Los Angeles Dodgers starter Noah Syndergaard doesn't want to pitch to contact anymore. He wants to blow people away.
Following the righty's recovery from Tommy John surgery, Syndergaard looked like a much different pitcher than the man who famously bristled opposing batters during the 2015 World Series, knocking Royals over with reckless abandon. Instead of the high heat, Thor relied mostly on changing speeds with his low-to-mid-90s fastball and breaker combination.
Despite a solid half-season in Philadelphia to end the campaign, very few thought of Syndergaard as a fire-breather entering the playoffs. Instead, the decision to even start him against the power-packed Astros felt like a risk, and the second his pitch count began to rise, Rob Thomson pulled him rather than expose his diminished stuff.
Syndergaard admitted last week that he signed with the Dodgers in large part to help his personal rebirth along. Last offseason, the Angels signed him to an expensive one-year contract, believing they were getting something close to a finished product. Instead, they received a work in progress, and were unable to resurrect the ace of old.
This time around, Syndergaard specifically targeted the Dodgers -- cost be damned -- because he wanted MLB's foremost tinkerers to finish his progress off, giving Mark Prior free rein to get him back to his former glory.
That's right. He doesn't just want to pitch well for a contender. He wants to blaze 100 MPH fastballs by batters again, and believes he can do so with his "dream" organization.
Dodgers' Noah Syndergaard thinks he can throw 100 MPH in Dodger Blue
Last season, Syndergaard was much more of a "game manager" than Patrick Mahomes. He still got his ERA under 4.00 (3.95) with a late-season run, but struggled to keep batters off base (1.25 WHIP) and didn't induce much swinging and missing (95 strikeouts in 134.2 innings pitched).
His Statcast profile was equally uninspiring; the 30-year-old did a great job at limiting exit velocity (80th percentile average exit velo, 79th percentile hard-hit rate) and reducing walks (86th percentile walk rate), but the metrics still expected him to allow significant contact (23rd percentile expected slugging, 15th percentile expected batting average). His fastball spin matched the eye test; the 22nd percentile isn't where Prior expects Syndergaard to be living next summer, surely.
That said, it's not as if Prior relies on his projects to have the raw velocity of Dustin May (think Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney). At least there's some giddy-up in Syndergaard's past, and that oomph could arrive again, as he moves further past reconstructive surgery.
At the very least, the Dodgers are acquiring a confident hurler who's hated in his former home in New York, the team LA's most likely to clash with in this year's NLCS.
Hopefully, by October, Syndergaard is prepared to give Mets fans a reason to jeer -- or, rather, a reason to look introspectively and wonder why they hate greatness.
The countdown is on.