Playoff TV: A Look at Noah Syndergaard
A couple of months ago I was flipping through channels trying to find something to watch on a Saturday night. I stumbled across a local sports channel Comcast offers that only ran high school sports as far as I knew. Lo and behold, they also broadcast all of the home games for the Fort Wayne TinCaps. I set the DVR for a couple of games and checked them out, but ultimately I forgot about it until the Midwest League playoffs rolled around. Luckily, I remembered to set the DVR for the first game of the TinCaps playoff series with the Lansing Lugnuts and starter Noah Syndergaard.
Syndergaard came out in the first inning relying heavily on his mid 90′s fastball. The television broadcast doesn’t show radar readings unfortunately, though the announcers did give one fastball velocity of 95 mph this inning, which is in line with scouting reports. Syndergaard faced five hitters in the inning, giving up two hits and a run on 15 pitches. He and his battery mate worked hard at attacking the inner half of the plate against the first two hitters, lefthanders Travis Jankowski and Jace Peterson. Jankowski saw all fastballs, fouling off before weakly grounding out to first base. Peterson saw three fastballs to start his at bat, getting in a 1-2 count before Syndergaard put him away with a nice looking change up with plenty of drop for a swing strikeout.
The first right handed batter Syndergaard faced was Midwest League batting champ Yeison Asencio. They worked him low and away with two fastballs to start, but Asencio hit a chopper to third base on the first curveball of the night from Syndergaard. The pitch was left up in the zone and was probably the second worst curve he threw all night. First basemen Travis Whitmore took a high fastball and crushed it to deep center over the head of Dalton Pompey for an RBI triple. This was the first hard hit ball off of Syndergaard, but not the last. Syndergaard got some help from DH Jeremy Baltz who tried to check his swing on a fastball in a similar spot to the one Whitmore tagged, instead Baltz made weak contact and grounded out to first to end the inning. To my eye Syndergaard’s control was a bit off this inning, whether it was nerves or what I’m not sure, but he missed his spot on six of his fifteen pitches and got a couple of called strikes that were a bit outside the zone; the homeplate umpire was very generous all night.
Padres catching prospect Austin Hedges led off the 2nd inning with a six pitch at bat, fouling off a couple of fastballs and watching a Syndergaard miss low with the heater twice before flicking his bat out to take a low fastball up the middle for a single. Duanel Jones took a low strike on a fastball to start his at bat, then took another fastball into centerfield that Pompey nearly overran. This was another well hit ball and while Pompey seemed to misjudge it, Syndergaard was lucky it didn’t end up an RBI double. Kyle Gaedele took a fastball down and in for a first pitch strike and curve for a strike before putting a charge into the second change up Syndergaard threw. This time Pompey made a great play, a sliding catch in the right-center gap that once again saved a well struck ball from dropping in as a run scoring hit. Tyler Stubblefield took a loopy curveball up in the zone for a ball, the worst of the eight curves Syndergaard threw all day, then stung a fastball down the third base line that Gustavo Pierre made a great play on, saving a sure double. This was one of those innings where the weakest contact made resulted in the only hit of the inning and Syndergaard’s defense was there to pick him up on the hard hit balls.
The third inning started off with the top of the order again and after working Jankowski inside in the first, Syndergaard started him out with two fastballs, one away and one in the dirt to get in a 2-0 hole. He came back with a fastball down the middle for a strike and another fastball away for a ball. Jankowski got tied up on an fastball in and grounded out to second base. Syndergaard tried to work the lower portion of the zone against Peterson as well with similar results, two heaters in the dirt and a foul ball. Peterson took a fastball up for a ball and looked at fastball down the middle on a 3-1 count. Syndergaard put him away with another fastball down in the zone, getting a comebacker for the second out. Asencio fouled off what looked to be a change that was far enough inside it might have hit him if he didn’t swing at it. He swung through another fastball before watching a heater low in the zone for an inning ending strikeout. Even though Syndergaard ran up consecutive three ball counts to the first hitters, he was missing down in the zone which you’d rather see than leaving the pitches up in the zone like he did in the first inning.
Whitmore led off the 4th inning, getting to a 2-2 count on three fastballs and an unknown pitch they didn’t cut back to in time. Syndergaard put him away with a nice curveball that totally fooled Whitmore for his third punchout. Syndergaard continued working down in the zone to Baltz, missing low twice and getting to another 2-2 count on four fastballs. Baltz waited back on the next pitch, taking a fastball low and in the other way for a double down the left field line. This was another example of good contact against Syndergaard’s fastball.
Hedges came up for his second at bat and took a curveball for strike one and two fastballs down and in, the second of which showed some nice arm side run. Syndergaard came back with a nice, sharp breaking curveball for a swinging strike to even the count at 2-2. He put Hedges away on another fastball down and in for a swinging strikeout, again showing that nice arm side run. This was a bit surprising because there seemed to be a bit of talk this year about Syndergaard’s fastball having plus velocity but being fairly straight. I saw a good bit of that in this start, most of the hard hit balls came on pretty straight fastballs, but if he can throw more of the ones he threw to Hedges with the arm side run that plus the velocity will tough even for major league hitters.
Duanel Jones took a fastball for a strike, fouled off another fastball over the plate and fouled off a curveball the announcers said hit 84 mph, though it wasn’t as sharp as the one second curve to Hedges. Another fastball down and in for called strike ended the 4th. Once again, Syndergaard missed his spot a number of times even with the generous strikezone, but it was also down in the zone this inning too which is better than the alternative. I know control and command of the fastball was supposed to a strength for Syndergaard, and I did see legitimate flashes of that during the game, it was just inconsistent.
Gaedele led off the 5th and was all over the place. Fastball up for ball one; fastball low for ball two; another fastball fouled off for strike one; another fastball low for ball three and a fastball up for the leadoff walk. Stubblefield took a fastball up for ball one then smacked another high fastball for a single through the right side. That prompted a visit from the pitching coach before Syndergaard faced Travis Jankowski for the third time. After doing a good job in the first four innings of getting ahead of hitters, ten out of his first sixteen batters faced started out 0-1, Syndergaard let the third hitter of the inning get ahead in the count. A fastball away evened the count and a foul ball on a fastball up and away but Jankowski behind. Syndergaard’s final pitch was a fastball that was supposed to be inside that stayed over the plate and was taken the other way for a single to left, driving in the second run for Fort Wayne.
Syndergaard’s final line of 4IP 6H 3ER 1BB 5K wasn’t great, but with all the hard contact early it could have been much worse. There were definitely flashes of the pitcher that so many hold in high esteem. The velocity seemed to be there and both his secondary pitches flashed above average or better. There were also a lot of straight fastballs that got hit hard and inconsistency in his secondaries as well as his command and control. I’m willing to believe I caught him on a bad day as well, prior to this start Syndergaard hadn’t allowed a single run to Fort Wayne in 16 innings against them this season. Overall, I was impressed with some of the things he was able to do, I just wasn’t blown away like I expected to be.