After inking a bounce back contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers aimed at returning to the heights he'd once reached in New York, Noah Syndergaard was over the moon.
His time in Anaheim and Philadelphia last season, in Year 1 of his full-season comeback from Tommy John surgery, had yielded mixed results. The control and command had returned quickly; Thor's walk percentage was in the 88th percentile league-wide. He also did an impressive job of limiting hard contact, especially since his arsenal looked entirely different than it had before he departed and went under the knife.
Back in the day, Syndergaard possessed a fastball that could miss its spots and still generate whiffs and bewilderment. That'll happen from time to time when you can peak past the century mark. It's difficult to barrel up a misplaced, elite fastball. Lose a few miles per hour (or more than a few)? Suddenly, an exhale becomes a cry for help.
Syndergaard's xBA against last season fell in the 15th percentile, while his K rate dipped to the 12th and his whiff percentage to the 11th. Without elite fastball spin (22nd percentile) or velocity (somehow in the 54th despite living below the mid-90s), he was becoming a different pitcher.
Sure, he still started a World Series game, but was closer to a true-talent 4.00 ERA guy than a fire-breather, and exited that game on the shortest leash possible. He was treated more like a last resort than a "get on my back" ace, and certainly had visions of regaining some of that stuff (and swagger) in the Dodgers' famed pitching lab.
As Spring Training ends and Syndergaard prepares to embark on the regular season, though, he's been singing a different tune. There's still plenty to learn in Los Angeles, but as long as his velocity's closer to a 93 MPH hum, he might always be a mid-rotation arm.
Dodgers starter Noah Syndergaard has to acknowledge 100 MPH fastball days are behind him
This level of velocity is exactly what Dodgers pitching guru Mark Prior seems to have prepared for. Hopefully, he's also prepared for the psychological impact of permanently-lowered velocity on Syndergaard. For someone who thrived on backing his enemies away from the plate using steam heat, this could be a tough pill to swallow.
This spring, Syndergaard managed to post underwhelming tune-up numbers; in 18.2 innings across five outings (four starts), the right-hander struck out 13 men and carried a 5.79 ERA. Hopefully, March's action served as an adjustment period. Based on his latest comments, the month appears to have been a reality check.
There's still plenty of information to be gleaned at this velocity or lower; just ask Tyler Anderson. But, in order to best utilize it, Syndergaard must fully embrace his new reality instead of seeking out the past.