In some good news for the Mets and their fans, Noah Syndergaard has shown up camp this spring looking as good — and as healthy — as ever.
Syndergaard made just seven starts in 2017, missing most of the year due to biceps tendinitis and a partially torn lat muscle. Through five spring starts, Syndergaard has pitched 20 innings, allowing three earned runs and posting a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 23:6.
The numbers, while obviously good to see, do not matter — it’s spring training, and Syndergaard’s average opponent quality, according to Baseball-Reference, has been an 8.6 out of 10 thus far, equivalent to a Quad-A talent. That’s not what’s important, though. What is important, however, is Syndergaard’s stuff.
Check out this 92-mph slider that froze Jose Altuve from Feb. 26:
Altuve’s reaction is hilarious. What a pitch.
In his two innings against the Astros, Syndergaard seemed amped up. Of his 22 pitches that day, 11 of them registered as 100-mph or greater on the radar gun. Syndergaard was lighting it up.
Then, on March 3, in his second start, Syndergaard again turned up the heat, zipping his fastball by hitters with 100+ once again. Syndergaard looked so good, in fact, that some reporters asked him if he was overthrowing.
And on March 8, Syndergaard struck out seven consecutive Nationals hitters in a 3 1⁄3-inning outing.
“Who is freaking out?” Syndergaard told reporters on Friday. “People with no baseball expertise? I am not too concerned people saying there is a harm in throwing too hard, too early. If I am already there at this point and I am capable of doing that, then how is it too early? I wasn’t overthrowing. I was throwing free and easy. ... That’s not something I can worry about. I was under control.”
If Syndergaard’s “free and easy” pitching continues throughout the season, then what are the chances that he could contend for the National League Cy Young award this year?
He certainly has the capability to do it. In 2016 — the only 30+ start season of his career to this point — Syndergaard posted a 14-9 record with a 2.60 ERA over 183 2⁄3 innings pitched. Advanced metrics loved him, too, as his 218:43 strikeout-to-walk ratio gave him very favorable FIP (2.29) and xFIP (2.67) marks. Overall, Syndergaard was worth 6.4 fWAR, making him the most valuable pitcher in baseball.
There was a solid argument for Syndergaard to win the award in that season, but it ended up going to Max Scherzer, whose 284 strikeouts, 228 1⁄3 innings pitched and 20 wins certainly looked better to the voters. Syndergaard, in fact, finished in eighth.
Syndergaard’s phenomenal 2016 season made him a trendy pick to win the 2017 Cy Young award. In Las Vegas, Syndergaard had the second-best odds to win the award, behind only Clayton Kershaw. But in the end, due to Syndergaard’s (and Kershaw’s) injuries, it went again to Scherzer, who collected the hardware for the third time in his career.
Now, Syndergaard once again has a chance to unseat Scherzer, granted he stays healthy. The only way I can see Syndergaard winning the 2018 Cy Young award is if he surpasses 200 innings, a number many voters like to see as proof of durability. One of the reasons Scherzer has won his trio of Cy Youngs, aside from his excellent pitching, has been his characteristic durability — he’s thrown 200+ innings in five consecutive years.
That brings me back to Syndergaard, who has actually never thrown 200 innings at any point over his professional career. This significantly impacts his chances, but if he is able to stay as healthy as he looks right now (which is a big question), he will absolutely remain in the running.
Another problem remains, though: The National League is loaded with good pitching. Even outside of Scherzer and Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Stephen Strasburg, Jake Arrieta (if he regains his old form), Zack Greinke and Jacob deGrom could all compete for the Cy Young next year. On the outside looking in, there are starters like Aaron Nola, Robbie Ray and Michael Wacha, but it’s likely those three will remain as solid borderline No. 1/No. 2 pitchers without making a big jump into the conversation.
The point remains: the competition is fierce.
Of course, if Noah Syndergaard pitches like he always does, and is able to rack up a ton of innings this year, he will have a very good chance of winning the 2018 National League Cy Young award.
For now, though, he needs to focus on keeping it “free and easy.”
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.