Noah Syndergaard’s Comps Imply Ace Potential

After falling to 2-0 against the Royals and their high-contact ways, the Mets will turn to rookie Noah Syndergaard for game 3 tonight. After disappointing outings from both Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom, the Mets are hoping he’ll pitch like he has all season long, and keep his team within striking distance of a World Series title.

I last wrote about Syndergaard when he was called up back in May. Heading into the year, KATOH pegged him for 11.5 WAR through age 28, which was the second highest forecast among pitching prospects, and sixth highest overall. Although he posted an unremarkable 4.60 ERA in a full season at Triple-A in 2014, Syndergaard’s near-30% strikeout rate pushed his KATOH forecast to elite levels. A pitcher’s minor league strikeout rate is a very strong predictor of big league success, and Syndergaard’s was the highest of any Triple-A pitcher at the time of his call up. All while being one of the youngest pitchers at the level.

Thus far, Syndergaard’s lived up to KATOH’s high expectations — and then some. He maintained his near-30% strikeout rate in his rookie season, and actually improved his walk rate at the highest level. The end result was a 3.24 ERA and 3.25 FIP — both figures tops among rookies with at least 130 innings pitched. Those numbers don’t even consider the stellar job he’s done in this year’s postseason: a 1.44 FIP with a 38% strikeout rate against some of the best hitters the National League had to offer.

As I often do for young players, I generated a list of comps for Syndergaard’s 2015 season by way of some Mahalanobis distance calculations. This time in particular, I considered the stats that go into the SIERA formula, which does a good job of predicting run prevention. But the stats are only part of what makes Syndergaard so impressive. Perhaps more exciting than the stats themselves are the pitches Syndergard uses to generate them. Most notably, he wields a fastball that can touch triple digits. So, rather than ignore this piece of information, I added a parameter for fastball velocity to my analysis to account for the fact that he throws extremely hard.

Below are the pitchers who were most similar to Syndergaard in terms of stats and stuff, ranked from most to least similar. I considered all player seasons between ages 21 and 23 with over 500 batters faced. I included z-scores (centered to league average) for the key parameters, so you can see exactly how these pitchers’ seasons differed from Syndergaard’s. So 0 is average, positive numbers are above average, and negative numbers are below average.

Noah Syndergaard’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Season Name Age ERA- xFIP- z-K% z-BB% z-GB% z-FBv Mah Dist
0 2015 Noah Syndergaard 22 88 75 1.6 -1.2 0.2 1.8 0.0
1 2011 Clayton Kershaw 23 62 74 1.9 -1.0 -0.6 0.7 12.1
2 2010 Mat Latos 22 79 80 1.5 -0.9 -0.3 0.9 12.7
3 2011 Madison Bumgarner 21 89 80 0.9 -1.3 0.4 0.1 15.2
4 2014 Gerrit Cole 23 104 88 0.8 -0.3 0.8 1.3 15.2
5 2012 Chris Sale 23 72 78 1.1 -0.7 0.2 0.0 17.0
6 2012 Stephen Strasburg 23 80 72 2.3 -0.3 -0.1 1.4 17.2
7 2006 Jeremy Bonderman 23 89 78 1.2 -0.6 0.8 1.0 18.1
8 2012 Madison Bumgarner 22 92 88 0.6 -1.1 0.3 -0.2 18.8
9 2013 Patrick Corbin 23 88 92 0.2 -0.8 0.3 0.1 23.1
10 2014 Marcus Stroman 23 94 84 0.1 -1.1 1.6 0.6 23.7
11 2005 Rich Harden 23 60 77 1.5 0.1 0.0 1.7 23.8
12 2007 Cole Hamels 23 74 75 1.5 -1.3 -0.5 1.6 23.9
13 2003 Colby Lewis 23 152 110 -0.3 1.6 -0.5 -0.3 24.4
14 2009 Brett Anderson 21 94 81 0.5 -1.3 1.8 0.5 24.5
15 2004 Jake Peavy 23 57 79 1.8 -0.5 -0.5 2.0 24.6

Here’s a glimpse at how these players’ careers progressed.

Noah Syndergaard’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Season Name Next Season WAR Highest WAR
0 2015 Noah Syndergaard ? ?
1 2011 Clayton Kershaw 5.9 8.6 (2015)
2 2010 Mat Latos 3.8 4.8 (2013)
3 2011 Madison Bumgarner 3.1 5.1 (2015)
4 2014 Gerrit Cole 5.4 5.4 (2015)
5 2012 Chris Sale 4.9 6.2 (2015)
6 2012 Stephen Strasburg 3.3 4.4 (2014)
7 2006 Jeremy Bonderman 2.8 5.6 (2006)
8 2012 Madison Bumgarner 3.8 5.1 (2015)
9 2013 Patrick Corbin Injured 3.5 (2013)
10 2014 Marcus Stroman Injured 3.0 (2014)
11 2005 Rich Harden Injured 4.4 (2008)
12 2007 Cole Hamels 4.7 4.9 (2011)
13 2003 Colby Lewis 0.1 4.7 (2010)
14 2009 Brett Anderson 2.5 3.5 (2009)
15 2004 Jake Peavy 5.5 6.7 (2007)

There are some excellent careers in there! Almost all of these pitchers eclipsed the 4 WAR mark at various points of their careers, while five of the top seven (six of the top eight if you count Bumgarner twice) had 5+ WAR seasons. Furthermore, a few of the pitchers near the top are just now hitting their primes, so the “Highest WAR” column might actually be selling some of them short. Syndergaard is keeping good company, to say the least. Here’s a look at the first few of these pitchers’ career trajectories by cumulative WAR.

Before you start campaigning for Syndergaard’s Hall of Fame induction, I should note that this method isn’t exactly a foolproof one in forecasting a player’s future. Regardless of how similar these comps are, they are just a narrow selection of players who happened to perform similarly to Syndergaard at s similar age. This is a small sample size, and as we all know, strange things can happen in small sample sizes. However, this serves the purpose of putting some faces to the possible career trajectories for the 22-year-old. And at the very least, it provides us with a list of names that’s fun to look at. This particular list is especially fun for Mets fans, who could really use something fun right now.

Syndergaard is easily one of the most exciting pitchers in baseball, and likely has the highest upside of the Mets’ harem of promising, young starting pitchers. Kiley McDaniel, our erstwhile lead prospect analyst, gave Syndergaard a 70 FV (on the 20-80 scale) in his in-season update. No other pitcher who reached the majors in 2015 received such a favorable grade, nor did any current pitching prospects.

In his rookie season, Syndergaard was a very good 22-year-old with knock-out stuff. That certainly came in handy for the Mets this season, but Syndergaard’s 2015 was just a taste of what he might be capable of down the road. History shows that pitchers like Syndergaard often develop into top-of-the-rotation starters capable of adding five or six wins to his team’s ledger in a year.

Stats aside, you get the feeling that Syndergaard has that sort of upside when you watch him pitch. In addition to his fastball, he wields a pretty nasty curveball and has recently added a slider to the mix. So far this October, he’s parlayed those pitches into an ace-like performance. And the Mets are hoping the one they call Thor taps into that ace potential tonight to keep them from the brink of elimination.

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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Weeping Jays Fan
6 years ago

*Sheds single tear while staring longingly into the distance*

Frito Bandito
6 years ago

Ra Dickey and josh fucking thole


6 years ago
Reply to  Frito Bandito

Don’t forget Mike Nickeas!

6 years ago
Reply to  Frito Bandito

Good news! The guy who made that trade is no longer with Toronto, and the new guy clearly thinks trades like that are a bad idea. Jays fans can now look forward to several years of Indians-esque rebuilding, also known as non-contention, also known as “that thing the Leafs do every year.”

Travis d'Arnaud
6 years ago

His fastball stings my hand so good.