Thor. A god of thunder and power. The son of Odin, the Allfather. Wielder of lightning and the hammer Mjolnir. A titanic figure, a warrior, an unparalleled power.
With his long flowing blonde locks, Noah Syndergaard carries the mantle of Thor with him to the mound. Syndergaard does not wield lightning when he pitches. He instead conjures up fire. Sinkers and four-seam fastballs at 100 MPH come at any point in any inning. Changeups that can reach 90. A hard curve in the low 80's. And now, a slider that's averaging 92 and has been seen as high as 95. Not a different form of fastball, but the new form of slider cooked up by Mets pitching coach/evil mastermind Dan Warthen. H/T to Emma Baccellieri for the following GIF.
His rookie campaign in 2015 was excellent on its own. Syndergaard retired an average of 9.96 batters every nine innings by way of the strikeout. In a very small sample this year, he's averaging 13.05 per nine. That figure went down when he punched out eight Phillies hitters over seven innings of work on Monday.
Indeed, Syndergaard's entire season thus far has all the makings of a Tony Award-winning bit of small sample size theater. A starter simply cannot be this dominant every time out, no? The opposition can't possibly be made to look so very feeble with regularity, can it? A starter going a whole season with a 0.90 ERA is unfathomable.
But then again, we've never quite seen a starter do what Syndergaard is doing. No pitcher has ever pulled triple digits out of his pocket in the latter third of the game and then followed it up with a mid-90's slider. In fact, no starter has ever consistently thrown a mid-90's slider. Or, for that matter, ever employed one in the first place. There are starters in the game right now that have scorching velocity. These are the Nathan Eovaldi's and Luis Severino's of the world, the Carlos Martinez's and Yordano Ventura's. None of them possesses Syndergaard's command or the acrobatic movement pitches to match his. They don't have Syndergaard's easy and loose motion to the plate. Thor is in uncharted waters right now.
How hard does Syndergaard throw? Plawecki blocked a pitch w/ his chest. Theres now an imprint where his necklace was pic.twitter.com/Sd52ije5PZ— Steve Gelbs (@SteveGelbs) April 19, 2016
Despite all of that, and the fact that his FIP is actually lower than his ERA at the moment, Syndergaard probably cannot maintain a sub-1 ERA all year. But if he continues to throw like this, it likely won't creep much over 2.
Some pitchers make hitters off-balance or uncomfortable. Take, for instance, the frame of mind that a light-hitting middle infielder has when he faces Wade Davis. It probably isn't going to end well. Davis will have his due, and the light-hitting middle infielder will grab some pine.
The average plate appearance against the 2016 model year version of Noah Syndergaard is like planting one's self in the middle of a tornado. The debris is flying at potentially deadly speeds and on unpredictable trajectories. It's impossible to dig in without worrying about losing your head or being spun around like a child.
And that's why Syndergaard is so special, no? He offers the brutal form of an end-game reliever, but with a wider arsenal of pitches and much more length. Imagine facing Dellin Betances for seven innings. Then imagine that Betances also throws a ridiculous slider and has impeccable fastball command. That's basically what Syndergaard is doing.
His rest-of-season projections paint a much more subdued picture. PECOTA, which is programmed rather conservatively to begin with, says that Syndergaard will pitch to a 3.09 ERA from here on out. ZiPS projects a 3.00 ERA and a K/9 that falls to 10.40.
What the projection systems can't comprehend is that Syndergaard's results aren't the products of batted ball luck and sequencing magic. There's no overabundance of ground balls that lack seeing eyes. The batters he's faced haven't been overly unwise on when they've chosen to swing and he hasn't been aided at an above-average level by umpires.
Syndergaard has forged his own luck with unyielding fire and the heart of a dying star. We're compelled to analyze his future through the traditional lens of a starter, but Syndergaard has been anything but traditional. No starter has thrown this hard with this much control and with this much movement. While there are fairly legitimate concerns that throwing sliders this hard could be the undoing of his elbow, there's not much reason to suspect that Syndergaard's next outing, and the outing after that, won't be as utterly dominant.
We could very well be witnessing the birth of one of the greatest seasons of pitching ever. If Thor maintains his command and velocity, there is very little than can stop him.