NEW YORK -- Throughout the years, Noah Syndergaard always stayed aware of the possibility. He burst into the league as one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in baseball history. He coveted velocity. Day after day, week after week, Syndergaard threw baseballs as hard as possible, testing the limits of human physiology,
NEW YORK -- Throughout the years, Noah Syndergaard always stayed aware of the possibility. He burst into the league as one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in baseball history. He coveted velocity. Day after day, week after week, Syndergaard threw baseballs as hard as possible, testing the limits of human physiology, full well knowing the risk of Tommy John surgery.
“Anything can happen,” Syndergaard said in March 2016. “You try to prevent it as much as possible, but at the same time you’re not always in control. Some guys go through their entire careers without having any problems. Hopefully, I will be one of those guys.”
Syndergaard’s elbow held out until this spring, when he began experiencing discomfort, according to a Mets statement released Tuesday. After Mets camp shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Syndergaard remained in contact with team trainers, who recommended an MRI exam. That revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, necessitating Tommy John surgery.
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Syndergaard underwent the operation Thursday in West Palm Beach, Fla., ending his 2020 season two days before what would have been Opening Day. Typically, Tommy John surgery requires a 12- to 18-month recovery period, putting Syndergaard on track for a return at some point in early summer 2021. He is under team control through the end of that season, at which point he can become a free agent.
“Noah is an incredibly hard worker and a tremendous talent,” Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said in a statement. “While this is unfortunate, we have no doubt that Noah will be able to return to full strength and continue to be an integral part of our Championship pursuits in the future.”
Syndergaard last appeared in a Grapefruit League game March 8 against the Astros, about a week before the Mets suspended their spring camp. It is unknown when Syndergaard first began experiencing elbow discomfort, but a source said he did not undergo an MRI until after camp broke.
Van Wagenen did not respond to a message asking if the coronavirus pandemic played any role in Syndergaard’s timeline for surgery, with hospitals around the country delaying elective surgeries to allocate resources toward fighting COVID-19. Notably, Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale has yet to undergo Tommy John surgery despite announcing last week that he will need it.
Regardless, Syndergaard’s injury alters the arc of his career with two years left under team control. A key part of the Mets’ R.A. Dickey trade with the Blue Jays in December 2012, Syndergaard placed fourth in 2015 NL Rookie of the Year Award voting, following that up with his best season -- a 2.60 ERA across 183 2/3 innings in ’16. But Syndergaard posted a career-worst 4.28 ERA last summer, prompting him to focus this spring on increasing his slider velocity back into the low to mid-90s.
“You’ve either got to adapt or get left behind,” Syndergaard said in February. “It’s getting close to crunch time for me. My window is closing for maximizing a potential big-time extension or free-agent contract.
“You look at Gerrit Cole’s path that he took,” Syndergaard continued, referencing Cole’s $324 million contract with the Yankees. “Him and I had very similar numbers at the same age, the same point in our careers. If I could follow his footsteps, that’s a really nice payday.”
Famous for his powerlifting workouts that helped earn him the nickname “Thor” as a prospect, Syndergaard spent his winter training at the Mamba Sports Academy in Los Angeles alongside pitchers including Jack Flaherty, Lucas Giolito and others. He became intrigued by technology, requesting personal visits from Mets pitching analytics coordinator David Lang as he worked to streamline his mechanics. Over the years, Syndergaard spoke occasionally about relying on healthy eating, a sound workout plan and mechanical consistency to avoid Tommy John surgery.
Still, his risk factors were off the charts. Syndergaard averaged 97.8 mph on his two- and four-seam fastballs over the first five years of his career, and 90.8 mph on his sliders, according to Statcast data -- both figures the highest of any starting pitcher in baseball.
“I’ve thought about it quite a bit,” Syndergaard said in 2016. “But I trust myself to put my body in the right situations to be able to perform at a healthy level.”
Now, the Mets must proceed without Syndergaard until at least Opening Day 2021, and perhaps for several months longer than that. His absence from the 2020 rotation gives the Mets a starting five of Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Rick Porcello, Steven Matz and Michael Wacha. One of the latter two pitchers had been in danger of opening the season in the bullpen, but that no longer is the case.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.