I first laid eyes on Noah Syndergaard in July 2013, when he pitched for the USA in the All-Star Futures Game at Citi Field. (His opponent: Rafael Montero.) The Futures Game was lightly attended, and I wound up sitting with my pal Will in the luxe seats, the ones with padding where people will bring you Shake Shack. Unfortunately, it was also approximately 9 billion degrees; I remember little about the day except a hazy dread that I was liquefying and would vanish into a puddle beneath my fancy seat.
After that Syndergaard was in Las Vegas, where the organizational guys said he had things to learn while the advanced stats suggested what he should learn was not to pay attention to PCL numbers. He didn’t get a September callup, which was one of those Big Deal in New York stories. Then he showed he was more than ready this year. He came up and sure doesn’t look like he’s leaving any time soon.
Syndergaard annihilated the Phillies today, sending high-90s heat in on their hands and away across the outer edges of the plate and mixing in a devious, borderline cruel curve and a serviceable change-up. He got all the help he’d need from Lucas Duda, who hit two more laser-beam home runs to continue his recent barrage; the rejuvenated Michael Cuddyer, who cracked a long drive into the second deck; and himself.
Duda’s first home run was a bolt off Phillie ham-n-egger Sean O’Sullivan that left the ballpark in approximately a tenth of a second; his second, also off the luckless O’Sullivan, nearly nailed a hapless Philadelphia reliever minding his own business in the bullpen. Yet it was Syndergaard who was the Mets’ most impressive slugger.
Syndergaard went 3-for-3, but nobody was talking about his two singles. What grabbed the attention, and justifiably so, was his fourth-inning blast off O’Sullivan. It was a pretty good pitch, actually — a fastball that tailed away over the outside of the plate. It didn’t matter — Syndergaard extended his long arms and drove it to the opposite field, just left of the apple 430 feet away. It was the kind of home run you take notice of no matter who hits it.
Syndergaard is just 22 and looks like he’s about 15, with a certain deer-in-the-headlights expression. It’s easy to forget that he’s 6′ 7″ and 245 pounds. Well, easy to forget from the couch: I guarantee opposing hitters are well aware, particularly since he can throw 100 miles an hour.
His hitting prowess was buzzworthy before he reached New York too — he hit .270 in the minors, and his final Las Vegas start (this year? ever?) was a 3-for-4 day with another mammoth homer.
Which got me thinking about the history of Mets’ pitchers as hitters.
The annals aren’t particularly glittering. The first home run hit by a Mets pitcher was a grand slam off the bat of Carlton Willey on July 15, 1963, helping beat Ken Johnson and the Colt .45’s. Lest fans get any ideas, Willey hit .111 that year. Jay Hook was a decent hitter among early Met hurlers, but couldn’t pitch. Galen Cisco, Al Jackson and Bob Shaw acquitted themselves reasonably well with the bat in the team’s early days, as did Don Cardwell.
Tom Seaver gets high marks as a hitter, but mostly that’s because he had a bit of power — Seaver hit .154 for his career but did have 12 home runs, and was good for nine or 10 RBIs a year. Dwight Gooden was a better hitter — he hit .197 as a Met, with eight homers, which makes you imagine what he could have done if allowed to hit from his natural side.
From the later years, Craig Swan could hit a bit, as could Hank Webb and Ray Sadecki. Walt Terrell broke in with a bang, hitting .182 with three homers in ’83, but then hit .080 the next year. Jason Isringhausen hit .255 with two homers in ’93. Rick Aguilera could hit, as could Sid Fernandez. Rick Reed wasn’t inept with the bat; neither was R.A. Dickey or T@m Gl@v!ne.
Among current Met hurlers, Matt Harvey‘s still living off memories of his big-league debut and his reputation as a mean hombre — he’s a career .129 hitter. Jacob deGrom‘s better, at .224 for his career. Jon Niese‘s career average is an uninspiring .155, but he’s hit over .200 three of the last four seasons.
The best years by a Met pitcher? George Stone hit .271 in 48 at-bats in ’72, driving in five. (Stone was a career .212 hitter.) But Mike Hampton was better: He didn’t hit a home run in 2000, but he lived up to his billing as a hitter, with 10 RBIs and a .274 average. Hampton’s career mark as a hitter was .246 with 16 homers, including seven for Colorado and its fine schools in 2001.
Can Syndergaard be better than that? The specter of Walt Terrell suggests not getting too excited. But it’s hard not to dream big when you see a 22-year-old kid drive a ball 430 feet to the opposite field. That stuff’s fun. But then right now everything Noah Syndergaard does is fun.