the projections indicate is largely up to his performance and Dillon Gee's groin. My optimism for him staying in the majors for the remainder of the season is admittedly low, however, there's no reason a taste of the majors followed by a lengthy stint in AAA before a September call-up won't help Thor become Mighty.
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Michael Bradburn is a Featured Writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @mwbii. You can also reach him at email@example.com