The Dodgers announced Thursday morning that struggling right-hander Noah Syndergaard has been placed on the 15-day injured list due to a blister on his right index finger. Fellow righty Tayler Scott has been recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City to take Syndergaard’s spot on the roster.
The 2023 season has been an abject nightmare for Syndergaard. The former Mets powerhouse inked a one-year, $13MM contract with the Dodgers in hopes of rebounding from last year’s pedestrian showing between the Angels/Phillies and returning to the market in stronger standing. Instead, the 30-year-old righty has floundered through the worst season of his big league career. In 12 starts, Syndergaard has averaged just 4 2/3 innings per outing, sitting at a total of 55 1/3 frames on the year. In that span, he’s been rocked for a 7.18 ERA with a career-worst 15.4% strikeout rate.
Syndergaard averaged a career-low 94.5 mph on his heater in 2022, and though he voiced confidence in his ability to push that mark toward his pre-Tommy John Surgery levels of 97-99 mph upon signing with the Dodgers, his heater has continued to diminish. He’s sitting at an average of 92.8 mph in 2023 (93.3 mph over his three most recent starts). As that four-seamer has deteriorated, Syndergaard has added a new cutter and increasingly favored his sinker. Neither pitch has been effective, however. Opponents are hitting .366/.381/.537 against that freshly implemented cutter, while plate appearances ended with his sinker have produced a .309/.380/.529 slash. Per Statcast, the only of Syndergaard’s five pitches that has a better-than-average “expected” wOBA is his curveball — his least-used offering (12.2%).
Syndergaard’s walk rate remains elite, checking in at an outstanding 3.7% this season. That’s the fourth-best mark in MLB (min. 50 innings), trailing only George Kirby (2%), Zack Greinke (3.3%) and Zach Eflin (3.5%). However, Syndergaard’s 15.4% strikeout rate is tied for eighth-lowest in that same set of pitchers — a remarkable fall for a pitcher who fanned 26.5% of his hitters through his first five MLB seasons. Compounding the problem is that Syndergaard’s average of 1.95 homers allowed per nine innings pitched is the eighth-worst mark among the 98 pitchers with at least 50 innings in 2023.
Were the Dodgers healthier as a team, perhaps they might’ve already had their hand forced with regard to the struggling Syndergaard. They’ve been hit hard by injuries on the pitching side of the roster, however, with each of Julio Urias, Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, Ryan Pepiot and Michael Grove requiring notable stints on the injured list. That’s perhaps bought Syndergaard some extra time, but Urias is expected to return this weekend. At that point, the Dodgers will have Clayton Kershaw, Urias and Gonsolin in their top three spots, with impressive rookie Bobby Miller tightening his hold on that fourth spot.
Syndergaard would join Grove and top prospect Gavin Stone as a candidate for that fifth spot, and at least for the time being, neither of those two younger options has seized the job. But with Pepiot and May expected back this summer and the trade deadline now about seven weeks away, there’s no certainty Syndergaard will have a long leash to prove himself as one of the team’s five best options.