Noah Syndergaard’s efforts to wash away the aftertaste from “a down year based off my expectations and my standards” and rediscover the thunderous power pitcher of his “Thor” days in New York led him to pitching development clinics in North Carolina (Tread Athletics) and Arizona (Driveline).
And it led him to the Dodgers, where their reputation for maximizing the performance of players (pitchers in particular) was all the sales pitch he needed to sign a one-year, $13 million contract last week.
“I feel like everything they touch turns to gold,” Syndergaard said Monday from his offseason home in Texas. “I have the utmost confidence in the staff and the organization to help me get back to being the old me.
“What they did with Andrew Heaney last year and Tyler Anderson, I definitely want to be in that category.”
While the Dodgers made Heaney and Anderson more effective pitchers than they had been before, the project with Syndergaard is more about returning him to the All-Star form he was before a series of injuries and Tommy John surgery sidelined him for all but two innings in 2020 and 2021.
Syndergaard spent most of 2022 with the Angels then went to the Phillies in a midseason trade. He proved he had returned to good health by making 24 starts and pitching 134⅔ innings for the two teams. But he was not the intimidating pitcher of his days with the Mets. His ERA (3.94) and WHIP (1.26) were higher than his New York numbers (3.32 and 1.16).
Most disturbing, the Anaheim and Philadelphia versions of Syndergaard did not have his former swing-and-miss stuff. His fastball velocity dropped from an average of 97-98 mph before Tommy John surgery to 93-94 mph and he struck out just 6.3 batters per nine innings, down significantly from his 9.7 average before surgery.
“I’m still trying to process where it all kind of went haywire because, like I said, I couldn’t have done a better rehab,” Syndergaard said.
Syndergaard said he was throwing his usual 97 mph during bullpens in the later stages of his rehab but had “a little setback” in the 13th or 14th month after surgery. The velocity hasn’t returned since then.
“I’m not sure if my body just went into a kind of fight-or-flight to protect itself kind of thing or it was just the fact that I felt like I’d been throwing for the last three years, rehabbing,” he said. “Over the last three years, I might have only had three or four total months off. So that might have been a factor into the velocity dip. But I started going down a movement and pitching mechanics rabbit hole and was getting away from what made me great.
“When I had surgery, everybody was always telling me I was too big or too bulky, too strong. So instead of continuing to do what made me really good and just chalking it up to, like, it’s Tommy John surgery … I completely did an overhaul on my training program. My emphasis in the weight room was more a lot of mobility, athleticism and kind of shifted away from the strength and explosiveness.”
Trying to recalibrate that was “like trying to change the tires on a car while it’s still moving.” He has dedicated his offseason to changing those tires, convinced there is plenty of tread still on them. He will head to Arizona after the holidays to begin working with the Dodgers’ staff at their Camelback Ranch complex.
“The pitches I threw last year I just kind of want to throw those away because I fully intend on being a different pitcher this next year,” he said.
“Whatever I was doing last year was not the best version of me. I see no excuse as to why I can’t get back to 100 mph and even farther than that. It just doesn’t make any sense. I don’t think there’s a baseball player in MLB that does what I do when it comes to the recovery and the training and just the attention to detail.”
The Dodgers signed a pair of free agents to minor-league contracts – left-hander Adam Kolarek and outfielder Bradley Zimmer.
Kolarek, 33, spent parts of 2019 and 2020 with the Dodgers, posting an 0.88 ERA in 30-2/3 innings. He was traded to the Oakland Athletics before the 2021 season. The three-batter minimum rule limited his effectiveness as a lefty specialist and he had a 5.74 ERA in limited appearances with the A’s before becoming a free agent this offseason.
Zimmer, 30, was a first-round draft pick in 2014 and a top prospect in the Cleveland Guardians’ system before making his big-league debut in 2017. He hasn’t lived up to that promise, hitting .213 with a .631 OPS over parts of six seasons with the Guardians, Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays. He hit .101 in 100 games with the Blue Jays last season before he was released in August and finished the season with the Phillies.
Zimmer has played a lot of center field and could emerge as a left-handed option there to partner with right-handers Chris Taylor and Trayce Thompson.