By The Numbers: Noah Syndergaard, Wilson Ramos, Howie Kendrick
This is the same pitch that has ceded a 40 wRC+ over his career, steering as low as -2 in both 2015 and 2017. It forfeited one home run throughout four major league seasons before acquiescing five in 2019. He already served up more total long balls (14) by the All-Star break than all of last year (nine).
An 89-mph slider is wicked for a mere mortal. Only four starters, led by Mets teammates Jacob deGrom and Zack Wheeler, have thrown theirs at a higher average velocity. For Syndergaard, however, that represents a 3.6-mph dip from last season and 2.6-mph slip from his career norm. His slider’s swinging-strike rate has evaporated from 2018’s 25.1% to 14.0%.
Compounding Syndergaard’s problems, his sinker is worse than ever. Thrown just one fewer time than his four-seamer, this lagging pitch has turned all adversaries into a Jeff McNeil facsimile with a .336/.401/.511 opposing slash line. These shortcomings could lead to investors rooting for a trade to a more analytically inclined squad like the Astros — they’re reportedly interested — who will optimize his pitch mix. Abandoning the sinker has worked wonders for Gerrit Cole in Houston, but that’s because his hard slider is getting the job done.
Perhaps Thor is simply honoring his nickname by following the Avenger’s Endgame storyline. He has not looked like a Nordic god toying with batters, but rather a hittable hurler hiding out in a shack and growing a beer belly. His 4.68 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and 16.0% K-BB rate would all comfortably set new personal nadirs if sustained throughout the second half.
While he has occasionally looked his typical self, Syndergaard has also given up four or more earned runs in nine of 17 starts. Managers still shouldn’t abandon ship just yet. A .280 expected wOBA (xwOBA) points to better days from a 26-year-old righty still inducing plenty of soft contact. His Cy Young Award-winning ceiling, on the other hand, might have got snapped away by Thanos. At this point, just hope he rebounds back into a top-25 starter after the break.
Wilson Ramos: 3.31 GB/FB
Don’t tell Syndergaard that I’m pairing him with Ramos. Syndergaard reportedly wants to pitch to Tomas Nido, which is especially uncomfortable considering the backup is already deGrom’s personal catcher. It’s not like Ramos is forcing the Mets to deny this request with spectacular offense. He enters the break with MLB’s most lopsided ratio of ground balls to fly balls. Leury Garcia is second at 2.67.
It thus makes sense to see the starting backstop pose the game’s highest ground-ball (62.3%) and lowest fly-ball (18.8%) rates. Making matters even more concerning, 10.3% percent of those balls in the air are pop-ups. Given all of this feeble contact, he’s actually fortunate to have even mustered nine home runs.
Ramos is also cooling off from a hot streak that amended a mediocre April. Since going yard for the second straight game on June 24, he has yet to muster an extra-base hit. Yet despite these flaws, the 31-year-old still ended the first half as the ninth-rated catcher. A .272/.349/.408 slash line is fine behind the plate; he’s just not the upper-class option expected when drafted alongside Willson Contreras and Yasmani Grandal. Ramos is instead a compiler to hold the fort down with superior production to a typical replacement. That volume, of course, takes a hit if the Mets honor Syndergaard’s request and start Nido twice every five games.
Howie Kendrick: .422 xwOBA
Here are the only players (in a minimum of 100 plate appearances) with a higher xwOBA than Kendrick: Mike Trout, Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich, and Anthony Rendon. His actual .393 wOBA tops that of Alex Bregman, Nolan Arenado, J.D. Martinez, and all but 22 hitters.
Kendrick didn’t start three of Washington’s four games before the break. The Nationals seem intent on playing Ryan Zimmerman, who recently returned from plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Boasting a 141 wRC+ against lefties over his career, the 34-year-old makes a sensible platoon partner with Matt Adams at first base. But how can they possibly sit Kendrick? The 35-year-old infielder has clobbered lefties and righties alike en route to a .327/.378/.563 slash line.
Such issues have a way of working themselves out. After all, Kendrick opened 2019 in a utility role before injuries to Zimmerman and Rendon — and Brian Dozier’s early struggles — elevated him to a near full-time gig. Another first-half standout, D.J. LeMahieu may have fallen into a super-utility job if not for nearly every Yankee getting hurt. Unlike the Nationals, they’re letting his unexpected stardom play out every day in the leadoff spot. Whether health forces their hand or they simply come to their senses, expect the Nats to eventually ride Kendrick’s hot hand in a featured role or trade him if they falter out of the break.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Yuli Gurriel: 22 HRs since June 7
It’s been one heck of the month for the Gurriel brothers. From June 7 to July 7, Lourdes and Yuli smashed 12 and 10 home runs while ranking seventh and 13th in wRC+, respectively.
Let’s appreciate how unexpected each surge was. In mid-April, the Blue Jays demoted Lourdes due to his anemic .575 OPS. He’s hitting .335/.382/.716 in 170 plate appearances since rejoining the big league squad on May 24.
His older brother, meanwhile, tallied 13 home runs all of the last year and four through June 11. He closed the break with at least one long ball (six total) in each of his last five games.
Despite their simultaneous hot streaks, the siblings are drastically different players. Yuli is a career .288 hitter who currently brandishes the sixth-lowest strikeout rate (10.2%) of all qualified hitters. Lourdes, 10 years younger at age 25, is a free-swinger with a profile more prone to ups and downs. The overall numbers are still pretty, as he’s batting .291/.330/.525 with 27 long balls in 477 career plate appearances.
A boring source of batting average and counting numbers weeks ago, Houston’s first baseman is suddenly in line for his first 20-homer campaign. Often batting fourth or fifth should lead him to another 85 RBIs, if not more. Don’t expect last week’s one-man Home Run Derby to become the new norm, but perhaps every competent starter will enjoy at least one power surge in this landscape.
Lourdes comes with a far wider range of outcomes, and we’ve seen both ends to wild extremes. A 70.3% contact rate and .268 xAVG don’t support his .303 batting average, but a .547 xSLG suggests the power isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. For a frame of reference, his rest-of-season projections align closely to Jonathan Schoop.