Noah Syndergaard’s Tommy John surgery is a blow for one of the game’s most charismatic pitchers, a 100-mph flamethrower with a flowing mane, a dry sense of humor and, at 27, a lucrative future ahead of him.
Thursday, perhaps around the time the New York Mets were scheduled to jog out to the baselines at Citi Field for their Opening Day intros, Syndergaard’s right elbow will be reconstructed, costing him whatever will be of the 2020 season and most of 2021, too.
Syndergaard was to be a free agent after next year, though with baseball’s coronavirus-forced shutdown, even that status is up in the air. Still, it’s an untimely setback for a pitcher who in 2019 topped the 200-strikeout mark for the second time in his career.
What’s far less clear: The true impact of an injury like this on a potential 2020 season.
In that light, this news is unfortunate but not devastating for the Mets and their fans.
New York Mets starter Noah Syndergaard has a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and will have Tommy John surgery on March 26. (Photo: Steve Mitchell, USA TODAY Sports)
Losing Syndergaard for the 32 starts he posted, and the 197 innings he powered through, certainly would be. But no pitcher will make much more than 20 starts this season. Few will pitch more than 150 innings.
And in that light, teams can soften the blow of a loss like Thor – especially a team like the Mets, who are rich in arms.
We thought the Mets’ biggest spring story was which new acquisition – Rick Porcello or Michael Wacha – would seize the fifth starter role; as it turns out, Syndergaard’s elbow pain was the real headliner. Now, Porcello and Wacha are both probably in the rotation and following a strong trio: Two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, pending free agent Marcus Stroman and lefty Steven Matz.
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Clichés are clichés because they are true, and yes, you can never have too much starting pitching.
But the impact of even a legitimate ace like deGrom will be blunted should this season get going. At this point, a July 1 start seems ambitious, based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ban on gatherings of more than 50 that extends into mid-May. Playing almost every day from July and into October won’t produce much more than a 100-game schedule.
With the strong likelihood that fewer off days will be baked into the schedule, that allows for barely 20 starts for any pitcher. And with the expeditious ramping-up that will have to occur, it’s fair to say teams will err significantly on the side of caution in stretching out their starting pitchers in the early going.
So a deGrom or a Stroman – or a Syndergaard – might not be tabbed for much more than five innings into August, anyway. Based on the composition of their staff, the Mets’ most valuable pitcher this year may well be Seth Lugo, who can cover multiple innings two or three times a week. During the Mets’ 86-win 2019 season, his WAR of 2.4 was virtually identical to the 2.5 both Syndergaard and Matz posted.
We’ll be fortunate to see any baseball at all this summer. Should a season unfold, it will look far different than any we’ve experienced.
And despite Tuesday’s unfortunate news, the Mets’ season is hardly over, either.
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