Are the Mets Running Out of Rope?

The Mets got a rare bit of good injury news on Wednesday. Marcus Stroman was pulled in the second inning on Tuesday after three pitches due to soreness in his left hip. Given the season the Mets are having in the injury department — there are 13 players on an Injured List as I type this — and really, the seemingly cursed history of the Mets and pitcher injuries, Stroman’s departure caused a lot of worries. But his MRI revealed no damage to the hip that would have resulted in a 14th name on the shelf.

That’s not to say the Mets are out of danger. The same day Stroman tweaked his hip, the team announced that Joey Lucchesi would undergo Tommy John surgery, ending his 2021 (and likely most of his 2022) season, and that Michael Conforto‘s return from the IL would be delayed. Given the team’s dissipating rotation depth, losing two pitchers instead of just one would have been a significant blow. Carlos Carrasco has yet to make his 2021 debut, Noah Syndergaard’s return date was pushed back due to elbow inflammation, and all-galaxy ace Jacob deGrom has had multiple injury scares already this season.

Now, the exercise here isn’t to depth-shame the Mets. In past years, the team had a bad habit of entering the season with interesting five-man rotations and highly worrisome Plans B, C, and D, generally consisting of converting relievers back to starters or leaning on whatever random Quad-A starting pitcher was playing decent ball for Syracuse. The additions of Carrasco, Lucchesi, Taijuan Walker, Jordan Yamamoto, Jerad Eickhoff, and Sam McWilliams provided the team a lot of fallback options on the pitching staff. That’s a notable improvement from a shrug-emoji-or-possibly-Walker-Lockett strategy.

Every team has a point at which they run out of good options. Even teams like the Rays, Dodgers, and Padres would be in dire straits if five starting pitchers suddenly decided to retire and sail around the world or sign with NASA to train full-time for a mission to Mars. The Mets were well-designed to support a number of significant losses, but the limits still exist. And they might have already come up against those limits — players like Johneshwy Fargas, Brandon Drury, and Mason Williams ought to be quite far down the depth charts — if not for the fact that no other team in the division has seized the opportunity. Despite all the injury losses, the rotation exceeding expectations and the division disappointing have been enough for the Mets to only be a single win off from where the preseason ZiPS projections saw them at this point.

ZiPS still projects the Mets as a .563 team going forward, just about where it pegged the club three months ago, and that’s with playing time assumptions in many cases far worse than they were in March. But a four-game lead in the division is not an unassailable position, and outside of not regressing toward the bleak history of Met injury management, there’s not much they can do to prevent a new rash of nasty surprises on that front.

So the question that comes to mind is just how much bad news can the Mets absorb before their postseason positioning proves perilous? Let’s start with updated ZiPS standings as of Thursday morning.

ZiPS Projected Standings – 6/24
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
New York Mets 90 72 .556 75.4% 2.4% 77.8% 7.5%
Atlanta Braves 84 78 6 .519 14.9% 4.4% 19.2% 1.4%
Philadelphia Phillies 81 81 9 .500 5.7% 1.7% 7.4% 0.5%
Washington Nationals 80 82 10 .494 4.0% 1.2% 5.3% 0.3%
Miami Marlins 69 93 21 .426 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

The combination of a poor start to the season and both Wild Cards likely being from the NL West (ZiPS sees 2.8 average playoff spots from that division) has probably rendered the Marlins a lost cause for the 2021 season. However, the other three teams remain threats even if the Mets are the deserving favorites at this point. To get an idea of how much margin for error the Mets have, I ran the 2021 rest-of-season simulation repeatedly, with different assumptions for the Mets roster.

When looking at these two graphs (DanGraphs?), the first thing I notice is the direct effect the Giants are having on the playoff race. If the Mets struggle and don’t win the division, they usually fall behind the Giants or Padres. And when the Mets are good enough to win a Wild Card, they usually win the division anyway.

The Mets’ roster is currently about three wins ahead of the highest-leverage point in their win curve. They don’t really start seeing diminishing returns until one or two additional wins on the roster, making a strong case for the team continuing to be aggressive despite their relatively strong position in the division.

Relative to the rest of the league, third base and catcher feature on our depth charts as the team’s weakest spots, making those positions arguably the best places to add wins. That seems unlikely behind the plate; I was never much of a fan of a four-year contract for James McCann, but it doesn’t seem likely the team would make an upgrade here. The rotation is hardly a source of weakness, but I still think that given Syndergaard and Stroman’s status as free-agent-to-be status and deGrom’s injury risk, adding a starting pitcher would be helpful. The Mets should not be panicking at this point, but continuing last winter’s aggression at the trade deadline would be a welcome sight.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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1 year ago

It’s demoralizing to see Chris Flexen pitching acceptable big-league ball after being the Mets’ fallback option for so long. However, these “New New Mets” aren’t afraid to add depth, and that’s been a life saver thus far. Hope they can find some other gems like Lucchesi and Walker. That’s what good teams seem to do.