Noah Syndergaard is the Mets’s ace, with a 100-plus mph fastball and a 90-plus mph slider that harken back to Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. It’s possible that the 6’6” 23-year-old lefty could become the best pitcher in baseball. It’s possible that is setting the bar too low.
Last season, Syndergaard’s first in the majors, he hit one home run in 43 at-bats. Last night, he hit two in two at-bats. All three of his career home runs have travelled in excess of 400 feet. Thor, as it turns out, has a hammer.
Babe Ruth was a pitcher. Scratch that, Babe Ruth was a great pitcher. His third season, as a 21-year old, he won 23 games for the Boston Red Sox. The following season he won 24, with 35 complete games in 38 starts. Pitch counts, LOL. In that third season, Ruth hit three home runs in 136 at-bats. The next year, two. In his first four seasons, Ruth hit a total of nine home runs in 361 at-bats. Which weren’t much, but enough for the Sox to find the 6’2” lefty more plate appearances.
In his fifth season, Ruth appeared in 95 games, 20 as a pitcher. His 11 home runs led the league. The following season, 130 games, 17 as a pitcher, 29 homers. Sold to the Yankees that off-season, Ruth became a full-time position player and hit 54 homers. Then 59. Ruth became the Sultan of Swat, his pitching career became a footnote. Still, he finished his pitching career with 94 wins, only 14 fewer than Tim Lincecum, and the 12th-best win-loss percentage in baseball history.
Certainly the game is different now, and Syndergaard is too valuable a pitcher to try and turn him into a position player. He might not even be the most Ruthian pitcher on his own team. Then again, Syndergaard’s three homers in 55 at-bats already have him way ahead of Ruth in terms of homers per at-bat. That’s one homer every 18.3 at-bats. Projected over a typical season of 500 at-bats, that’s right around 27 homers, which would have tied him with first baseman Lucas Duda for the Mets team lead last year. With a position player’s attention to hitting, one would assume Syndergaard would only get better. Right now he’s more ‘70s Mets slugger Dave Kingman than Ruth, as last night’s homers are also his only two hits this season.
Get Syndergaard more work with Mets hitting coach Kevin Long to smooth out his swing, then let him spell Lucas Duda at first and maybe even Curtis Granderson in right. Will anyone try and stretch a single into a double on Noah freaking Syndergaard?
Is there a modern Ruthian equivalent? How about Rick Ankiel? Ankiel came up with the St. Louis Cardinals as a pitcher, and went 11-7 as a 20-year old in 2000. He hit two home runs in 68 at-bats. His transition to an everyday player came about because he lost his ability to pitch, but he’d also shown potential as a hitter. After a stint in the minors, he returned to the Cardinals in 2007 as an outfielder and hit a home run in his first game back. He managed 11 homers—and hit .285—in just 47 games. The next season he hit 25 homers. Ankiel became the first player since Ruth with 10-plus wins as a pitcher and 50-plus career homers. Injuries and age limited his production, and he retired in 2014, having played his final major-league game as a Met.
Unless Syndergaard completely loses his touch, he won’t move into the everyday lineup. But why does it have to be either/or? Pitch counts have made starting pitchers more part-time players than ever before. Get Syndergaard more work with Mets hitting coach Kevin Long to smooth out his swing, then let him spell Lucas Duda at first and maybe even Curtis Granderson in right. Will anyone try and stretch a single into a double on Noah freaking Syndergaard? Throwing strikes, after all, is what he does. At the very least let Syndergaard pinch hit occasionally—like the Giants have done with defending two-time Silver Slugger winner Madison Bumgarner—and declare him his own designated hitter in American League parks. Get you a man who can do both.
The sad thing is that this will likely never happen, because the Mets
are scared to try something different need to protect a future gazillion-dollar investment and would look mighty dumb if their best pitching prospect in decades got injured crashing into a wall. Syndergaard will remain a pitcher and, barring injury, potentially become one of the all-time greats. Which, of course, is just one more reason it would be easier for Syndergaard to become a Ruthian hitter—he’d never have to face himself.