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Enjoying Noah Syndergaard, the Almost Faultless Phenom

With the exception of Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard is the most exciting pitcher I’ve ever seen debut in the Major Leagues. I fell in love with the game late in 2004, just in time to enjoy the twilight of Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez. In subsequent years, plenty of aces distinguished themselves, from Felix Hernandez and CC Sabathia to Justin Verlander and Cliff Lee, but none of those veterans felt like my guy. I wasn’t fully literate in baseball when they debuted, and enjoying their skill required jumping on the bandwagon. Many pitchers have arrived in the intermittent period, most notably Kershaw, the greatest I’ve ever seen, but none have made a more exhilarating first impression than the man currently sparkling in Queens, New York.

There’s already a superstar aura to Syndergaard. He has the flowing locks of blonde hair and the potent array of weapons. He has the eye-catching surname and the even more beguiling nickname of Thor. He has the youth, the hulking physique and the dashing charisma. As his teammate David Wright explained, Syndergaard is pretty much faultless, akin to a dream ace created by eager fans. “It’s like when you used to play video games as a kid,” said Wright. “If you build the player that you want to build and put all the abilities up to their maximum, he’s that guy.”

We’ve all seen young flamethrowers capable of lighting up the radar gun, but Syndergaard is different. With apparent ease, he simply pours in fireball after fireball, blistering the catcher’s mitt with a satisfying crackle. The average velocity of his four-seam fastball is 98-mph, per Statcast, which is the best in the Majors this season. Syndergaard sits comfortably in the 97-100-mph range well into the late innings, and has topped out at 102-mph this year. Of the twenty-five fastest pitches thrown so far this season, seventeen have been hurled by Syndergaard, which speaks to his thorough domination. He also gets more extension from his delivery than any starter in baseball, giving hitters even less time in which to react.

However, this 23-year old is capable of much more than just high-octane gas. This season, I’ve been extremely impressed with his understanding of the game and ability to plan his attack like a seasoned veteran. It can be easy for young pitchers to fall in love with the heater, especially when it’s so devastating. But Syndergaard appreciates the importance of setting up his wrecking ball by disturbing the timing and thought pattern of hitters. His changeup, which can reach an absurd 92-mph, is integral to this strategy, while a low-90s slider with phenomenal movement may rival Kershaw’s curveball as the single most impressive pitch in baseball. And, oh yeah, Syndergaard also has a pretty sweet curve of his own, thank you very much.

The Mets phenom also has tremendous command of his pitches. Like all the great aces, Syndergaard controls the entire game when he’s on the mound. It’s Noah’s world, and we’re all just lucky to be a part of it. His whim and desire alone is enough to shut down offences and break hearts, because Syndergaard has the holy triumvirate of pitching tools: premium ‘stuff,’ pinpoint accuracy, and a perceptive taste for the craft of retiring hitters. He also has a cool temperament that enables him to use those skills with regularity and precision, and I really don’t know if we’ve ever seen that array of talent wrapped up in a 23-year old pitcher before.

The results are truly a sight to behold. One can actually see fear in the eyes and demeanour of Major League hitters when they face Syndergaard. Genuine fear. They fidget in the box and shake their heads and swallow hard with bulging eyes of despair. Aside from those facing the aforementioned Clemens and Johnson, I’ve seldom seen that look from big league hitters before. Sure, I’ve witnessed guys looking really uncomfortable having to hit against the majesty of Kershaw and the execution of Mariano Rivera, but seeing good players totally overwhelmed by Syndergaard is unique. There’s an inherent conflict between guarding against 102-mph at the neck while trying to hit an 83-mph curve that bounces two foot in front of home plate. That’s why hitters look so foolish facing Thor, and that’s also why we love watching him pitch.

In three starts this season, Syndergaard is 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA, a 0.950 WHIP, and 29 strikeouts in 20 innings. He has only walked four batters all season, giving him a tremendous strikeout-to-walk ratio of 7.25. While the crown of baseball’s best active pitcher still belongs to Kershaw, with Jake Arrieta in hot pursuit, Syndergaard may now be the most enthralling, and certainly the one blessed with most future potential.

It’s mind-blowing that the Toronto Blue Jays saw fit to package Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud in a deal for RA Dickey, a 38-year old knuckleballer, in 2012. Yes, Dickey was the reigning Cy Young Award winner, but the knuckleball is notoriously capricious, as is the effectiveness of any athlete approaching 40. The Mets were roundly criticised for making the deal, as it likely prolonged a fallow period in the team’s history, but the reward is absolutely stunning. New York now gets to enjoy the most dazzling young arm in baseball, plus a very competent battery mate, while Dickey nurses his 4.01 career ERA as a Blue Jay. Perhaps Alex Anthopoulos wasn’t a total genius after all.

Right now, there’s a buzz around baseball whenever Noah Syndergaard takes to the mound. His recent matchup with Jose Fernandez, another electric youngster, was must-watch TV. I stayed up past 3 am here in England, totally besotted by the level of ability on display. The future looks incredibly bright for Syndergaard in particular, who fortunately hasn’t succumbed to injuries yet. And, in closing, that’s a sentiment I would like to embolden. Please protect this precious arm, dear baseball gods, for tears may flow if you take this superstar away from us.

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