What Does Max Scherzer’s Injury Mean for the Mets?

© Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets lost another starting pitcher on Thursday, as the team announced that the pain that forced Max Scherzer from his start Wednesday has been diagnosed as a moderate to high grade oblique sprain; the anticipated timetable for Scherzer’s return is six to eight weeks. After throwing a slider to Albert Pujols, Scherzer was in visible discomfort and quickly pulled the plug himself, sparing Buck Showalter the most dangerous part of a manager’s job: telling Max Scherzer to hit the showers:

The loss of Scherzer comes at a time the Mets are already down two other starting pitchers (three if you count Joey Lucchesi‘s loss to Tommy John surgery, which I’m not). Most notably, Jacob deGrom’s 2022 season has yet to begin due to a stress reaction in his right scapula. Tylor Megill is also currently on the IL due to biceps tendinitis diagnosed after the worst start of his professional career. Luckily, there’s reason to be hopeful in both cases. The most recent imaging of deGrom’s scapula indicated it is healing effectively, raising hopes that the ace’s return isn’t too far off. Meanwhile, Megill’s MRI didn’t reveal anything darker than a case of tendinitis, and he’s already scheduled to play catch today:

The franchise’s track record of losing top pitchers at particularly inopportune moments sometimes evokes the work of Buster Keaton, and two of their top three remaining pitchers, Taijuan Walker and Carlos Carrasco, have significant injury histories of their own. But with a seven-game lead in the National League East — currently the largest for any first-place team — the Mets have a decent cushion to absorb these nasty surprises.

With David Peterson likely taking Saturday’s start, the immediate replacement will almost certainly be the team’s “Break Glass in Case of Mets” pitcher, Trevor Williams. Williams is a very ordinary pitcher, but by the standards of the typical fifth starter, he isn’t a particularly bleak option. Should Megill return on time and the Mets be spared any further misfortune, I expect Peterson to get the chance to remain in the rotation unless he struggles.

If there is another longer-term opening, the team seems likely to leave Williams in a swing role and possibly take a long look at Thomas Szapucki. Szapucki struggled in 2021 and missed the back half of the season with nerve damage to his arm, an issue stemming from a ’17 Tommy John surgery. However, 2022 has started off much better, and though he lacks the velocity from his early days as a prospect, his curveball has been highly effective at Triple-A this year, and his strikeout and walk rates have returned to his pre-2020 levels. It’s important to note that neither Triple-A league has experienced the massive drop-off in offense that the majors have seen this year, so a translation to the big leagues shouldn’t result in an enormous hit to his numbers.

Assuming that Megill makes a healthy return next week, and that deGrom and Scherzer return after the All-Star break, ZiPS projects the Mets to have a two-in-three shot of winning the NL East:

ZiPS Projected Standings – NL East (5/20)
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% #1 Pick
New York Mets 92 70 .568 67.7% 18.8% 86.5% 7.8% 0.0%
Atlanta Braves 86 76 6 .531 20.9% 33.9% 54.7% 4.8% 0.0%
Philadelphia Phillies 81 81 11 .500 7.1% 19.8% 26.9% 1.2% 0.1%
Miami Marlins 79 83 13 .488 4.2% 13.7% 18.0% 0.7% 0.1%
Washington Nationals 70 92 22 .432 0.1% 0.8% 0.9% 0.0% 5.8%

Only the Dodgers have a sunnier outlook when it comes to their chances of winning their division and making the postseason in the NL. In other words, there’s no reason to panic right now. These projections aren’t that far from where they were with a healthy Scherzer:

ZiPS Projected Standings – NL East (Healthy Scherzer)
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% #1 Pick
New York Mets 92 70 .568 71.8% 17.6% 89.5% 9.1% 0.0%
Atlanta Braves 86 76 6 .531 18.3% 35.8% 54.2% 4.6% 0.0%
Philadelphia Phillies 81 81 11 .500 6.1% 20.4% 26.5% 1.2% 0.1%
Miami Marlins 79 83 13 .488 3.6% 14.0% 17.6% 0.6% 0.1%
Washington Nationals 70 92 22 .432 0.1% 0.8% 0.9% 0.0% 5.8%

Two months without Scherzer certainly isn’t ideal, but ZiPS drops the Mets less than a full win, from 92.4 to 91.7 wins. By these numbers, there’s only a one-in-25 chance that Scherzer’s injury costs the Mets a divisional crown that they would have otherwise won. As significant injuries to possibly Cooperstown-bound stars go, that’s…fine?

Of course, being a Mets fan isn’t always fine, so let’s contemplate an extremely negative scenario and wipe out the rest of the season for all three starters:

ZiPS Projected Standings – NL East (No deGrom/Scherzer/Megill)
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% #1 Pick
New York Mets 89 73 .549 51.2% 23.0% 74.2% 3.4% 0.0%
Atlanta Braves 86 76 3 .531 30.4% 27.8% 58.3% 8.9% 0.0%
Philadelphia Phillies 82 80 7 .506 11.3% 18.9% 30.2% 2.8% 0.0%
Miami Marlins 80 82 9 .494 6.8% 13.6% 20.4% 1.6% 0.1%
Washington Nationals 71 91 18 .438 0.2% 0.9% 1.1% 0.1% 5.1%

Even in the event of this disaster, the Mets still remain the projected favorite and retain a coin-flip’s chance of besting the rest of the division, though the playoff consequences are significant. However, this may be underrating the Mets a bit — if they really did lose all three pitchers for the season, it would be shocking if they didn’t aggressively seek a replacement in the trade market. This scenario probably results in the Mets going after someone like Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, or Frankie Montas, all pitchers who will likely be available at the deadline.

Losing a top pitcher for two months is never a good thing. But with a solid division lead and viable alternatives, the Mets shouldn’t implode. At least this time.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com 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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dukewinslowmember
2 months ago

They are quite fortunate that the Braves have been… weird at best, quite bad at worst. I’m a Braves fan and I have had to update my prior quite a bit- I still think the Braves make the wildcard but there’s almost no way they pass the Mets for the division.

Last edited 2 months ago by dukewinslow
sadtrombonemember
2 months ago
Reply to  dukewinslow

In a sport where teams generally win a third of their games and lose a third of their games, having wins in the bank matters a whole lot.

Dooduh
2 months ago
Reply to  dukewinslow

“Almost no way…”?? come on.

v2miccamember
2 months ago
Reply to  dukewinslow

If it was any team other than the Mets, I would be inclined to agree with you. But given it is the other New York team, I’m just waiting to see how they manage to implode in the second half.