Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen spent a little more than eight minutes just before first pitch Monday night explaining, in his own unique word salad sort of way, why Noah Syndergaard is not getting a personal catcher. He could have boiled it all down to 13 words and fewer than 10 seconds.
Want to complain over who catches your starts? Go pitch like Jacob deGrom.
The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner did his best to overshadow the Mets’ latest weird soap opera Monday night, when he struck out 11 over seven innings and earned a rare win in a 3-1 victory over the Diamondbacks.
Of course, as with all things Mets-related, this is needlessly complicated. DeGrom doesn’t actually have a personal catcher, unlike last year, when Van Wagenen reportedly campaigned for his then-client to have Devin Mesoraco catch deGrom’s starts before taking over as Mets general manager, instituting a no personal catchers policy and overseeing the domino toppling that resulted in Mesoraco retiring rather than report to Triple-A.
So yeah, Syndergaard has some room to beef, and it’s fair to wonder if this isn’t part of the Mets trying to turn public sentiment their way in advance of finally trading Syndergaard this winter. But still, the point remains. If you want a personal catcher and want to be treated differently than anyone else, try pitching and carrying yourself like deGrom first.
The Mets, four games back of the Cubs in the race for the second wild card and staring up at three other teams, including the Diamondbacks, were in virtual must-win mode when deGrom took the mound Monday. The Mets, as is the case whenever deGrom pitches, barely offered him any support, but deGrom never gave up the lead after Pete Alonso hit the first of his two solo homers in the first inning. He ended up going at least seven innings and allowing one run or fewer for the ninth time in 29 starts this season.
Contrast that to Sunday, when…well, let’s allow Van Wagenen to put his spin on how Syndergaard pitched in another virtual must-win game Sunday, a 10-7 loss to the Phillies.
“He left the game with a chance for us to win,” Van Wagenen. “It was 4-4, I think, at the time. He gave us a chance to win the game. We couldn’t seal the deal after that.”
That’s one awfully generous way to explain a game in which the Mets staked Syndergaard to a 3-0 first inning lead against a Phillies team that didn’t start Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto. Syndergaard barely lasted five innings before being pinch-hit for as the Mets tried to take the lead in the bottom of the fifth, though no one could argue Mickey Callaway’s quick hook wasn’t merited.
Van Wagenen’s words Monday make you wonder what he would have said of Syndergaard if the Mets pulled off the biggest comeback in team history Aug. 28, when Syndergaard gave up a career-high 10 runs over three innings in what turned out to be a *checks math” 10-7 loss to the Cubs.
The problem for Syndergaard, apparently, is Wilson Ramos, who was behind the plate Sunday as well as against the Cubs. Syndergaard has a 5.09 ERA in 15 starts with Ramos this season (though, as Van Wagenen was quick to point out Monday, the Mets are 9-6 in those starts) as opposed to a 2.22 ERA with either Tomas Nido or Rene Rivera, the latter of whom was Syndergaard’s unofficial personal catcher for much of 2016 and 2017.
By calling a rare press conference to discuss the topic, Van Wagenen didn’t have to say a word to acknowledge there there was plenty of truth to the New York Post’s story Monday afternoon detailing Syndergaard’s preference to throw to Nido or Rivera and his recent “discussions” on the matter with Van Wagenen, who also used to be his agent (no that’s not complicated at all) and Callaway.
Van Wagenen’s answers Monday were telling, in their own corporate speak way. Twice Van Wagenen said Syndergaard was “expressing his comfortability” with the Mets’ catching situation.
And asked if he was comfortable with Syndergaard speaking his mind, Van Wagenen said “I appreciate Noah communicating his thoughts,” which sounds like something a parent says after allowing his or her child to state his case and grounding the child anyway.
No one will argue Ramos is the second coming of Ivan Rodriguez behind the plate, or that he might be among the last of a breed of offense-first catchers who are behind the plate for a vast majority of their team’s games.
Ramos’ pitch framing was an issue for the Nationals as far back as 2015. Of course, 2015 was also the year Ramos was good enough to catch two Max Scherzer no-hitters. And Ramos was good enough to hit a career-best .307 as the primary catcher for the Nationals in 2016, when the team won 95 games, Scherzer collected his second Cy Young (and struck out a record-tying 20 batters against the Tigers on May 11 with Ramos behind the plate) and Tanner Roark finished second on the team in WAR.
The cycle seems to be repeating for the Mets. DeGrom struggled with Ramos in the first half, during which he had a 4.21 ERA while throwing to him and a 1.84 ERA while throwing to Nido. But with Ramos heating up at the plate — he is batting .341 since the All-Star Break and had a 26-game hitting streak snapped last week — he has been behind the plate for nine of deGrom’s second half starts, appearances in which deGrom has fashioned a 1.83 ERA while making a real run at winning his second straight Cy Young.
Frankly, deGrom has done enough at this point so that the Mets should go sign Schroeder from the Peanuts comic strip if deGrom decides he’d rather throw to a catcher who also enjoys playing the piano. But deGrom’s ability to turn his season around without a personal catcher should serve as the only evidence Syndergaard needs that it’s on him to find a way to make it work with Ramos, not on the Mets to find a catcher for him.
And if that’s not enough, well, Ramos had two more hits, scored a run and reached base three times in four plate appearances last night. In other words: Enjoy throwing to Ramos on Friday night, Noah.