RCL Exclusive

Mets Pitcher Noah Syndergaard’s Strategy to Strike Out Elite Hitters

Thor hammers home strategy to put a 100-mph fastball to proper use.

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In a sport full of sluggers, Mets ace Noah Syndergaard doesn’t shy away from a fastball down the middle.

And that, the 6’6″ hurler tells RealClearLife, is the secret to his success.

“I like to go out there and pitch to my weaknesses,” declares Syndergaard, whose flowing blonde locks and knack for bringing the hammer earned him the nickname “Thor.” (Syndergaard approves of the naming: “The home planet of Thor is called Asgard, which is like my last name.”)

Then he pauses and asks, “Did I say strengths or weaknesses?”

Syndergaard quickly clarifies he meant strengths. Which makes sense because no pitcher boasts strengths like mighty Thor. In 2016, his fastball averaged 97.9 miles per hour—no other starter averaged 97—as he made his first All-Star team. He regularly tops 100 mph, even with his sinker.

Throw in baseball’s hardest slider (averaging roughly 93 mph), and it’s no surprise the 24-year-old has averaged over 10 strikeouts per 9 innings in each of his three seasons in the majors.

“I take enough pride in my fastball and all my other pitches to know I can get anybody out in any scenario,” says Syndergaard.

This season, though, has been a step back. Thor is out indefinitely with a torn lat muscle. While he rehabs, Syndergaard is thinking about how he’ll pitch when returns. He shared with RCL his philosophy on how to overpower hitters like the Nationals’ Bryce Harper and the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo:

1.) Pace yourself: “I would go out there and try to win the ball game in the first inning. Now I’m trying to pay attention to, ‘It’s the first inning, I’ve got to go at least seven more.'”

2.) It’s about this batter and this batter only: “I’m not going to look ahead towards somebody. I’m going to focus on the task at hand.”

3.) Learn with every toss: “Each pitch I throw, I’ll try to gain some information for that at bat. Like if I throw a fastball away for strike one, and the hitter doesn’t do anything, I probably shouldn’t do anything else, because he hasn’t given me any information yet. If I were to go from a fastball away to a changeup, then he might have been sitting on that changeup first pitch.”

4.) Think one move ahead: “It’s all about setting up the next pitch. It’s kind of like pool, where you’re always setting up your next shot. I get a guy 0-2. If I want to throw a pitch up and in and raise his eye level, then I throw a curveball. He sees a ball up in the zone, he thinks it’s a fastball. Just to change people’s eye levels and angles and trajectories and stuff.”

5.) Sometimes slow it down: “If I throw a first pitch fastball and he yanks it down the right field line, since he’s a left-handed hitter, that means he’s early, he’s been waiting for my fastball. I throw a changeup then, because he’s been trying to gear for the fastball. He’s already swung 30 times through the ball by the time the ball actually gets there, so he’s looking like the Tasmanian Devil up there in the box.”

6.) Don’t worry too much about that man on first: “He still has to get to second base, still has to get to third base, still has to get to home before he scores. I like my odds to get three outs before that can happen.”

7.) Nolan Ryan is the model: “For his work ethic. You can work hard, but you can work smart too.” (Like the career leader in strikeouts, Syndergaard is a native Texan, a background which he partially credits for his devotion to Cholula hot sauce, a product he endorses.)

8.) Trust your best against theirs: “I like facing (Giancarlo) Stanton, because I’ve kind of owned him right now. (That’s not an exaggeration: Stanton is 0-11 against Thor with six Ks.) He has such a presence. Power on power kind of thing. Just a cool match-up.”

[To appreciate the nightmare of facing Thor, watch the video below.]

 

[For another mighty matchup, watch Syndergaard take on Bryce Harper below, who’s also struck out six times against Thor and never taken him deep.]