Noah Syndergaard looks to tap into some Dodger magic

It took a while, but the Dodgers finally made their first major acquisition this offseason — not named Clayton Kershaw, of course.

After seeing several impact players leave during the Winter Meetings, it appears the time has come for some of those holes to be filled. The Dodgers signed former All-Star Noah Syndergaard to a one-year $13 million deal that includes $1.5 million in potential performance bonuses. Although it may not be the ex-Mets ace that some fans were hoping for, it still looks like a quality signing that makes sense for both sides.

Syndergaard recently took to Twitter to show he’s ready for the relocation:

After lighting the league on fire his first few years in The Show with his electric fastball, The God of Thunder began to flame out. Between 2017 and 2021, Syndergaard missed considerable time with various injuries that culminated in a Tommy John surgery that cost him his 2020 season and most of 2021. Syndergaard parleyed his past success into a one-year contract with the Angels. He pitched well to the tune of a 3.83 ERA with 64 strikeouts in 80 innings of work, and showed enough for the Phillies to trade for him at the deadline to bolster their eventual World Series roster.

Syndergaard is not the same pitcher he was before the injuries started to pile up. At his peak, he was consistently among the hardest throwing starters in the game (averaging 98.3 MPH), which made his above-average off-speed pitches even deadlier. In 2016, he led the league in FIP while compiling a 29% strikeout rate. Last year, Syndergaard’s fastball velocity dropped down to 94.1 MPH, which caused his career low K-rate of 17%. At just 30 years old, Syndergaard could still have many more years in baseball, but only if he can learn how to succeed with his current repertoire.


Enter the Los Angeles Dodgers, an organization that has built a reputation of taking on reclamation projects and turning them into studs. Just last year, fans were besmirching the early offseason signings of Andrew Heaney and Tyler Anderson, only to quickly change their tune when both saw career resurgences. The Dodgers are hoping they can work some of their magic this year with a pitcher that possesses a much higher ceiling than anything they have had in the past. And Syndergaard was likely intrigued by this proposition as well after seeing the contracts both Heaney and Anderson earned this offseason.

Syndergaard figures to slot into the Dodgers rotation as their fourth or fifth starter behind Julio Urias, Kershaw, Tony Gonsolin, and Dustin May, along with LA having multiple prospects waiting in the wings. If nothing else, Syndergaard’s presence gives LA more depth at a position that has seen countless starters miss time with injury in recent years.

It’s true that if Syndergaard can put up similar numbers to last year, he will be a less than exciting addition to this role. However, if Mark Prior really is the pitching whisperer, Thor could prove to be the steal of the offseason. This is not to say I’m expecting anything close to vintage Syndergaard blowing hitters away with consistent triple digit heaters. On the contrary, to turn his career around, he is going to have to embrace his new repertoire and become a completely different pitcher. The Dodgers’ front office is an opportunistic bunch that take calculated risks, and they likely already have a plan to help Syndergaard, which I think it could be as simple as altering his pitch mix.

If we have learned anything from Dodger pitchers over the years, it’s that pitch mix can be the difference between success and failure. Syndergaard can’t rely on his fastball to get hitters out anymore and it may be time to reevaluate how he attacks hitters. He had good success with his breaking ball last year and the Dodgers probably already see an opportunity with that. It’s a similar situation to what they did with Chris Martin and Anderson last year where they threw a higher percentage of their more effective pitches. There was no big mechanical overhaul, just throwing different pitches in different situations.

Kershaw went through a similar situation a few years ago. As his velocity started to dip, the solution was to throw his slider in a way that could increase the velocity difference between it and his fastball while throwing the off-speed pitch far more often. I suspect the Dodgers will have Syndergaard do something similar.

With Syndergaard already having a solid slider/curveball combination in his repertoire, the transition into a backwards pitcher could be pretty seamless. Looking back at Syndergaard’s pitch breakdown over the years, Syndergaard’s Whiff % on his breaking pitches is consistently near or greater than 40% on both his slider and curveball. However, being the power pitcher that he was, he didn’t need to use them much, having thrown them at a 20% rate and 10% rate respectively. He gets swings and misses, he just needs to throw his off-speed more often. Kershaw was able to evolve as he got older, and I don’t see a reason Thor couldn’t do something similar, albeit probably not to the extent Kershaw has seen.


Obviously it’s too early to tell exactly if this is the approach the Dodgers plan to take to help Syndergaard reach his full potential, and there’s no guarantee he won’t just be the same guy as last year, but this signing gives both sides a very unique opportunity to benefit from a resurgent Thor. The ceiling for this deal was simply too high for the Dodgers not to experiment with, as Syndergaard gets a chance to revive his career with one of the best organizations in baseball and the Dodgers get a talented pitcher on a low-risk contract with the potential for him to grow into a solid starter again.

Sure, the chance of Syndergaard becoming dominant again are not incredibly likely, but we have said that about lesser pitchers the Dodgers have signed in the past, and LA also has the organizational depth to cover themselves if this plan fails miserably. It remains to be seen if the Dodgers are done adding to the rotation and there are still some holes to fill in the field, but this is a good starting point for an organization that seems intent on staying under the luxury threshold this season. Taking into account the rest of the roster, if this is the only move they make to improve the rotation, it will still be a successful offseason in that regard.

About Shane Mittleman