The Dodgers carried over on their successful strategy in 2022 of signing established starters on one-year deals to fill out the back-end of their rotation. Last season, the organization got a massive return on their investment in Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney, with the former even netting the team a compensation draft pick as Anderson left for Anaheim.
This time around, it was Noah Syndergaard, who, according to reports, turned down more money to come to the Dodgers on a one-year deal, at the time of his signing as the fifth man in the rotation.
Syndergaard doesn’t have the same blazing velocity of yesteryear. Still, tentatively, the expectation not only for him but also for the Dodger organization is that it can unlock something in his repertoire, leading to better results than the 3.94 ERA he put up last season with the Phillies and Angels.
With that in mind, let’s look at what we can learn from Syndergaard’s first two starts, both against the Diamondbacks, and what we can reasonably expect out of Thor in 2023.
Different arsenal against right-handed batters
The old adage of not throwing changeups to same-handed hitters is a thing of the past in Major League Baseball, particularly when your best offering is the changeup, teams are collectively more inclined to encourage you to throw it righty-on-righty or lefty on lefty.
Especially after his move to the Phillies, Syndergaard was almost strictly a sinker/slider pitcher to right-handers, with a curve around 10 percent of the time.
There are certain things to adjust to when discussing a small sample size, but one can still recognize changes in approach. In his two starts this season, Syndergaard has relied on the changeup against the righties, and the effectiveness of it in his first outing, and lack thereof in the second one, was the difference maker.
Thor tossed the changeup to righties over 30 percent of the time in his Dodgers debut, and overall found great success earning six whiffs in 10 swings on that pitch.
Here is an example of that pitch in his first game, in which he got Christian Walker to whiff on it.
Now on to what changed in between his two outings
The short answer is location, location, location. Take a look at the pitch chart in his first game (the successful one).
Now here is the same chart for his worse outing at Chase Field last Saturday;
Syndergaard’s whole approach relies on getting swing-and-miss action on that pitch, and the fact he pounded the zone the second time out with that particular pitch, well it’s a disservice to him.
Pounding the zone in general is more than desirable, but he needs to do that with his sinker, and let the change play off of it.
Dodgers pitchers in general didn’t have the best of times during the weekend in Arizona, a notoriously tough place to pitch at, but it remains to be seen how Syndergaard will fare moving forward.
We can at least now have a better idea of what to expect out of the Dodgers' new starter, and as long as he is able to command that changeup below the zone, we’ve seen him succeed in his first outing, and there is no reason why that shouldn’t continue.