IMG: Seth Wenig/AP

2018 was a good year for Noah Syndergaard, and would be considered top notch by almost all starters and teams in the league. But many were… disappointed? perplexed? by his performance. It was good, but many, it seems, were hoping for something closer to his 2016 season. What we got was the same Noah Syndergaard in almost all facets… except strikeouts.

2016: 10.7 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 51.2 GB%, 8.6 HR/FB %
2018: 9.0 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 49.0 GB%, 7.8 HR/FB %

As we can see here, Syndergaard hasn’t changed much in his approach, other than a big drop in strikeouts per 9 innings. He still gets a ton of groundballs, doesn’t walk many, and doesn’t give up the longball. So, what happened with the strikeouts?

Batters are still swinging and missing at relatively the same rate (14.2% in 2016 vs 13.6% in 2018), his velocity is within half a MPH from 2016 (and still at the top of the league), but what about his pitch usage?

That seems to be where Syndergaard deviated. Even though he is still getting swings and misses at the same rate, he seems to be getting those swings and misses earlier in counts and inducing more contact. Syndergaard has significantly dropped usage of his 4-seam fastball (the bread and butter, 98-100 MPH burner that we got used to in 2016) from 59% usage in 2016 to 53.6% in 2018. Instead, he’s throwing his sinker (up 4%) and changeup (up 4.5%) more. Another, seemingly glaring and noticeable trend, is that his slider (in addition to his fastball) has dropped in value. His decision to use the fastball less may coincide with the ability of his opponents to hit it. Opponents his .248 off his fastball in 2016, and .282 in 2018. Those numbers change to .162, and .203 for his slider. The opposite is true for his sinker, where opponents hit .328 in 2016 and .280 in 2018. Same goes for his changeup- .246 in 16′, and .204 in 18′.

This coincides with a drop in hard contact from 16′ to 18′- 28.1% to 21.9% (!!) and a jump in soft contact, from 21% to 25.3%. His opponents are also pulling the ball about 5% more.

Basically, he has exchanged strikeouts for soft, pulled outs… at least in 2018.

Perhaps Syndergaard is doing this for his health and durability. Or maybe he wants to go deeper into games. The only thing clear is this: we have a completely different Noah Syndergaard, who is also very similar to the old one, minus a bunch of strikeouts. What we will have to see is which Syndergaard we’ll get in 2019, but either way, it is sure to be at worst, a very good one.