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Noah Syndergaard to Angels - Fantasy Reaction

It seems like a lifetime ago that baseball fans were watching in awe as Noah Syndergaard broke into the league with his huge frame, his long flowing hair, and his triple-digit velocity. Thor, as he came to be known, seemed like a guy that would be one of the league's best starting pitchers on a yearly basis.

Over his first two seasons, he piled up 326 innings and posted sparkling numbers with a 3.34 ERA in his rookie year and a 2.60 mark in his second year, while going above a 27% strikeout rate and staying below a 6% walk rate in both campaigns.

Here are full statistics for his career thus far:

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You can see just how good Syndergaard was prior to the 2019 season. He had the 2017 season decimated by injury, and a handful of potential starts missed in 2018, but he was nothing short of excellent when on the hill. The 2019 season was a success in terms of health, making 32 starts for the Mets, but the results weren't that good with a 4.28 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP while seeing his strikeout rate stay below 25%. That left fantasy managers not knowing what to do with him heading into the 2020 season.

Those decisions were quickly made for us, as he required Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in May of 2020. That erased his 2020 season, but there was hope that he would be able to get back in time to pitch half a season or so in 2021. That did not turn out to be the case, as multiple setbacks related to the same elbow limited him to just two innings very late in the year for the Mets.

We received an early offseason reminder about Syndergaard as he signed with a new team - the Los Angeles Angels on November 16th. He received a one-year, $21 million "show me" deal, which is a pricey but very interesting add for an Angels team that has no shortage of bats but has been miserable on the mound over the last few years. Now the challenge falls to us to figure out what to do with Syndergaard in terms of the fantasy game for next season.

 

Two Innings

Needless to say, it's very tough to project much of anything for Syndergaard's 2022 season. I can say that it's a huge plus for Syndergaard that he was able to return to the Major Leagues in 2021, even if it was just for one outing and 26 pitches. Since it's all we have, let's take a look at those 26 pitches.

In his one outing in 2021, Syndergaard threw 11 changeups, nine four-seamers, and six sinkers. Notably, he did not throw the slider that he threw 15% of the time way back in 2019. This may have been nothing, but it may just have been part of the Mets getting him over the hump to the offseason where he could rest the arm a bit more. The slider is the harshest on your elbow, especially with the velocity that Syndergaard throws the ball with (we saw Thor throwing his slider in the low-90s in spring training in 2021).

In that sole September outing, Syndergaard averaged 94.3 with the four-seamer and 95.0 with the sinker, and topped out at 96.2 and 96.1 respectively. Those numbers are about three miles per hour less than his averages from the 2019 season. That would be pretty alarming if we were talking about more than a 26-pitch sample, but we're not. The most likely explanation is that Syndergaard was not maxing out his arm, because well - why would he?

So there's nothing serious we can learn from his 2021 season besides the fact that the Mets felt him healthy enough to make a Major League appearance again. And I think that's more than enough to inspire enough confidence for 2022 that we're talking about him as a top-50 starting pitcher again.

 

The Risk

The biggest risk with drafting Syndergaard, of course, is that the elbow is no longer one that can handle the life of a professional baseball pitcher. At this point, there's no way to say with certainty that he'll be able to put 150+ innings on the elbow again. The secondary risk is just other random injuries that seem to be common with Syndergaard. Different people have different opinions on the "injury-prone" thing, and I'm not here to make a judgment on all of that business - but the odds of Syndergaard going 150 innings in 2022 have to be in the bottom five percentile amongst pitchers you may consider drafting next year. That doesn't mean it's impossible or even super unlikely, but it's a large amount of risk to take on.

That's not the end of the risk either, unfortunately. A tertiary risk is that he stays healthy but just isn't very good. We can't forget that the last time we saw Syndergaard, he was far from a great fantasy pitcher. He did post a nice 48% ground-ball rate in 2019 thanks to heavy sinker usage, but he really wasn't generating strikeouts as we saw earlier. His 12.6% swinging-strike rate was solid, but not what we had come to expect from Syndergaard.

 

The Reward

Nobody is going to be excited to draft Syndergaard this year. Heck, nobody was real excited to draft him even before the Tommy John surgery. Now after two missed seasons and a move to the American League, there's no way this guy is going to be drafted inside the top 100 of drafts - at least early on. He will be one of the most important guys to watch in Spring Training, as we confirm his velocity is back and see if he's still using the slider and all that other over-analyzing that we tend to do.

For early drafts, Syndergaard is sure to go very, very late in drafts. A draft price being outside of the top 150 takes away a lot of the risks by itself, by that time you've already built the bulk of your pitching staff and you can afford to throw some darts. The upside here is that Syndergaard throws 170 innings and piles up really strong ratios and a fair amount of strikeouts. I have my doubts that he can ever be a 30% strikeout rate guy again, but he's shown the ability to get ground-balls while majorly limiting walks, which are two extremely important components to posting a strong ERA.

The other important part of this story is how successful we have seen Tommy John surgery become in terms of pitchers having long, successful careers after going under the knife. In recent years, we have seen players like Lance McCullers, Shohei Ohtani, and Jordan Montgomery undergo Tommy John surgery and then complete full seasons on the mound with success. We have also seen some less encouraging examples like Dinelson Lamet, Brent Honeywell, Taijuan Walker, and Luis Severino who have yet to prove they can handle anything close to a full innings load since their surgeries. That said, there are more than enough positive examples to not be overly concerned about a pitcher's future after they have this procedure.

One final reason for optimism is the contract. While the "contract year" stuff is often overstated, it does make a difference in this case. Syndergaard is in a place where he really has to show the league he's healthy and still good in order to earn a new big contract. The one-year deal with the Angels absolutely puts at least a little bit more incentive for him to throw a significant amount of innings and post strong numbers. It also gives the Angels less incentive to go easy on him, unless they already have an extension in mind for him if things go well - which is perfectly possible, this is not a team with a shortage of money to spend on their pitching needs.

 

Conclusion

It's all about health with Syndergaard. The fact that he worked his way back up to the Majors in 2021 is a great sign, and it's also encouraging that the Angels felt good enough to sign him this early on in the offseason. Nobody knows what the future will hold for Syndergaard, but in my eyes there are more positive indicators here than negative. This isn't to say I want to be trusting Thor as a top-three starter on my fantasy teams next year, but I do think the ADP will lend itself to the sharper fantasy players being more on the buying side.

The most important thing to tell fantasy managers here is to keep a close eye on him early on in Spring Training. We want to see that he still has the high-nineties velocity and that he still has confidence in his slider. If those things are looking good, and the ADP is very suppressed, Thor is a great guy to buy-low on. We will have much more on Syndergaard and the rest of the starting pitching landscape as the 2022 season approaches.



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