Officially, Noah Syndergaard is nicknamed Thor after the comic book superhero. But right now, you'd swear the comic book hero is actually named after him.
Following an impressive debut season in 2015, the New York Mets ace has been putting the hammer down so far in 2016. He was dominant against the Kansas City Royals in his debut last week, and he was even more dominant opposite the Miami Marlins on Tuesday. Though it was wasted in a 2-1 loss, Syndergaard struck out 12 and allowed only one run on seven hits and a walk in seven innings.
Against the Royals, Syndergaard struck out nine across six scoreless innings and gave up only three hits and one walk. Add that to what he did at Citi Field on Tuesday night, and he's now allowed only one run on 10 hits and two walks in 13 innings this season. He's struck out 21.
And these strikeouts certainly aren't coming courtesy of generous umpires. The 23-year-old earned 16 swinging strikes against a Royals team that generally doesn't swing and miss. And against the Marlins, Syndergaard collected more whiffs than any Mets pitcher had in a long time:
With all that going on, it's a wonder how Syndergaard kept from saying "You people are so petty...and tiny" every time he walked off the mound.
Granted, all this dominance isn't totally from out of left field. Syndergaard was widely regarded as the league's best pitching prospect going into last season, and he made good on the hype once he arrived. He posted a 3.24 ERA and struck out 166 with only 31 walks allowed in 150 innings. He mostly offered more of the same in October.
But all that looks like a mere warm-up for what Syndergaard is doing now. He's making the jump from a pitcher with potential to a pitcher with unparalleled ability.
What stood out most about Syndergaard in 2015 was his fastball. They always said he could throw hard, but it was still eye-opening when he arrived and averaged 97.1 miles per hour with his heat. Among qualified starters, that was the best.
And in case there are any doubters out there, Syndergaard's fastball really was that imposing. In part thanks to his 6'6" frame, Syndergaard's fastballs reached home plate significantly faster than any other starter's fastball last season, as Mike Petriello of MLB.com highlighted:
|Top "Plate Time" Among Starters in 2015|
|Pitcher||Team||Plate Time (Seconds)|
But you know what's even better than the hardest fastball? An even harder fastball.
It almost defies logic, but Syndergaard is somehow pulling it off early in 2016. He averaged 98.5 miles per hour with his heat in his debut, and the raw data at Brooks Baseball puts his average fastball velocity against the Marlins at a shade under 99 miles per hour.
You know Aroldis Chapman's fastball? Picture that coming from a right-handed pitcher who can maintain it for 100 or so pitches, and what you get is basically Syndergaard.
And because he can flirt with triple digits with every fastball he throws, he's still technically changing speeds with his changeup that's been sitting right around 90 miles per hour. That's reminiscent of the velocity that Felix Hernandez's legendary changeup had at its peak.
But while Syndergaard's fastball and changeup are nice, it's his slider that's been the talk of the town.
He only experimented with a slider last season, but he used it for a quarter of his pitches against the Royals. He threw 23 more against the Marlins, including this 93 mph beauty The Pitcher List made into a GIF:
And that's not even the best Syndergaard can do with his slider. He threw one against Kendrys Morales last week that registered at 95 miles per hour. David Wright couldn't believe it.
"I looked up on the scoreboard and I'm seeing 94, 95," said the Mets third baseman, per Maria Guardado of NJ.com. "Then I go ask Travis [d'Arnaud] what those pitches were and he's talking about sliders. That's unheard of."
Just about, yeah. A search for 95 mph sliders on the PITCHf/x database at Baseball Savant turns up only 16 last season and 12 the year before. And a good guess is that most, if not all, of those were actually cutters.
Whatever the case, Syndergaard now has an unfair slider to go with an unfair fastball and changeup. In terms of pure stuff, there is now little question he has the most electric arsenal of any starting pitcher in the game today. Put another way, each of his primary pitches is his own personal Mjolnir.
If that's not enough for hitters to worry about, it gets worse.
Despite ramping it up with his stuff, Syndergaard hasn't sacrificed any control. He was already very good at hitting his spots, allowing only 1.9 walks per nine innings while throwing 65.3 percent strikes last season. He's now walking batters at a rate of 1.4 per nine innings and throwing strikes at a 69.1 percent clip.
If all this has your jaw hitting the floor, don't worry. It's not just you. Even Ben Badler of Baseball America, who was wowed by Syndergaard before most, can't believe what he's become:
With Syndergaard not even a full year into his major league career, it's too soon to start wondering if he's the best pitcher in baseball. Especially not while that fella named Clayton Kershaw is still drawing breath, anyway.
However, it's not at all a stretch to say there's not another starting pitcher like Syndergaard. Between what he can do to a radar gun and how well he hits his spots, he can do things with a baseball that nobody else can.
So when he's on the mound, two things should happen: The Mets should win, and everyone else should be watching.