The Giants faced Noah Syndergaard Sunday night, and they tried to steal two bases. Both times, they were unsuccessful. That’s notable because Syndergaard, this year, has been horrible about controlling the running game. It’s been his one drawback — before Sunday, runners in 2016 were 40-for-44 in their attempts. The Giants assumed they’d be able to take advantage of his vulnerability. Plans went awry and for those reasons, and others, the Giants lost.
The first runner to get thrown out was Trevor Brown. Brown, as you might know, is a catcher. Before Sunday in the majors this year, Brown was 0-for-0 in trying to steal. He doesn’t run. He was trying to test the limits of Syndergaard’s weakness, and Brown got himself out, after Rene Rivera made a strong throw to second.
There’s nothing too interesting about that. Syndergaard was slow to the plate. Rivera did his job well. Brown got a bad jump and he doesn’t sprint well to begin with. That caught steal is almost a direct result of other players not getting caught stealing. The weakness encourages non-runners to run. Just as Syndergaard is slow enough that any decent runner can advance, some runners are slow enough that even Syndergaard can’t be exploited.
I’m more interested in the second runner to get thrown out. That was Eduardo Nunez, and, unlike Brown, Nunez has had a big year in swiping. He’s an obvious running threat. Here’s Syndergaard’s first pitch after Nunez reached:
And now, here’s the second pitch:
You see that? Nunez had seen enough. He read Syndergaard and took off on the second delivery. Rivera was excellent here — he was quick to his feet and his throw was outstanding. So, Rivera absolutely played a role. But Syndergaard also showed Nunez a twist. The first pitch:
The second pitch:
Syndergaard lowered his leg lift. He mixed up his timing, and while for the first pitch I had him close to 1.7 seconds to the plate, on the second pitch he was at almost 1.4. He shaved roughly 15% off his time, and though he was still short of the 1.3 mark that most pitchers want to achieve, that’s a healthy leap forward. Syndergaard gave Nunez a different look, and he gave his own catcher a chance. Nunez easily could’ve wound up safe if Rivera’s throw were any worse, but what matters is just that there was a possibility he’d be out. This is something Syndergaard’s been working on, and getting Nunez out is an encouraging step.
It’s going to take more outs before runners stop trying. And it’s worth noting that, when Syndergaard lowered his leg lift, he threw his slowest fastball of the first five innings. The Mets don’t want for him to sacrifice too much, and they need to keep an eye on his mechanics. But for the time being, Syndergaard is coming off an outstanding start, and in that start, runners trying to steal went 0-for-2. One of those runners even knows how to run. It’s something to build on.