NEW YORK -- Of the many lessons that make up the education of the rookie pitcher, this one may be the most important. Even Noah Syndergaard needed to learn it, despite his near superhuman stuff -- the triple-digit heater, the nickname-inspiring curve -- that often greatly expands the possible margin for error. It's one of those old-time baseball adages -- as true today as it was in Ty Cobb's day. Syndergaard realized it twice in the Mets' 5-0 loss to the Yankees on Saturday: The right pitch is not always the best pitch.
Both instinct and logic called for Syndergaard to throw Carlos Beltran an 0-2 fastball in the first inning. Beltran missed a previous heater, and he was late fouling off another. "Why speed up his bat?" rookie catcher Kevin Plawecki thought behind the plate before calling for it inside and out of the zone. Syndergaard's pitch sizzled in at 99 mph according to Statcast™, but it leaked over the plate. Right pitch, wrong spot. Statcast™ tracked Beltran's three-run homer at 101 mph as it left the yard.
"He can't be afraid to throw a pitch that's not necessarily a strike," manager Terry Collins said. "If you miss, you have to miss out of the strike zone a bit more, especially if you're up 0-2."
Conventional wisdom found little fault in Syndergaard's pitch selection in the sixth either, when, as the Mets were still nursing a 3-0 deficit, he threw Brian McCann a 3-1 fastball with a man aboard. But Syndergaard's 98-mph heater ran belt high and over the middle, and McCann launched it for a two-run blast.
Collins spent much of his postgame press conference adamantly defending Syndergaard, who retired 14 of 16 batters between the homers that bookended his start.
"Otherwise, he pitched outstanding," Collins said.
But that doesn't turn Saturday's homers into blips. Rather, they're part of an emerging and alarming trend.
Syndergaard has allowed 17 homers in 22 starts. Twelve of those have come in the second half, where he owns a home run-to-fly-ball-rate of 17.5 percent (same as the full-season rate of Jorge De La Rosa, who leads MLB with 30 homers allowed).
Overall, 13 of Syndergaard's home runs allowed have come off his fastball, and nine of those have happened with Syndergaard behind in the count.
Hitters tend to sit on Syndergaard's fastball -- in hitters' counts and in the early innings especially -- to his own admission.
"I think I threw like 98 percent fastballs in the first," Syndergaard said Saturday. "There is always something to learn with every outing."
Joe Trezza is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.