2019 Goal #4: Stop Running All Over Me
Whenever opposing baserunners get on base against Syndergaard it seems like a track meet suddenly breaks out.
Word has been out on Noah being defenseless against opponents stealing on him for years now. So the opposition’s gameplan, whenever he’s on the bump, is to run – relentlessly.
Even poor baserunners with little to no speed are in the blocks against Syndergaard.
Accordingly, any single, or even walk, Noah surrenders becomes an almost automatic double. And what’s stopping the runner from then taking third?
Yes, the Mets upgraded at catcher this offseason with the addition of Wilson Ramos, who has thrown would-be base stealers out at a 31.6% clip over his career (11th best among active catchers). But if Syndergaard continues to ignore his role in holding runners in check then it may not even matter on the days that Noah pitches.
In an era where stealing bases is almost taboo, it seems like Syndergaard and his rotation-mate, Steven Matz, are trying to bring the stolen base back to baseball (and not in a good way – for them) all by themselves.
The obvious question now is how does he fix it?
In order to fix something you have to first identify what it is that’s actually broken. I believe that there is a fundamental shift that Noah needs to make in order to retract his open invitation to run the bases on him like the kids in the Mr. Mets Dash.
He’s tried throwing over more, tried varying the timing of when he starts his delivery, and you can’t just pitch-out every pitch. So, where does the mighty Thor go from here?
To me, and this is nothing more than my take from afar, Noah subscribes to a gunslinger mentality that he feels will be compromised by trying to become a more complete, well-rounded pitcher.
The ’gunslinger mentality’, as I refer to it, means, basically, that all the gunslinger needs is his six-shooter and maybe to know how to ride his trusty steed. No need for learning extra tricks that take away from what he does.
In baseball terms, the gunslinger only needs to overpower hitters. No need to practice relentlessly at becoming an elite defender or perfecting a pickoff move because it’s just not needed.
Gunslingers simply mow batters down and everything else is either secondary or irrelevant altogether. ’How many times will I field the ball or need to use a pickoff move this game? A few, I suppose. But how many times will I need to blow gas by these guys or fool them because they’re looking for the heat? Every pitch.’
This mentality lends itself more to ’just get the next two batters out, that’s what’s really important. Any attention paid to the runner must, in turn, take away from the effectiveness of the next pitch.’ Rather than, ‘I’m going to concentrate on my next pitch, but until I commit to that pitch, I can’t let this runner get into scoring position for free. He’s going to have to steal it because I’m not just going to give it to him’.
Syndergaard doesn’t possess the same agility, flexibility, or footwork as the top fielding pitchers in the game. He’s an extremely large man who’s built more to sling baseballs than to perfect a quick-footed pickoff move, so he is naturally at a disadvantage for this aspect of the game.
So, to me, a shift in perspective that also aims his uber-competitive will against any runner who happens to land on first base is really the only way that Syndergaard will ever overcome this deficiency in his game.
The classic gunslinger, and fellow Texas native, Nolan Ryan, embodied this approach during his playing career (and in many ways still does) more than any pitcher I’ve ever seen and things seemed to have worked out for him. Noah actually wears number 34 in homage to the ”Express”.
But I believe that if Noah can truly buy into multi-tasking out of the stretch and take the challenge of baserunners to heart, his overall efficiency and effectiveness on the mound will only increase in 2019. His ERA may be affected more by this one flaw in his game than any other aspect of it.