I know everyone is quick to anoint Joc Pederson or Kris Bryant the eventual NL Rookie of the Year winner. Pederson has 20 home runs, makes highlight worthy catches, and certainly has Vin Scully’s support. Bryant has been the talk of baseball since the season started, has been worth nearly 3.5 wins (fWAR), and looks in every way like a superstar. Either would be a worthy choice. Neither may end up winning the award.
By the end of the year, we might be discussing Noah Syndergaard as the rookie crop’s crown jewel. It would be the first time a team had back-to-back Rookie of the Year winners since Bobby Crosby and Huston Street won the award for Oakland in 2004-05 respectively and the first time in the NL since the Dodgers did it five years in a row with Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo, and Todd Hollandsworth taking the honors from 1992 through 1996. That’s assuming you foolishly believe that ’94 actually happened.
Currently, Syndergaard leads all NL rookie pitchers in fWAR, and while admittedly he has a fairly sizable gap to catch up to either Pederson or Bryant, Syndergaard certainly has the ability to be keep his name amongst MLB’s best frosh. If Syndergaard pitches games like he did last night, against an Arizona team that has the fifth best offense in baseball by batting average and sixth best by fWAR, he’ll be forcing his way into that conversation.
Take, for instance, the sequence of pitches to Paul Goldschmidt in the third inning last night. Syndergaard started Goldschmidt away with two curveballs away, a fastball up and out of the zone, another curve Goldschmidt waved at, and then a 97 mph fastball on the outside corner that Goldschmidt swung at but really had zero chance to hit. In one sequence, Syndergaard changed pitch type, speed, and location. After two 82 mph curveballs, his fastball looked untouchable. Watching the game in the comfort of my living room I was shocked at the disparity in pitch speeds.
I wonder what Goldschmidt was thinking?
He struck out Jake Lamb in the first on a curveball that nearly hit the lefties back ankle, then in the sixth struck him out on a 98 mph knee high fastball that painted the outside black. Seriously? Have fun with that.
Here are a couple of images from Fangraphs, detailing the pitch locations from Syndergaard last night.
Pitch Location to Righties vs Diamondbacks
Syndergaard stayed out of the middle of the plate for the most part, keeping the ball away. Here’s the chart to lefties:
Pitch Location to Lefties vs Diamondbacks
That one green triangle on the far right is that little beauty he threw to Lamb.
Syndergaard struck out 13 Diamondbacks last night. He struck out the side in the sixth and from the fifth through the seventh struck out seven of the 10 batters that stepped into the box. Chase Anderson, the opposing pitcher, recorded the lone hit through those three innings because pitchers, as a rule, wallop these days.
Those 13 strikeouts by Syndergaard are the most by a Mets pitcher this year and is tied for ninth for the most in the major leagues this season. It’s also the most strikeouts by a rookie through their first 11 games since Stephen Strasburg struck out 14 Pirates in his 2010 debut. It’s kinda impressive. I mean I’m sorta impressed. It’s not Kerry Woods level strikeouts. Woods struck out 13 or more batters three times in his first 11 starts, including a fairly magical 20 strikeout game against Houston that still is the single highest game by Game Score. How is 20 strikeouts even possible in any league that’s not high school and involves real people? Syndergaard hasn’t done that yet.
Only Herb Score and Dwight Gooden have more double digit strikeout games through their first 11 starts with each man having four. Syndergaard, having now accomplished this feat three times, has placed his name in a group with 11 others, including such notable names as Bob Feller, Nolan Ryan, Woods, and Luis Tiant. Masahiro Tanaka added his name to that list last season.
Of course, in Mets history, Syndergaard is just behind Gooden and tied with Ryan.
How far does Syndergaard have to go to break the Mets record for most double digit strikeout games in a season? Well, that’s not happening. Gooden had 15 such games back in 1984, proving that Gooden is the greatest Met pitcher in my lifetime. There’s no debate here. Maybe a little. I should write about this.
In more recent company, though, Matt Harvey struck out 10 or more six times back in 2013. Kerry Wood did it nine times. Hideo Nomo did it a ridiculous 11 times back in 1995. Not quite at Gooden’s level, though. 15 times! Sorry. This could quickly turn into my love for Doc and my need to always wear 16, but you don’t want that.
Anyway, Syndergaard now has 72 strikeouts on the season. Through the first 11 games of a pitcher’s career with the Mets, that ranks third behind Gooden and Ryan.
We’re back to my original point. Pederson and Bryant are the clear choices for Rookie of the Year halfway through the season. Syndergaard is making his push, however. While Pederson has recently struggled—batting .177/.326/.310 with three home runs in his last 34 games—and Bryant has a slump of his own—after a 14-game hitting streak ended Bryant is batting .206/.329/.441 over his last 20 games—Syndergaard seems to be getting better and better. Over his last three outings, Syndergaard has allowed 11 hits in 22 innings, striking out 24 with an ERA of 1.23. Batters are hitting .145/.185/.224 against him in that span with a .192 average on balls in play. Two of those offenses (the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks) rank among the top six in baseball with the Dodgers as the best, according to Fangraphs.
It’s not so early that we can’t discuss this, but it’s not fait accompli that Pederson or Bryant wins the award either.