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What Can the Mets Expect When Noah Syndergaard Returns

2017 Fantasy Baseball Pitcher Rankings

After his injury troubles culminated with Tommy John surgery forcing him to miss the entire 2020 season, Noah Syndergaard and the Mets are at a crossroads. As it stands, Thor is expected to return to the team sometime mid-season, likely late June or early July. What happens after is anybody’s guess, as there’s no telling what long-term effects the surgery will have on the hard-throwing righty’s abilities. With this being a contract year for Syndergaard, the next few months will be crucial to determining his future with the Mets and the league.

How Have Others Fared

Tommy John surgery is up there as one of the single hardest things to come back from in all of sports. As of 2021, over 500 MLB pitchers have undergone the surgery since its inception in 1974. A 2014 study from Columbia University shows that roughly 80% of pitchers who undergo the surgery successfully returned to pitch at least one major league game. Of them, about two-thirds came close to resembling their pre-operative performance for some time, while more than half struggled with injuries in the aftermath. Across the board, however, the vast majority of pitchers saw declines in performance either immediately or after a some time had passed. This includes decreased velocity, accuracy and innings pitched.

What does this all mean? Basically it can go either way with Syndergaard. Looking at his contemporaries, each Mets pitcher who came up around the same time as Syndergaard underwent the surgery at some point. Jacob deGrom represents the best case scenario. He underwent the surgery back in 2010 and has since become the best pitcher in baseball, facing minimal injury issues. In the middle is Zack Wheeler, who struggled with injuries in his first season back (2017). From 2018-2020, however, he has been healthy and one of the better pitchers in the league.

The doomsday scenario for Syndergaard would be to follow the course of Matt Harvey and Steven Matz. Harvey was lights out after returning in 2015. Unfortunately, he was never the same after struggling through more injuries in his next couple of seasons. Harvey is currently unsigned for the 2021 season. Then there’s Matz who, like deGrom, underwent the procedure in 2010. Unlike deGrom, he’s constantly battled injuries ever since, only pitching two full seasons in six years in the big leagues. The results have been mixed, but it’s clear that whatever promise Matz showed in his 2015 debut are all but gone.

New York Mets offseason
Syndergaard alongside Matz and deGrom.

Finding a Rotation Spot

Still, it looks as though Syndergaard is progressing smoothly in his rehab and at the moment things seem to be fine. If all does go well, the question then becomes where he will fit into the rotation.

Right now, deGrom heads things up, followed by Carlos Carrasco and Marcus Stroman. More than half a dozen guys are currently competing for the final two spots in the rotation, with David Peterson and Joey Lucchesi the frontrunners. Safe to say that Syndergaard will be no lower than fourth in the rotation.

If Carrasco and Stroman are performing well, it might not make sense to instantly slot Syndergaard back into the no. 2 spot in the rotation. Furthermore, since he will be facing a strict innings limit, the Mets might not risk overworking Syndergaard like they did Harvey in 2015, thus increasing the odds he’s lower in the order. Strong numbers from Syndergaard may make all this moot. If that’s the case, having too many good pitchers isn’t exactly a problem.

2021 Projections

Even though projections aren’t an exact science, they do give a decent snapshot of what to expect. The current Steamer and ZiPS projections are quite bullish for Syndergaard.

Steamer: 95 IP, 4.08 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 8.78 K/9, 1.6 fWAR

ZiPS: 126.7 IP, 3.69 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 8.88 K/9, 2.6 fWAR

While not superlative or ace-like, these are certainly encouraging numbers. Especially considering that projections often undersell even the best players (Steamer has deGrom having a 3.01 ERA). While the strikeout rate would be a career low for Thor, he projects to due a decent enough job limiting walks and homeruns. If Syndergaard can get close to these numbers, he would be more than effective as a starter. Should he outperform these projections, the Mets can look forward to possibly having the best rotation in baseball.

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