Noah Syndergaard's Injury Raises Tough Questions About Him and About the Mets

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterMay 2, 2017

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 30: Starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard #34 of the New York Mets walks off of the field after an injury during the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on April 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

A day after Noah Syndergaard walked off the mound onto the disabled list and into New York Mets injury lore, the focus Monday seemed to be on whether the Mets had bumbled their way into another mess.

To recap, their best pitcher felt something in his biceps last week and reported that he couldn’t lift his arm over his head. The Mets skipped him from one start, but after he told them he was fine and refused their request for an MRI exam, they let him throw a bullpen session and then allowed him to start Sunday’s game in Washington.

Thirty-eight pitches later, he was done, out indefinitely with a partially torn lat muscle that was discovered in a Monday morning MRI (yes, Syndergaard agreed to this one).

How much blame do the Mets deserve? Could they have avoided this with a little more caution, a little more forcefulness (when Syndergaard refused the first MRI request) or a little more common sense?

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson worked hard to defend those decisions and his organization when he met with reporters Monday in Atlanta. As uncomfortable as that had to be, it may well have been easier than answering the other big question:

Is this the first sign Thor isn’t invincible?

Syndergaard has long been considered a pitcher at risk because he throws so hard (he’s averaged 98 mph on his sinker this season, according to MLB.com’s Statcast) and because he also throws a very hard slider. He may have been at even greater risk this season; former major league pitcher and pitching coach Tom House told Bob Klapisch of the Bergen Record Syndergaard erred by adding 17 pounds of muscle without also continuing to throw last winter.

“Unfortunately, this is an injury waiting to happen by the second week of June,” House told Klapisch, in a story published in February.

And now Syndergaard is hurt in the first week of May. It’s not an injury that figures to cost him the entire season, but Alderson told reporters (including Marc Carig of Newsday) Syndergaard will be out a “considerable amount of time.”

That’s distressing news for the Mets, who already trail the Washington Nationals by six games in the National League East and are also missing Yoenis Cespedes, their most dynamic offensive player. But you also have to wonder what it means for Syndergaard.

His relatively clean track record with health was the best argument against the idea that his superhuman velocity and added muscle put him at risk. The best indicator that a pitcher is going to break is that he’s been hurt before, and until now, Syndergaard hadn’t been hurt.

As long as he stayed healthy, it was possible to see him as the freak who defied the odds, the pitcher whose superhero nickname fit his hard-to-break body.

Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated dealt with that possibility at the beginning of last season, when Syndergaard was just starting to amaze people with what he could do.

Syndergaard's size and relatively clean delivery were given as reasons he could stay healthy, but now he's hurt.
Syndergaard's size and relatively clean delivery were given as reasons he could stay healthy, but now he's hurt.Joe Skipper/Getty Images

“Physical freaks come along once a generation,” a major league general manager told Verducci for that story. "He’s either that or this is not sustainable. The odds tell you that it’s not sustainable. It’s easy for people to point to his size and say that’s why he’s different than everybody else. But I don’t know that size alone protects you.”

Perhaps not, but the 24-year-old Syndergaard was the only one of the Mets’ young aces who never had Tommy John surgery. He still hasn’t. It’s important to remember that.

This isn’t an elbow injury, and it’s not the even-more-dangerous shoulder injury. Syndergaard isn’t having surgery.

He also isn’t pitching, and whether or not that’s a long-term problem, it’s definitely a short-term issue for the Mets. They entered spring training thinking they had seven quality starting pitchers, but Steven Matz (left elbow) and Seth Lugo (right elbow) preceded Syndergaard to the disabled list. Neither is expected back until late this month at the earliest.

The Mets still have Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, and that could be enough to keep them in the race for a playoff spot until Syndergaard returns. They earned a place in the National League Wild Card Game last year even after injuries to Harvey, deGrom, Wheeler and Matz.

The hope was that the starters would be healthy this year, that perhaps the Mets could actually assemble their young aces rotation of Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler and Matz. Because of injuries, those five have never been in the rotation at the same time.

They still won’t be, at least not until Syndergaard returns, whenever that is.

Maybe by that time, the Mets will have a better plan for dealing with injuries. More likely, they won’t.

 

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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