A year ago, the Mets were expecting a 95+ win season and came home from a 10-game West Coast trip that they went 7-3 on to bring their record to 14-9 for the year. The team wasn’t playing all that well but the success out west, combined with the hope that the veteran pitchers would soon be giving seven-inning starts on a regular basis, was a recipe for optimism. None of us imagined that West Coast trip would be the highlight of the season.

Fast forward to current times and most expected the Mets to be a .500 team, give or take a win or two. They start off 0-5 and after a split of a six-game West Coast trip, they sport a 13-11 record. The offense has been good at least as many times than not and is above the middle with a 4.71 runs per game average. Additionally, the bullpen has been an unexpected strength. The starting pitching hasn’t been great and the defense has been worse than anticipated. But all in all, my opinion is that most people are happy with the team’s start, especially given that 21 of the 24 games were played against teams .500 or above both when they played the Mets and here now thru games of April 24.

The new leadership team of David Stearns and Carlos Mendoza has been steady, not panicking after the rough start and generally not overreacting to things. Sure, there are things to nitpick, yet nothing that screams out as a potential blind spot. Certainly, there’s nothing like having only three good relievers and pitching them all in a game with a four-run lead, like we saw a season ago.

There’s nothing that has to be done here at the end of April and the expectation is that the lineup will be lengthened starting Friday, when J.D. Martinez returns.

The next few weeks will bring the challenge of how to react to larger sample sizes.

Harrison Bader has had the hits fall in for him early, as he sits with a .352 BABIP. And that elevated mark comes despite being 1-15 in his last four games. With Martinez here to take the lion’s share of the playing time at DH, there won’t be a spot available most nights to get either DJ Stewart or Tyrone Taylor into the lineup while also playing Bader. The Stearns-Mendoza team will soon be faced with a dilemma on how often to choose to play Bader as a near regular. He’s played 20 of the 24 games so far.

One might think that Martinez’ bat will make it easier to keep Bader’s glove in the lineup, even as offensive regression arrives. But with Stewart having a 133 OPS+ and Taylor sporting a 147 mark, how much better do you expect Martinez to be? It’s unlikely that duo will be that good moving forward. But as Bader’s over-performance here in the early part of the season has only produced an 88 OPS+, it’s likely that Stewart and Taylor will both continue to be better offensive choices moving forward.

The idea shouldn’t be to bury Bader. But the club shouldn’t bury either Stewart or Taylor, as well. It’s going to be a balancing act and we’ll find out more about the abilities of Stearns/Mendoza with how they handle this. Even without knowing if the hits will continue to fall in for him, my opinion is it will be a mistake if Bader plays in 20 of the next 24 games, too.

The other big thing will be how the club deals with Adrian Houser. He’s been the 4-5 IP guy we were expecting. But the hope was that he’d have an ERA about half of his current 7.45 mark. Houser will have a few more starts to turn things around. But at some point, both Tylor Megill and Kodai Senga will return from the IL. And Houser will have a tough time surviving one of their returns, much less both of them.

Megill has enjoyed favored-nation status with the previous administration. Will he automatically be inserted back into the rotation once he’s healthy? He’s been out for so long that he’s going to need at least a couple of rehab starts in the minors. But then what? An encouraging thing is that we’ve seen Stearns keep a reliever with an option, instead of displaying a knee-jerk reaction of sending down a better pitcher just to keep a guy out of options. Will he be willing to do the same with Houser? It’s tough to compare how you handle a reliever versus how you handle a starter. And on top of that there’s the shared history between Houser and Stearns in Milwaukee.

We all have our own version of what constitutes it being early or being a small sample. My opinion is that right now it’s early. Houser’s had just four starts. But it’s not that early. And is it still early after seven starts? Again, people can reasonably have different opinions on this matter. But the only opinion that really matters is Stearns’ and the other decision makers in the front office.

My take on things is to view what’s a reasonable expectation for a player coming into the season and balance it versus what he’s achieved. And then ask if there are any extenuating circumstances that we should take into account.

If we view Houser’s projection piece here at the site, we can see what the computer models forecasted for him, which in my view is a reasonable expectation. And those computer models essentially saw a guy to give 125 IP and a 4.50 ERA. That’s 25 or so starts at about 5 IP per start. And what have the Mets received so far? Four starts, 19.1 IP or essentially 5 IP per start. The problem is that the ERA is nearly three runs higher.

That leaves the extenuating circumstances.

Well, it’s only four starts. And right now, there’s no good choice to replace him. Sure, the Mets could promote Joey Lucchesi but while the org loves Megill, they barely tolerate Lucchesi. So, that’s not really an option. Which means Houser gets more time, which seems fair.

But Megill is likely ready mid-May and Senga is likely ready early June. And then the org will have to make a decision. Also factoring into things will be how well Jose Butto pitches these next few starts. My hope is that Butto pitches well enough in his next few games to make it an easy decision, whether that comes with Megill forcing his way into the rotation or Senga.

Either way, that’s not a choice that needs to be made now. But the train is coming down the track and let’s hope that Stearns is ready to make some hard choices, if need be.

17 comments on “Hard choices coming with Harrison Bader and Adrian Houser

  • NYM6986

    I am trying hard to like Bader. I was happy with Nimmo in CF, despite his lack of a strong arm, something they have helped by moving him to LF. With Nimmo in CF then we needed a bat in LF and would never have accepted a defender over a hitter. But that’s where we are now with Nimmo and Bader and while Nimmo will get things going, he does amazingly have 2 HR and 15 RBI, Bader may have peaked with that four hit game. So, I’m all for putting Taylor or Stewart in LF sometimes with Nimmo back in CF. They need to get as much offense as possible with a pitching staff that rarely makes 5 innings. A few early runs can change a starters approach to the game, perhaps being more aggressive and not issuing so many walks that come back to haunt you.
    I want to like Houser too but his lack of Ks and his excess of walks is a really bad combo. Have to defer to Stearns on him because I have liked what he has done since his start when he knew from the start that it was not a matter of one or two players away from a contender. With some lower priced free agents and a couple of small trades, they decided to play the cards they were dealt. Hoping Buttó becomes a mainstay of the rotation. Happy to make it a 6 man rotation whenever Megill or Senga return. Maybe some extra rest works out for this group of retreads and kids.
    The big question is will Stearns make choices based on salary or for what’s in the best interests of the team?

    • Brian Joura

      Of course, the problem with a 6-man rotation is that you have to play a reliever short. And if none of your six starters are going deep, how feasible is that?

      You can try to use a minor league pitcher that you promote and then immediately send back down. It’s a tough gambit but it can be done. I think it’s a good idea to give Senga the extra rest. But I don’t see the point of really running a 6-man. Give Senga the extra rest but not any other SP

  • TexasGusCC

    Here are the hard choices, and they don’t involve Bader or Houser. The hard choices are who to goes to make room for Martinez. I don’t see them losing Short or Wendle and leaving the team with just one backup infielder. I see Stewart.

    Then, while I expect Houser to at least bounce back enough to his norms to be traded, the trend around baseball is five inning starts. The Phils rotation has the most innings pitched with 147 in 25 starts, or less than six per start. That’s the leader! So, even if the Mets go to a six man rotation, those five inning starts aren’t going away. So, are you willing to stretch your bullpen even more?

    • Brian Joura

      I’m very surprised that you think it’s a hard choice to decide who goes. Flip a coin. Neither one is going to make an impact.

    • Metstabolism

      While I agree that having just one backup infielder is no ideal, teams do it on occasion, nonetheless. As long as Alonso and Lindor stay healthy and given how few games they take off, this team is better equipped to go with just 5 IFs than most. Considering how little Short has been used, and how badly both he an Wendle have performed thus far, would either of them really be missed? If there is an injury, someone will be called up. Until then, the biggest thing the Mets need from their bench is hitters.

  • Edwin e Pena

    Hard choices ? Not really. Doogie Houser stinks, so he is replaced either now with Luchessi, or the minute Senga returns. Bader ? I root for him, but maybe the better lineup offensively is to let T. Taylor play more LF and Nimmo back to CF. Bader is on the team, but as the 4th OF for late defense, pinch hitting, pinch running. Would like to see more of Taylor, who may have the bat to be a regular player.

  • Metsense

    At this point of their careers, Taylor is the better player. Bader has a career. 816 0PS against LHP so start him against LHP. Taylor is a good defensive center fielder and statistically he is better than Nimmo. Mendoza doesn’t have to bury Stewart either, although his bats are going to be reduced. Let him be that DH once a week against RHP. He can also play Left Field once a week and Nimmo plays CF and Taylor plays RF against RHP. The older senior citizens, Martinez and Marte, we’ll stay fresh with this plan.
    Houser will eventually fill the role of a long reliever in the bullpen. Megill will be the first one to replace him. It is too early to decide about the rotation about who Senga will replace in a 5 man rotation. A six-man rotation is not suited for the Mets with their current personnel.

    • Brian Joura

      And who do you remove from the bullpen to fit Houser in?

      Diaz – Ottavino – Lopez – Smith – Diekman – Garrett – SRF – Walker

      Walker would be the easy choice but he goes when Raley comes back. Does Houser deserve a shot over SRF? Maybe. That’s probably his best shot. Still, I’d look to shop him to some SP-needy team, much like the Rays did a few years ago when they sent us Rich Hill so we didn’t have to run a bullpen game every five days.

      • Metsense

        Raley replaces Walker. Let’s see what SRF does or Houser turns his season around. If SRF is better then by all means look to trade Houser but he wouldn’t be worth much.

  • Metstabolism

    Megill is not back yet, and it seems that his return is still 2, 3 weeks away, perhaps more. In that time, the landscape could change. The sample size is too small at this point to take on face value. Houser is certainly the weak link in the rotation as of now, and I’m not defending him. But the case for replacing him with Megill is a bit overstated at this juncture. Houser’s last start (8 ER in 4 IP) was poor enough to be regarded as an outlier. His ERA entering that game was just 4.70; after 7.45. Allowing two runs per inning was literally twice as bad as his other poor start of 5 ER in 5 IP. For now, we cannot simply assume a game that poor is part of his regular pattern. His ERA from previous seasons indicate that it is not. On balance, Houser has had two reasonably good starts, and two poor ones. Most teams would take that as fairly normal for a 5th starter, which is what Houser is now. According to Howie Rose, 5-1/3 innings per start is about average today. So 5 or 4-2/3 from a #5 also starter seems pretty par for the course/acceptable.
    And would Megill be much better? In 2022, Megill averaged 4.59 IP per start and a 5.01 ERA. In 2023 it was 5.05 IP and a 4.70 ERA. Those numbers are pretty close or perhaps marginally better than Houser. But enough to cut (or even trade) Houser, and deplete the SP depth? At this point, no.
    That part of the equation changes when Senga returns and Peterson has been back for a few weeks. but that is still six weeks away. In a season that is less than five weeks old.

    • Brian Joura

      “Meanwhile, Megill is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment on Saturday with the Brooklyn Cyclones, per Mendoza.”


      • Metstabolism

        Megill went 2 innings and 31 pitches in his rehab today. If they follow the normal rehab pattern, he would get at least two more starts in the minors (possibly three), and first be available to start for the Mets on May 12.

        • Brian Joura

          What you claim as a “normal rehab pattern” is highly speculative.

          Megill already built up to a regular season pitch count before the injury and it’s not like he’s been out for three months, either. Justin Verlander, who didn’t pitch at all in Spring Training and who had a more-serious injury to his shoulder, needed just two rehab starts before he returned to the majors this season.

          I don’t know how many rehab starts Megill is going to need and you don’t, either. My opinion is that the Mets love Megill, they have a need for a SP in the rotation right now and will look to have him back ASAP.

          • Metstabolism

            I said, “> If < they follow a normal rehab pattern…", and, "would get…". Not, "He will get at least two more starts". The statement was conditional, and not definitive. It was meant to be informational, not an assertion, and to add some clarity to the scenario. If I wasn't clear, or you want to restate or underscore that he might come back sooner, then you certainly have a point. But it doesn't warrant the out of hand dismissal of my statements.
            Normal rehab typically adds 1 inning or 15 pitches per start. The vast majority of starters' rehabs follow that standard. That is not speculative at all. It is a clear and obvious observation that comes from a thorough tracking of over 7000 minor league box scores over the past 12 – 14 years, and listening to a few hundred games over the internet. I recognize that ultimately, you will still reject the 'observation' of some guy on the other side of the internet as unquantified and unverified. So that is what it is. But my statements are not without basis, and I'll stand by them. I'm not here to butt heads. I just want to talk baseball.
            Justin Verlander actually started 5 spring training games and went 21 innings in 2023 before going onto the IL at the end of spring. Megill pitched in 5 (started 4) for 15.2 innings in spring, then another 4 innings in his regular season start on March 31st. Not much difference, there, in either innings, or the timing.
            Verlander jumped right into his rehab with 69 pitches and 4.2 IP in that one start, which was on 4/28/2023. How he was able to do that is speculation (my guess would be that he was throwing simulated games in XST). But its pretty clear that Verlander was ramping up his pitch count somewhere, somehow. The mere fact that Megill was pulled after two clean innings and just 31 pitches says – or at least strongly suggests – that he is on a pitch count, and a fairly typical rehab process. Whether or not the Mets continue to follow that is a different matter. Might they call him up for his next start for 3 innings and 45 – 50 pitches, then piggyback him with Houser for the next 3? Sure, they could. But it would be abnormal.

            • Brian Joura

              My apologies – when I said Justin Verlander missed all of ST and then returned to the majors after 2 rehab starts, I was referencing 2024. Given that he played on the Mets in 2023 and missed the start of the year – and this is a Mets blog – I should have been more clear what I was talking about. My mistake.

              I have no doubt that you follow things closely. But unless you are keeping track on a spreadsheet, with things broken down on several levels – including area injured, how long since he last pitched in a competitive game, pitcher’s previous injury history and team tendencies – there are simply too many variables to have a “one size fits all conclusion,” even with a conditional for your protection.

              This year in his minor league rehab, Braxton Garrett went from 86 to 59 pitches – I guess he didn’t follow the “normal rehab pattern.”
              This year in his minor league rehab, Walker Buehler went from 65 to 27 to 86 pitches – I guess he didn’t follow the “normal rehab pattern.”

              Unfortunately, these guys are on my fantasy team, which is why I’m aware of them.

              My guess is that you can research things and find a dozen pitchers who fit your statement. It’s a conservative approach and teams bend over backwards to be conservative with pitchers, especially young pitchers.

              You say you want to talk baseball and that’s my preferred preference, too. In an ideal world, you wouldn’t make these big statements and then toss in a conditional so you couldn’t possibly be wrong. It seems to me to be CYA, fine print, lawyer speak – rather than baseball.

              • Metstabolism

                I didn’t make a big statement. I just provided some detail and observation that I thought would add context to Megill’s return. So I don’t understand the demeaning response. As you pointed out, neither of us knows when he will return. Thats what makes it a discussion, not a zero-sum game. If I mention that the injury update on Mets.com lists Megill’s expected return date as mid-May, I’m again, just adding context. The tea leaves seem to line up. And that time frame roughly coincides with the returns of Raley and Smith. Short of cutting Houser, finding a solution to the issue will be threading a needle.

                • Brian Joura

                  I can’t know your intent. All I can do is read and react to your words. My suggestion is that if my reaction is nowhere near what you’d expect, perhaps your intent isn’t being delivered in the ideal manner.

                  I give loads of opinions here and many of them are wrong. I have no problem admitting when I’m wrong – lots of experience – and I always try to think of ways I can do things better. One thing I’ve been working for awhile on now is to explicitly say when something is my opinion. From this article:

                  my opinion is that most people are happy with the team’s start
                  my opinion is it will be a mistake if Bader plays in 20 of the next 24 games
                  My opinion is that right now it’s early. Houser’s had just four starts.

                  Opinions are good, even more so when they aren’t passed off as something else or watered down with qualifiers.

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