"Don’t scout the stat line" is a phrase commonly heard in scouting circles, especially when it comes to scouting Minor League or amateur players. There are a multitude of factors that play into a players’ stat line other than his true talent, including luck, age relative to his level, park factors, health, and transition to pro ball. For these reasons, it is essential to separate the numbers from the true talent, but when the numbers do not match the talent, it is often worth a second look to examine the causes of the poor numbers. Was the initial evaluation of the player inaccurate or can the poor performance be explained by other reasons? Have the tools that helped the player initially climb the lists regressed?
Using the Baseball Prospectus Midseason Top 50 Prospect list as our guide, there are four pitching prospects whose 2014 statistics do not match their high rankings. These prospects are, with their BP midseason ranking in parenthesis, Mets’ righty Noah Syndergaard (9), Reds’ righty Robert Stephenson (10), Diamondbacks’ righty Archie Bradley (14), and Astros’ righty Mark Appel (34).
This week, I’ll be examining one of these players each day. In today’s post, the first in this series, I will discuss Mets’ righthander Noah Syndergaard.
Syndergaard's 2014 Statistics
118.1 IP, 4.72 ERA, 1.507 ERA, 138 Hits, 11 HR, 40 BB, 127 K
Prior to 2014, many Mets fans expected Syndergaard to be the 2014 version of Zack Wheeler by performing well in the Minor Leagues, earning a midseason promotion to New York, and establishing himself in the Mets' rotation for years to come. Although that expectation was not met this season, there is little cause for concern about the hard throwing righthander’s long-term outlook.
Though it seems like he has been around for quite a while, Syndergaard is still just 21 years old and already in Triple-A. The third-youngest player on an Opening Day PCL roster, many players his age are either still in college or finding their way in the low minors. Second, the big righty is throwing in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in one of the most hitter friendly leagues in all of Minor League baseball. This will certainly negatively affect his numbers, especially the hits and home runs allowed.
These things considered, there are many positives in Syndergaard’s stat line this season. Most importantly, he is a hard thrower who has stayed healthy and logged 118.1 innings this season. He will get a few more starts before the end of the season and is on track for close to a full MLB starters’ workload next season, assuming he makes the club. Syndergaard also has struck out more than a batter per inning, which suggests his stuff is fine, and has walked a reasonable 3.04 hitters per nine. His K/BB ratio, one of the statistics I most highly value, is a solid 3.18.
When we factor in the park effects, the most likely contributor to his .379 BABIP and 11 home runs (despite allowing just 78 fly balls – a 24.68% rate), his numbers look even better. Both the hit and home run totals are inflated and reflect neither his true talent nor his performance this season. If these numbers were to normalize, Syndergaard’s ERA and WHIP would drop to the point where this discussion would no longer be necessary.
Instead of being disappointed, I am pleased with how Syndergaard has thrown this season. He got hit around in a hitter’s park a bit, but he still showed signs of dominance by racking up the sixth most strikeouts in all of Triple-A baseball this season. The tools that landed him ninth on the BP Midseason Top 50 are intact, and though the young fireballer hasn’t been able to make his MLB debut and solidify himself as planned, his future outlook remains unchanged.
The Mets may hold Syndergaard in the Minors for a few weeks to secure an extra year of team control, but expect Syndergaard to spend most of the 2015 season in New York. Once he gets there, initially expect lots of strikeouts, a few more walks, and average ratios. In the long run, however, Syndergaard could use his frontline stuff to become a frontline starter and join a stacked young pitching core including the aforementioned Zack Wheeler and the returning Matt Harvey.
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Dan Weigel, who has no idea how Syndergaard got the nickname "Thor", is a contributing writer for Minor League Ball and Beyond the Box Score. His tweets about prospects and stats are found at @DanWiggles38.