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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

As he approaches free agency, LI's Marcus Stroman has shown he's as reliable as they come

Marcus Stroman of the Mets walks to the

Marcus Stroman of the Mets walks to the dugout after the fourth inning against the Pirates during Game 1 of a double header at Citi Field on July 10. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Mets still have a playoff spot to chase. But when it comes time to look ahead to 2022 and beyond, these are a few interesting stats to consider for building the next roster in Flushing.

This season, through Friday’s games, 172 starting pitchers spent time on the injured list, for a total of 9,445 days, according to the data site spotrac.com.

The kicker? Total cost of all that lost performance: $276.9 million.

For perspective, that’s more than the entire payrolls of every MLB team, even the Dodgers, who come in around $270 million for 2021.

Given those numbers, one of the most valuable qualities for a starting pitcher now is taking the ball every fifth day. And no one has been more reliable this season than the Mets’ own Marcus Stroman, who through Friday led MLB in that key category with 30 starts.

The Mets have used 18 starting pitchers this season. Stroman is atop that lengthy list in rotation turns, followed by Taijuan Walker with 25. Only three others have made as many as 15 — Tylor Megill, whose seven-inning gem Friday night beat the Yankees, and the two currently on the injured list, Jacob deGrom and David Peterson. No else has more than eight, and Rich Hill — acquired from the Rays during the final week of July — is among that trio.

Dependability has not been a strong point for the Mets’ rotation, to say the least, other than Stroman, who returned for 2021 on the team’s $18.9 million qualifying offer after opting out of last year’s 60-game schedule because of COVID-19 concerns. The former Patchogue-Medford star will be a free agent again at the conclusion of this season, and even with an uncertain market — the current CBA (and it’s economic structure) expires in December — Stroman will be one of the most coveted starters this winter.

Needless to say, he has put himself in a very enviable position. Not bad for someone who projected as the Mets’ fourth starter this season once the rotation returned to full strength. Of course, it never did.

The Mets are still waiting for Noah Syndergaard, who originally was supposed to come back from Tommy John surgery in June. DeGrom was headed for a third Cy Young Award but has been on the IL since July 18. Carlos Carrasco has made only eight starts (5.88 ERA) after a spring training hamstring tear delayed his Mets’ debut by nearly four months.

Amid that rubble, Stroman emerged as the ace, riding his 50.5% ground-ball rate (sixth-best among MLB starters) to a 2.87 ERA, which is ranked eighth overall. Perhaps most notable, he has surrendered two or fewer runs in 22 starts, which is tied for the MLB lead with NL Cy Young Award favorites Walker Buehler, Max Scherzer and Kevin Gausman. None of them, however, is likely to catch Stroman in starts.

Stroman was lined up for his 10th win Thursday in Miami after allowing one run in 6 1/3 innings and striking out seven without a walk, but the Mets’ bullpen had other plans. While Stroman declined to get into Luis Rojas’ decision to lift him after 94 pitches — his season high is 114 against the Giants on Aug. 17 — he did say fatigue was not an issue despite this season’s workload.

"I was pretty locked in," said Stroman, who surrendered only four singles. "I don’t think they made solid contact all night. I felt pretty well. Just a testament to all the work that goes into it.

"I didn’t throw at all last year — I had zero innings pitched. To come in and be healthy at my 30th start is a huge testament to the people around me, so a huge thank you to the Mets’ staff and everybody involved, because it’s been unbelievable and a team effort from everybody."

Stroman also mentioned his family and personal trainer Nikki Huffman as being integral in the process of keeping him on track this season. But the praise for the Mets’ training crew really stands out, considering all the criticism they usually get for the handling of the roster. And this year was no exception, with the Mets sending 34 players to the IL — only the Brewers (36), Rays (36) and Giants (35) had more — with 2,044 days missed, the third-highest total in MLB.

That makes Stroman, who turned 30 in May, even more of an outlier, and a compelling case study. The 5-7 Stroman is a workout fanatic, utilizing the most cutting-edge tech to stay in shape (he often appears on Instagram recovering in a hyperbaric chamber). Another potential factor in his ability to stay healthy could be his pitching style, relying more on deception and a six-pitch arsenal rather than max-out, triple-digit heat. Stroman’s fastball velocity (average 92.5 mph) ranks in the lower 23rd percentile of the league, according to Statcast, but his chase rate is among the sport’s best, in the top 82nd percentile.

Some have attributed this year’s epidemic of pitching injuries to last year’s shortened season, which also featured two spring trainings — the second a hastily assembled session that was jammed into July with the COVID-19 pandemic raging. Stroman participated in all of that but chose to opt out of the season.

If the erratic nature of 2020 indeed was harmful for pitchers, it evidently wasn’t for Stroman, who has bucked those trends and is on pace for a career-best season — at the perfect time to cash in, with either the Mets or elsewhere.

Pandemic-filled pennant race?

After what the Yankees already have endured with their three-plus COVID-19 outbreaks this season, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Red Sox are going through their own battles with the virus. And from a baseball perspective, at the worst possible time.

While the players’ health is paramount, of course, losing key pieces in mid-September, with the playoff sprint underway, could end up scuttling a team’s postseason chances in a tight race. Chris Sale had to be scratched from Sunday’s start against the White Sox after becoming the 10th Boston player to test positive for COVID-19 since Aug. 27. Eleven others had to be sidelined at various points because of symptoms or contact tracing.

That’s had the Red Sox scrambling over the past two weeks, but because the Yankees had lost seven straight and 11 of 13 entering Saturday night, Boston still held on to a full-game lead for the top wild-card spot.

If the Red Sox tumble out of the race because of COVID-related absences, they have themselves partly to blame. The Sox are one of only seven teams (along with the Mets) to not reach the 85% vaccination rate among Tier 1 personnel, which includes players, coaches and staff.

That said, the Yankees were among the first clubs to get to 85% and still wound up with a number of breakthrough infections. They were able to weather the most recent surge around the All-Star break, but the threat is not going away for MLB anytime soon, and it could get more dangerous to the playoff race (as well as the postseason schedule) as we get deeper into September and October.

Stro Show goes on

Despite not throwing a major-league pitch during last years’s 60-game season, Marcus Stroman returned to the Mets stronger and more effective than ever. He is among the league’s leaders in a number of categories, and through Friday’s games, no pitcher had made more starts this season. His performance so far:

No. Category Rank

30 Starts 1st

163 Innings 11th

2.87 ERA 8th

0.77 HR/9 5th

50.5% Ground-ball rate 6th

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