The primary downside of the Chase Utley play over the weekend was that it happened, and that Ruben Tejada paid an unnecessary price for fielding his position. The secondary downside is that, because the play happened, it’s all anyone really wants to talk about, at least as far as that series is concerned. Which is too bad, because there’s a lot else going on, and as an example, I’d like to take a moment to discuss Noah Syndergaard. Syndergaard didn’t get the Game 2 win, but for a while he did impress, and he’s just generally fun to talk about.
One thing to talk about: Syndergaard made an immediate impression. There’s evidence that pitchers throw harder in the playoffs, and Syndergaard didn’t do much to hide his own adrenaline. According to Brooks Baseball, during the year, Syndergaard’s fastball averaged 98.1 miles per hour in the first inning, and 97.7 in the second. Against the Dodgers, it averaged 100.2 in the first inning, and 99.5 in the second before settling down. Of Syndergaard’s 20 fastest pitches of the year, he threw 13 on Saturday, all in the first three frames. Syndergaard was very conspicuously feeling it, and it took the Dodgers a while to catch up.
But if it’s the velocity that brings you in, it’s the rest of Syndergaard’s repertoire that keeps you engrossed. Already, Syndergaard throws one breaking ball with a nickname. Against the Dodgers, Syndergaard featured a second breaking ball, one he hadn’t played with much before.
I recognize this as being Eno’s territory. Eno has written often about what he’s termed the (Dan) Warthen slider, and it’s a pitch that’s been used to great success by some of Syndergaard’s current teammates. As for Syndergaard himself, for a while he was content to stick with the curve. He said in July, of the slider:
Played with it a little just to pick up the rpms on the curveball.
And an excerpt from the end:
As of now, I’m just a fastball / curveball / changeup guy.
Syndergaard, of course, wasn’t lying. He knew how to throw a slider — just about every pitcher knows how to throw a slider — but it wasn’t among his weapons. Syndergaard figured he already had enough, but if he’d remained in the same place, this post wouldn’t exist. More recently, the slider has appeared, in considerable numbers. You could say it shows up in fits and starts, with Syndergaard maybe not yet convinced it works for him, but it was a frequent pitch Saturday night. You don’t throw a pitch more than a dozen times in your playoff debut unless you have a certain amount of trust in it. Syndergaard’s slider is coming along.
Here’s a plot of how often the slider has been used, progressing start by start:
There’s nothing, then there’s a blip. Then some more blips, then a sudden burst of activity. Over consecutive starts in September, Syndergaard threw the pitch more than a tenth of the time, but then it went away once more before reappearing in Los Angeles. It wasn’t far and away Syndergaard’s greatest rate of slider usage, but considering the stakes, it feels meaningful. And that slider was boring in at upwards of 88 miles per hour.
For a chance to see the pitch in action, here’s Adrian Gonzalez striking out:
Here’s Yasmani Grandal striking out:
Here’s Justin Turner with a hell of a take:
Not every slider looked that good. I’ve shown you some of the best, because they’re the most visually appealing. But what matters most is that the pitch was thrown as often as it was in the first place. Syndergaard didn’t abandon the pitch when a few got away from him. Of the 17 sliders, nine came in two-strike counts. None of them were put into play. Gonzalez saw five sliders out of 20 pitches from Syndergaard. Grandal saw four sliders out of 13 pitches from Syndergaard. Thor’s Hammer made its own appearances, but as breaking balls went, it played second fiddle.
I don’t know if Syndergaard’s Game 2 slider meets the requirements of being a classic “Warthen slider.” The velocity was high, but the pitch also had a lot of drop, so it’s not totally clean. What we can say, though, is we saw a slider Syndergaard started throwing with Warthen as a coach, so maybe we don’t need to draw lines where lines needn’t exist. Warthen, presumably, had some input here. Which makes it its own sort of Warthen slider, ultimately.
Syndergaard didn’t show the Dodgers a brand-new pitch. He’d gone to the slider before, most notably in September. But it’s still a fairly new pitch, and unlike September, October sees the Mets playing for something, Syndergaard pitching for something. Under that amount of pressure, Syndergaard threw more sliders than he threw curveballs, and I don’t think that happens unless he’s gained a good amount of confidence in the slider in a short amount of time. I don’t know if Noah Syndergaard was ever hurting for confidence. Yet it does seem like bad news for hitters that he might now have more of it.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.