A bad feeling crept into my stomach during Noah Syndergaard’s Phillies debut last Thursday night. It stuck with me until the game was mercifully cut short due to inclement weather in 5th inning. It’s not that I wasn’t excited for Thor’s debut – he was the Phillies biggest acquisition at the trade deadline. The team desperately needed starting pitching and voila, all of a sudden they had a veritable starter, and a former All-Star at that. My anxiety around Syndergaard’s start wasn’t based on unrealistic expectations either – I knew that the former flame thrower had lost some of his zip and was no longer amongst the game’s elite after missing the past two seasons recovering from Tommy John Surgery.
It wasn’t that Syndergaard even looked that bad during his start, his 6’6 frame a striking presence in the team’s powder blue alternate blue uniforms. He pitched fine enough, escaping a few bad situations to grind through 5 innings. In fact, My nagging negativity was due solely to one observation – that Syndergaard, in his debut performance, looked all too familiar.
The stiff delivery. The inability to follow through on seemingly any of his diverse array of pitches, leaving them high in the strike zone. The impressive movement on all of his pitches, especially his sinker – straight into the sweet spot of the opposition’s bats.
A former fire-baller, now bereft of his velocity, unable to effectively make the transition to a contact pitcher.
We’ve seen this before. Only this time, it cost Mickey Moniak and $7.86 million and not $75 million over three years.
Yes, I said it – Syndergaard’s start last Thursday night looked awfully reminiscent of Jake Arrieta’s tenure with the Phillies. The high pitch count, hard hit balls, and struggle to make it through the early innings felt like a bad dream come to life. Is this really all we’re gonna get out of Syndergaard?
Maybe so – however, if it is, it’s not the worst thing in the world. Not only did Syndergaard’s services only cost Mickey Moniak and the Phillies’ absorption of his remaining salary – he is only a two month rental after all – the organization didn’t have to forfeit any of their top three pitching prospects in Griff McGarry, Andrew Painter, or Mick Abel. Moreover, whatever Syndergaard is able to give the Phillies will be better than what Zach Eflin, who hasn’t pitched since June 25th, has to offer.
And then there’s the optimistic approach. After all, Syndergaard is only 29 years old. While his numbers aren’t great this year, he has already thrown 80 innings with a 3.83 ERA in his first full season back from Tommy John. Also notable is that Thursday night’s start came after a full 9 days of rest – perhaps Thor was just shaking off some rust.
All of which is to say, that there is a reality in which Syndergaard grows into himself as a pitcher – with time, he learns how to harness his movement, pitch to soft contact, and consistently locate his pitches at the bottom half of the strike zone. If he can do that, the result will be mutually beneficial to both him and the Phillies – a playoff run punctuated by a strong second half could result in a solid pay-day come free agency – potentially from a certain Mr. Middleton somewhere in South Philly.
Featured Image: AP Photo / Matt Rourke