I don’t think I have to tell you that Noah Syndergaard can be a pretty amazing pitcher.In 2015, the guy pitched to a 3.24 ERA with a 27.5% strikeout rate through 150 innings, in 2016 he got even better with a 2.60 ERA and 29.3% strikeout rate through 183.2 innings, and in 2018, he rocked a 3.03 ERA with a 24.1% strikeout rate.
The guy has some pretty incredible stuff. I mean, our 404 “Page not found” landing page here on Pitcher List is a GIF of an old Syndergaard sinker that is still one of my favorite GIFs ever.
It’s just filthy. So, so filthy.
So based on all that success, it makes sense that everyone drafted him expecting another top-15 or better season out of him. But that isn’t what’s happened so far. In fact, he’s been just the opposite—really terrible.
So far this year, Thor has himself a 4.90 ERA through 75.1 innings so far, and he’s had some blowup starts this year, with seven starts giving up at least four earned runs.
Essentially, coming into the season, we all expected to get Age of Ultron Thor and instead we’ve gotten Endgame Thor so far.
So what’s wrong with him? He can fix this, right? I think he might be able to, I mean he’s an immensely talented pitcher, but I’m worried about what’s going on right now, and the problem has mostly been with one pitch—his slider.
Thor’s slider woes
Last year, Thor had a great slider. It produced a 45.8% chase rate, 25.1% SwStr rate, had a .200 wOBA against, and a 7.9 pVAL. It was a great complement to his super-fast sinker, coming in around 92 MPH on average with some sharp bite that was almost like a cutter.
You can see it here:
This year, however, Thor’s slider hasn’t just been a little off, it’s been an entirely different pitch. It’s averaging just 88.4 MPH and sporting a mediocre 33.3% chase rate (though a solid 15% SwStr rate).
It’s also lost that cutter-like movement and is instead a much loopier slider with a good bit more vertical movement, more than it’s ever had in his career:
In fact, the vertical movement on his slider is just about the most vertical movement that pitch has had in his entire career:
He’s also been throwing it in the zone way more, increasing its zone rate from 31.4% last year to 58.8% this year. That’s a massive increase, and you can see where he’s locating it compared to last year (2018 on left, 2019 on right):
As a result of all of this, Thor’s slider has been imminently hittable, as hitters have a .325 wOBA and, perhaps more importantly, a .233 ISO against the pitch.
What’s worse is this change doesn’t look like it was intentional. In fact, Syndergaard told Yahoo Sports that he basically has no idea what’s wrong and said his slider is “horrible right now.”
“I don’t know what happened to having one of the best sliders in the game to now having zero confidence throwing it,” he said. He added, “I mean, it has to [return]. It can’t just disappear.”
Yikes. That is not what you want to hear a pitcher say. It sounds like this is getting into Thor’s head and it’s causing problems.
The New York Mets‘ pitching coach Dave Eiland essentially confirmed that. “[Syndergaard’s] infatuated because [his slider is] not 95. It’s 88, 89. I don’t care how hard it is, I want shape of it and location of it. That’s the most important thing,” Eiland said. “His thoughts on it are very negative. If you always have a negative thought on something, it’s not going to be very good.”
Because of how bad his slider has been, its usage has gone down to a career-low 12.8% and has been throwing his changeup more. That’s actually not all that terrible, because his changeup has been solid, sporting a 43% chase rate, 54.6% zone rate, and 20.5% SwStr rate, counting it as a money pitch.
Thor’s sinker problem
Thor has also had a bit of a problem with his sinker this year too. It’s never really been a strikeout pitch, it’s more been a great setup pitch to his slider (that he no longer has), but this year, he hasn’t been locating it well at all, increasing its zone rate from 54.3% to 62.5%.
Last year (on the left), Thor was spreading his sinker around the plate. This year (on the right), not so much.
Because he’s been commanding it so poorly, he’s been making a lot of mistakes with it. While it’s generally had a pretty high average against (.280 last year, .296 this year), what’s changed is the power numbers against it. Last year, the pitch had a respectable .130 ISO against. This year, it’s a pretty awful .222 ISO.
So what has Thor been doing in response? Throwing his four-seamer more. His sinker is sitting at a 28.3% usage rate, the lowest since his rookie season, and his four-seamer is sitting at a 30.6% usage rate, the highest since that same year.
That’s not super great, because it’s also been a hittable pitch, with hitters having a .334 wOBA against it. However, it’s limited power hits, with a .127 ISO against. But where his two most-thrown pitches last year were his excellent sinker and slider (the latter of which induced loads of weak contact), his two most-thrown pitches this year have a .296 average against (his four-seamer) and a .344 average against (his sinker). So two pretty hittable pitches.
How worried should you be?
In my opinion? You should be pretty worried. I don’t like that Thor has no idea what’s happened to his slider, I don’t like that it’s getting into his head.
I said on the most recent On The Corner podcast that Thor strikes me as the mental opposite of Trevor Bauer. While Bauer is someone who has the self-awareness to look at his repertoire and either work on tweaking pitches that aren’t working or use them less, Thor seems more like someone who’s just going to keep on throwing stuff and hope that it works itself out.
Now, I’m not saying drop Thor or anything. You shouldn’t. However, if you can find someone who wants to bite on the name value, go for it.
However, as Nick also mentioned on the podcast, Thor is a guy who has some elite stuff, and if he figures out this slider problem, he’s right back to being the Thor we all wanted him to be. The potential is there, he’s not lost forever. But I’m not liking what I’m seeing so far.
Photo by Bennett Cohen/Icon Sportswire