Tom Verducci does an excellent job covering baseball for Sports Illustrated, but he has one obsession that is just annoying — attempting to predict arm injuries to young pitchers. His past theories have been largely debunked, so now he has another idea, and this one takes straight aim at Noah Syndergaard.
In a column this week, Verducci points out how hard Syndergaard throws, and says Syndergaard “is either a threat to himself—pushing the limits of musculoskeletal integrity—or he is a once-in-a-generation physical marvel.”
And it is not the fastball that concerns Verducci; rather, it is the fact that Syndergaard throws his slider so darned hard. He calls it “The Dan Warthen Slider,” a hard slider the Mets pitching coach loves to preach to all of the Mets starters. Right now Syndergaard throws the hardest slider in all of baseball, to go along with his fastest-in-baseball fastball.
Now, Tom Verducci might have something here. In 2013 and 2014, Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler each threw the fastest average slider; they both required Tommy John surgery afterwards. Last year, Harvey and deGrom tied for fastest slider. Harvey does not look like himself this year, while deGrom has already had the surgery.
So is Syndergaard next (or for that matter, second surgeries for Harvey and/or deGrom)? Verducci does not come out and say it, but it is safe to assume he thinks it is likely Syndergaard will go under the knife. A rival GM seems to agrees.
“Physical freaks come along once a generation,” the unnamed fellow said. “He’s either that or this is not sustainable. The odds tell you that it’s not sustainable. It’s easy for people to point to his size and say that’s why he’s different than everybody else. But I don’t know that size alone protects you. He does look like he has good mechanics.”
That last observation is the one that could save Syndergaard. So says Justin Verlander, who knows a thing or two about hard throwing.
“When I see [Syndergaard] throw I see… easy [velocity],” Verlander said. “I like his arm swing—I’m big on studying guys’ arm swings—and his mechanics look clean. He’s a big guy with long levers and quick-twitch muscles. It doesn’t look like he’s putting all of his effort into 98.”
Both Verlander and Verducci say Syndergaard is lucky he can take advantage of new training techniques that will hopefully strengthen his arm to avoid the dreaded surgery.
Still, Verducci’s column seems a bit premature. Yes, Harvey and Wheeler needed surgery after a season of hard-throwing sliders, but there is little evidence the slider was the cause of their arm problems. And there is even less evidence that Syndergaard is headed in that direction.
Why can’t we all just enjoy watching Noah Syndergaard dominate without trying to predict doom and gloom?