Thor’s lat tear was the team’s biggest disappointment in 2017, a season that’s been chock-full of frustration and futility.
It was more demoralizing than the poor winning percentage. More displeasing than a certain player’s disappearance. And even more disheartening than the injuries en masse.
The fall of the Mets’ burgeoning ace is so distressing because it raised alarms about the future of their starting rotation. It’s now uncertain whether Noah Syndergaard, the pitcher once dubbed the second coming of Nolan Ryan, can play a significant role – let alone become the successor to Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden.
How should the Mets deal with this situation? Though unpopular, there’s only one pragmatic solution: hope for a full recovery, let him recoup value, and trade him before future injuries occur.
Wait – trade him? Wouldn’t it make more sense if they gave such a tremendous talent the opportunity to fix his problems before they press panic button?
Sadly, it’s not quite that simple.
Syndergaard’s issues are so deeply rooted that he’s probably going to get hurt again.
Two core components of his skill set are the likely culprits of these injuries, and both are difficult to cure – at least without harming his effectiveness.
The first is Thor’s throwing motion. In the GIF below, you can see how he relies heavily on his golden arm when delivering a pitch:
At first glance, these mechanics appear quick, straightforward, and minimalistic. But also arm-dependent. If you look more closely, you won’t spot a single movement that attempts to alleviate the immense stress placed on his right wing. Not one.
You don’t see Syndergaard use a high leg kick or take a long stride. Nor do you notice him place substantial weight on his right leg when pushing off the rubber. You can’t observe him rotate his hips fully. And you won’t find too much torque in his upper body.
In short, he utilizes none of the mechanics that generate substantial velocity from his legs, hips, and core. Instead, you witness Thor gain most of his power from a sudden, violent contortion of his back and a quick snap of his almighty arm.
Needless to say, this delivery taxes his right wing…exorbitantly. On every single pitch.
But that’s not all. You also glimpse a slight timing problem that’s already become a ticking time bomb:
Syndergaard’s throwing arm is practically parallel to the ground when he plants his left foot. Then – before raising it to the cocked position – he rotates his hips and accelerates all components of his upper body, actions that place additional stress on his elbow and shoulder.
Mechanics of this sort, both arm-dependent and off-time, significantly increase his chances of getting hurt in the future…and that his afflictions will be far more severe than a torn lat.
The second cause of Thor’s injuries tilts those odds even further. That’s his max-effort pitching style. He looks to dominate batters with a repertoire of five overpowering pitches and, as you can see, holds nothing back:
|Pitch Type||2015||2016||2017||Avg||MLB Avg|
Both fastballs routinely register around 98 MPH, and his slider and changeup hover about or above 90 MPH. Each one is at least 5 MPH faster than league average and is among the hardest thrown by any starting pitcher. Even his curveball, the “slowest” of the group, is well above the 78.14 MPH mean.
But something sinister lurks beneath these awe-inspiring averages. And that’s the not-so-subtle implication that Thor competes on stuff alone.
There’s neither an inkling that he paces himself nor an indication that he uses complex pitching strategies – at least not to any meaningful degree. Au contraire. From the looks of it, he throws as hard as physically possible all game long. Nothing more, nothing less.
Such an explosive approach requires Thor to exert himself fully on every single pitch he throws. This places additional strain on his elbow and shoulder, accelerates the damage inflicted by his delivery, and dramatically increases his chances of developing major arm problems.
Making matters worse, the two reasons for his injury are incredibly difficult to fix without breaking something else, namely his dominating performance.
Which is exactly why the Mets should move their star pitcher.
Noah Syndergaard is still a blue-chip asset with great trade value. You’d be hard-pressed to find another starter whose repertoire resembles that of an elite closer…let alone one who just turned 25 and won’t be a free agent until 2022.
That combination of unique ability, extraordinary upside, and relatively low financial risk makes him an attractive target despite his injury and its causes. As such, the team would probably acquire several top prospects in return for their ace.
If he’s able to put together a healthy season (or half-season), they should shop him around and pull the trigger on the best deal they find. Otherwise, it’s likely that a catastrophic arm injury will compromise his value; they’d never be able to swap him for anything meaningful again.
Should that day of reckoning arrive, the Mets will be forced to admit that they have another Matt Harvey on their hands: a supremely talented, though fundamentally flawed pitcher whom they should have traded before it was too late.