Like a poker hustler dealing from the bottom of a loaded deck, the New York Mets are flush with aces. The only question is, who's the ace? The stud among studs. The stopper. The arm you turn to when everything is on the line.
Is it Matt Harvey, the Dark Knight himself, freed from last season's ultimately moot innings-limit controversy?
Is it Jacob deGrom, who followed his 2014 National League Rookie of the Year season with a steady, superlative 2015?
Those are excellent options, and no one would argue too vehemently with either. But there's a third member of New York's vaunted rotation who might be an even better choice.
We're talking, as you've no doubt guessed, about Noah Syndergaard. The kid with the crackling fastball and the flowing golden locks who gets mistaken for a Norse god (or a Marvel superhero, depending on how you parse it).
Here's one unscientific but interesting measure of Syndergaard's prowess, per ESPN.com's Adam Rubin:
Four Mets position players were asked which pitcher is the most intimidating in Major League Baseball. Lucas Duda named Aroldis Chapman. Neil Walker named Clayton Kershaw. Travis d'Arnaud and [David] Wright named Syndergaard.
"Because he's 6-8, 350 and looks like Thor," d'Arnaud said.
Technically, according to Baseball-Reference.com, Syndergaard is 6'6" and 240 pounds. But when that triple-digit heater is bearing down on you, no doubt he looks larger than life.
Syndergaard certainly stood tall in his rookie season, posting a 3.24 ERA with 166 strikeouts in 150 innings in the regular season and following that up with 19 mostly sterling postseason frames that featured an eye-popping 26 punchouts.
From his first start of the spring, the 23-year-old right-hander has flashed the stuff and polish that suggest he could be on the edge of something truly special.
The fastball is there, blazing as ever. But he's also working on perfecting another pitch, which he identified as a "cutter, slider, depends on what day it is," per Bleacher Report's Scott Miller.
A new weapon. A season of success under his belt, including a healthy taste of October. The admiration and we're-not-worthy respect of his teammates. Does that add up to Syndergaard assuming the ace mantle?
What do the projection systems think? Here, let's just go ahead and stack ZiPS' 2016 predictions for Syndergaard, Harvey and deGrom next to each other:
|Projecting the Mets' aces...|
|ZiPS projections courtesy of FanGraphs|
That's essentially three subtle variations on the same dominant pitcher, which is why Mets fans should be vibrating with excitement.
But where deGrom relies on finesse, Syndergaard overpowers, as evidenced by the gaudy strikeout projection. And where Harvey carries some question marks after tallying an MLB-record 216 innings coming off Tommy John surgery, Syndergaard is thus far healthy as a yellow-maned horse.
Really, this is like asking the Queens faithful to pick their favorite child. Each hurler is special and unique in his own way, like a snowflake or a Shackburger at Citi Field. If you're building a franchise today, though, stake your foundation on Syndergaard and don't look back.
Harvey got the Opening Day nod from Collins, and it's well-deserved. Syndergaard, meanwhile, might make his 2016 debut out of the bullpen because of a scheduling quirk.
There's plenty of potential for drama there, considering the last time Syndergaard faced the Royals was in Game 3 of the World Series and this happened:
Long term, of course, Syndergaard will be a rotation staple. With Harvey and deGrom ahead of him and southpaw Steven Matz behind—plus ageless wonder Bartolo Colon and at some point Zack Wheeler—New York is set up nicely to defend its NL crown.
If the Mets do make another deep run, questions about who's the ace will slide to the back burner. Winning tends to obscure and supersede individual accolades and accomplishments.
If New York pushes back challengers such as the division-rival Washington Nationals, young and loaded Chicago Cubs and even-year San Francisco Giants and returns to the Fall Classic, who cares which pitcher slots where?
Make no mistake, though: Thor has descended from on high with his bucket of bat-missing bolts. And we've only glimpsed the birth of his powers.