The Mets were spoiled by Yoenis Cespedes. When they acquired Cespedes at the trade deadline in 2015, he proceeded to put up a .942 OPS in 249 PA. Now the expectation is that anyone they acquire at the deadline is going to be a major contributor. But Jay Bruce didn’t help to that degree in 2016, AJ Ramos was forgettable in 2017 and now Marcus Stroman has turned into a pumpkin right before our eyes in 2019.
And to make matters worse, Anthony Kay, one of two minor leaguers dealt away for Stroman, made his major league debut Saturday night and pitched better than Stroman has done in any of his seven starts for the Mets. Kay had a Game Score of 58, while Stroman has failed to crack 50 in five of his seven games for New York and tallied scores of 54 and 51 in the other two outings.
After posting a 2.96 ERA and a 1.227 WHIP in 21 games for the Blue Jays this season, Stroman has a 5.05 ERA and a 1.738 WHIP for the Mets. He’s given neither quality nor quantity when he’s taken the mound and the question is if the Mets can afford to start him when his turn comes up next. It’s not like they have a great alternative waiting for a chance. But with a Wild Card still an outside possibility, Saturday’s putrid outing was the straw that broke this camel’s back.
The Mets need to look no further than Bruce for an example of how to handle Stroman. Back in 2016, Bruce started 16 consecutive games for the Mets from August 2 to August 19. But he put up a .547 OPS in that stretch. From that point on, it wasn’t a given that Bruce would be in the lineup and even if he did start, it wasn’t a slam dunk that he’d still be in the game when it ended. In the Mets’ final 40 games that season, Bruce made just 27 starts and he came out early in five of those.
And it worked.
In his final 92 PA, Bruce put up an .866 OPS, including 6 HR. More importantly, the Mets ended up taking the Wild Card that season. They didn’t guarantee him a start but they didn’t bury him, either. They gave him a chance to contribute and he did. And his reduced role down the stretch didn’t impact him the following season. Bruce had an .841 OPS for the Mets in 2017
The Mets need to send Stroman to the bullpen and allow him to contribute there. It’s not what they envisioned when they traded two of their top three pitching prospects to get him but there’s what’s ideal and there’s what’s necessary. Just like it’s not ideal to play infielders in the outfield but you do it when it gives you the best chance to win, the Mets need to move their big trade acquisition out of the rotation and give him Tyler Bashlor’s relief innings. Perhaps pitching in two-inning bursts, Stroman can better his 5.05 ERA for the Mets. Even if he doesn’t, it’s still an improvement over Bashlor’s 7.58 ERA in 20 games for New York this year.
And who would they put into the rotation in his place? Well, in his last three games with the Mets, Walker Lockett has a 3.86 ERA with 10 Ks in 11.2 IP. And this season in Triple-A, he had a 3.66 ERA in 59 IP.
Like so many pitchers in 2019, what’s killed Stroman in New York has been the gopher ball. With the Blue Jays this season, Stroman had a 0.7 HR/9 rate. But with the Mets, that figure has ballooned to a 1.7 mark. The worry when the trade was made was how the Mets’ poor defense would impact a guy who kept the ball in the park and pitched to contact. But since the trade, Stroman’s strikeouts have gone up and his HR rate, too. The defense hasn’t had as much opportunity to let him down. But let down we are.
For what it’s worth, Lockett has allowed just 1 HR in his last 11.2 IP for the Mets and while using the MLB ball in Triple-A this season, he gave up 5 HR in 59 IP, good for a 0.8 HR/9. Lockett was acquired to be a depth starter and with the good health enjoyed by the five starters in New York, he didn’t get a lot of opportunities. But while it’s not health-related, there should be an opportunity for him now.
The easiest thing in the world to do would be to keep Stroman starting as long as the Mets were still mathematically alive in the Wild Card race. And my expectation is that’s exactly what the Mets will do. The Mets are great at showing loyalty to guys who’ve performed well in other MLB organizations besides their own.
In the long run, few would doubt that Stroman is better than Lockett. But it’s hard not to recall the famous words of economist John Maynard Keynes. No, no, no – not “I work for a government I despise for ends I think criminal.” Rather this quote:
But this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task, if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us, that when the storm is long past, the ocean is flat again.
It’s hard to think of a better baseball definition of tempestuous than four games out of the Wild Card, with three teams ahead of them, and just 21 games remaining. For the majority of the 162-game season, you have to think of the long run. But when 87% of the season has already been played, you have to have a much shorter outlook.
The type of managing that made no sense in late May is what the Mets need to do the remainder of September. They need to be aggressive and do whatever it takes to win this day’s game. In my opinion, starting Lockett rather than Stroman on September 12 will give the Mets a better chance to win. And perhaps two scoreless innings out of the pen by Stroman on September 11 will be a key to victory that day, too.