The Case for Noah Syndergaard

After is appeared the Mets put some more eggs in their 2020 basket by trading for Marcus Stroman, there now seems to be a pretty distinct possibility that the club is merely moving eggs around as it attempts to deal Noah Syndergaard. With the relative dearth of impact arms on the market and the decreasing likelihood of a Madison Bumgarner deal, Syndergaard could be the biggest name and best pitcher to change teams this week, even including the recently acquired Stroman. The trade package necessary to land Syndergaard should be significantly richer than the one the Mets gave up for Stroman, given Syndergaard’s relative track record, age, and the extra season of team control through 2021. As was the case with Stroman, there are some discrepancies in how good Syndergaard is as a pitcher given his 4.33 ERA.

Nobody disputes that Sydergaard was an ace for the Mets back in 2016 when he put up a six-win season with a 2.29 FIP and 2.60 ERA. He missed most of 2017 with a torn right lat muscle. In 2018, despite missing more than a month with a finger injury and a little bit of time with hand, foot, and mouth disease, Syndergaard was still one of the best pitchers in the game, posting a four-win season, a 2.80 FIP and 3.03 ERA. This season, Syndergaard’s FIP is very good, but his ERA is not. There’s a fairy simple explanation for that disparity, and for the gap between Syndergaard’s FIP and ERA throughout his career. Simply put, the Mets infield defense is very bad and has been very bad throughout the right-hander’s career:

Mets’ Infield Defense Ranks
SS/2B/3B UZR Rank SS/2B/3B DRS Rank
2016-2019 -36.2 28 -93 30
2019 -13.6 30 -24 27

A .315 career BABIP, and and the lower FIP than ERA, could be an indicator that Syndergaard gives up hard contact. The Statcast numbers tend to disagree:

Noah Syndergaard’s Bad Luck
BA on GB xBA on GB Difference wOBA xWOBA Difference
2015 .246 .219 .027 .279 .265 .014
2016 .250 .218 .032 .277 .266 .011
2018 .232 .216 .016 .286 .268 .018
2019 .280 .228 .052 .308 .281 .027

Syndergaard has been tormented by groundballs, and given that he’s a groundball pitcher with a 49% ground ball rate for his career, including 48% this season, a poor defense can be particularly cruel to his BABIP and helps explain the difference between his FIP and ERA. The difference between his xwOBA and wOBA this season is particularly large and matches up with the difference between his FIP at 3.64, which says he’s one of the 20 best pitchers in the game, and his ERA at 4.33, which says he’s slightly below average. Looking at his overall performance this season, Syndergaard has been very good, but there’s reason to believe he will be even better. Of course, there’s his track record of better numbers, but recent changes to his slider indicate he might be better than his overall numbers suggest right now.

Syndergaard made adjustments to his slider under new pitching coach Phil Regan, including moving his feet closer together, what Regan called “a more balanced position.” Here’s his slider in the first half:

Now here’s his slider in the second half:

While the feet being closer together isn’t something easy to see, Syndergaard’s glove does start at a higher position. Perhaps it’s more easily noticeable on the heatmaps, but he has done a better job in his last three starts of keeping the fastball out of the meatier part of the strike zone. The location of his slider of late looks much more like 2016 and 2018 than in the first half:

The velocity of his slider has been inconsistent all season and while the recent starts aren’t vintage low-90s slider Syndergaard, they are considerably better than the middle part of the season:

As for the results, Syndergaard was getting just 15% swings and misses on sliders in the first half; through three games in the second half, he’s more than doubled that mark to 31%:

Noah Syndergaard’s Improved Slider
SL Usage SL Whiff% Overall O-Swing% Overall O-Contact % Overall SwStrk%
First Half 10.1% 14.6% 30.7% 50.0% 11.9%
Second Half 23.0% 31.4% 36.8% 57.5% 15.8%

These numbers come with the usual small sample caveats (part of that sample was also against the Marlins, who hit like a defense-first fourth outfielder), but the results are still pretty encouraging. There’s also something to be said for Syndergaard changing his pitch mix and moving away from his sinker and to his better offerings, but keep in mind that before this season, Syndergaard had good results on his sinker, and the Mets defense has likely made the results worse than with an average defense. The sinker is also a good setup pitch for both his change and his slider, which both get very good results. And Syndergaard throws his sinker most often when behind in the count or when the count is even, so we should expect the results on the pitch to be worse based on count alone. So while Syndergaard might improve some from lessening the usage of his sinker, and it should help his strikeout rate, the effect on his ERA likely won’t be as dramatic as simply having a good defense.

As for what a team might need to give up to get Syndergaard, Marc Carig offered this assessment.

Is that return reasonable? Let’s take a look at Syndergaard’s value right now based on projections. For the sake of this exercise, we’ll assume that a win on the open market is worth $9 million this year, with half a million dollar increases in the next two seasons. Syndergaard is making $6 million this season; we’ll assume he makes $10 million and $15 million the following two years, respectively. We’ll also put in a discount rate of 8% per future season to determine a present-day value of Syndergaard’s services. For projections, we’ll use Depth Charts for the rest of the season and the ZiPS three-year projections for the 2020 and 2021:

Noah Syndergaard’s Present Value
Projected WAR Value Salary Surplus Present Value
2019 1.7 $15.3 M $2.0 M $13.3 M $13.3 M
2020 4.2 $39.9 M $10.0 M $29.9 M $27.7 M
2021 4.1 $41.0 M $15.0 M $26.0 M $22.3 M
TOTAL 10 $96.2 M $27.0 M $69.2 M $63.3 M

For some teams, we could bump up the value of this year’s WAR, given how valuable an extra win or two might be for teams that know they need that extra win to make the postseason, or that could potentially use Syndergaard in a wild card game or short playoff series. For the sake of simplicity we will just use the numbers above. If the Mets are seeking a top-30 prospect, that basically equates to a 55 FV when we look at THE BOARD. Given that hitters are more valuable than pitchers at that level, here are the 55 FV position players who might interest the Mets.

Potential Headliners in a Noah Syndergaard Trade
Name Org Pos Current Level Top 100 FV ETA
Kyle Tucker HOU RF AAA 16 55 2019
Luis Urias SDP 2B MLB 17 55 2019
Vidal Brujan TBR 2B AA 18 55 2021
Brendan Rodgers COL SS MLB 19 55 2019
Joey Bart SFG C A+ 20 55 2020
Luis Robert CHW CF AAA 21 55 2020
Yordan Alvarez HOU DH MLB 24 55 2020
Drew Waters ATL CF AA 25 55 2021
Nick Madrigal CHW 2B AA 29 55 2020
Jazz Chisholm ARI SS AA 30 55 2022
Taylor Trammell CIN LF AA 32 55 2021
Sean Murphy OAK C AAA 33 55 2019
Bobby Witt Jr. KCR SS R 34 55 2023
Jesus Sanchez TBR RF AAA 36 55 2020
Jarred Kelenic SEA CF A+ 37 55 2021
Nolan Gorman STL 3B A+ 38 55 2021
Oneil Cruz PIT CF A+ 39 55 2021
Alex Kirilloff MIN RF AA 41 55 2020
Marco Luciano SFG SS R 42 55 2023
Ronny Mauricio of the Mets is currently ranked 28th.

The Padres and Astros are right up there at the top with the type of prospect the Mets are interested in. The Rays, Braves, and Cardinals present other options. In terms of present value, the above players are each worth about $46 million. A pitcher at this level, like Ian Anderson or Luis Patiño, might have a value about $10 million less than the position player. The Yankees’ Deivi Garcia is a step below the players above; Syndergaard would be a steal for the Yankees if Garcia was the top player in a deal going across town. The same would be true for the Padres and Manuel Margot given his mediocre performance and three more seasons of team control while earning arbitration salaries.

If the Mets wanted a better prospect than the players above to headline the deal, a 60 FV player would be worth roughly equivalent to Syndergaard in value; unless there is a real premium on this season, it’s hard to come up with a realistic package outside of a one-for-one deal, which is becoming incredibly rare. The Mets could include Edwin Diaz and shoot for a Gavin Lux, Dustin May, or Cristian Pache, but that might limit the overall package they receive compared to trading Syndergaard and Diaz separately.

The Mets’ reported ask in a Syndergaard trade — a top-30 prospect plus a couple other pieces — is a reasonable one. That said, such a move probably wouldn’t make the Mets better in 2020. If the Mets are interested in dealing Syndergaard, the team is right to ask for a very good return, and a better one than the one they just gave the Blue Jays for Stroman. Syndergaard is a very good pitcher and a better defense alone would be enough to get him much better results on the run-prevention side. Syndergaard’s improved slider provides some hope that his strikeout rate from the first half will go up independent of any tweaks a new team might make. Any other changes a fresh start provides are likely to be icing on the cake. Syndergaard is a very good pitcher right now and could make a huge impact for just about any team over the next two-plus seasons.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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4 years ago

That ask of a Top-30 prospect made a lot more sense before the Mets, ironically, set the market for the 2nd best pitcher (behind Syndergaard) at two FV45s.

4 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I don’t think the Stroman return impacts the Syndergaard’s market much, if at all. Thor is in a different class of pitcher than Stroman with more team control and more upside. Both have had injury concerns as well.

Stro had half or maybe even less of Thor’s current value.

4 years ago
Reply to  averagejoe15

In theory it should not impact the Syndergaard return, but it looks like the Padres have already refused to include Mackenzie Gore in discussions with the justification that the Stroman deal didn’t include a top-100 prospect. I don’t think it’s correct, but it definitely sets a precedent that some teams could try to exploit. If the Mets don’t get the deal they deserve, I hope they just keep Thor instead of forcing a deal that empirically makes them worse, but I have little faith in this, honestly

Travis Lmember
4 years ago
Reply to  vicfirth98

I think the Padres were refusing to include Gore before the Stroman deal. They don’t want to part with him for Thor, regardless of other deals.

4 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Flip side, they just cornered the market. Don’t like the request? Fine, call the Blue… oh, wait!

4 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I keep seeing this assertion, and am not sure why it would be true. Seems like the Mets are in the position to ask for what they want and hold on to Syndergaard unless they get something that is worth moving him. Is there some reason they should have to accept a lesser offer, or that teams should expect them to accept a lesser offer?

4 years ago

Mostly just because everything is pegged to “comps” in trades. If Stroman didn’t even fetch an FV50, it’s harder to make the case that market value for Syndergaard is an FV55.

I think that the Mets should absolutely keep Syndergaard if they don’t get what they want, but I also thought they should keep Syndergaard no matter what. (nobody cares what the sadtrombone thinks, episode 253)