New York Mets
What They Did: 74-88, 4th Place NL East.
Actual Runs: Scored 650 runs, Allowed 709.
Expected wins based on RS and RA: 74.6 (0.6 above actual)
Restated: Scored 655 runs, Allowed 670.
Exp. wins based on restated RS and RA: 79.4 (5.4 above actual)
(Glossary: Expected wins, based on a modification of Bill James’ Pythagorean Theorem, are the amount of wins a team should win in any season based on the amount of runs it actually scored and allowed. Deviations will be explained in the appropriate team capsules.
Restated Runs Scored and Runs Allowed are the amount of runs a team should have tallied based on its actual components of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging achieved/allowed. In the case of the Mets, if they posted exactly the same stats in 2013 as 2012, they should expect to win 79 games.)
As a baseball fan/analyst, the NY Mets frustrate me. (Full Disclosure: As a Phillies fan, I have no issues whatsoever with how the Mets ownership operates its franchise.) I’m sure die-hard fans of the Mets feel so habitually tortured and humiliated that a written, comprehensive study of the fan base should be titled Fifty Shades of Shea. (Now that it appears clear that I won’t be appearing on The Daily Show to promote my book, I’m going to empty out all the imagined banter I’d prepared for Jon Stewart. Ball jokes to follow.)
After 81 games, or half the season, the Mets were on a pace to win 88 games in 2012 and were 3 ½ games out of first place and just ½ game out in the Wild Card race (ahead of both eventual Wild Card winners, Atlanta, and St. Louis.) They imploded in the second half and an autopsy of the results reveals one key reason. The Mets had an average defense. They had just a mildly below-average offense, once you factor in park effects. They had above-average starting pitching. So why did they finish 14 games under .500? Because they had the second worst bullpen in all of baseball.
Bullpens are the easiest and cheapest parts of a team to fix. Worst-to-first stories invariably feature remade bullpens. Take a look at these last 3 surprising teams:
Season Team Prior Year Bullpen Rank Surprise Season Rank
2011 Arizona 30th 14th
2012 Oakland 18th 4th
2012 Baltimore 27th 5th
The lesson here is that if your bullpen had an outsized influence on a disappointing season, you might be closer to competing next year than you think. Here’s how it applies to the Mets: As shown above, the Mets played to 79-win talent last year. Their bullpen, in 459 innings pitched, had an ERA of 4.65, 29th in the majors. A league-average bullpen had an ERA of 3.67. If they could improve to merely league average, the Mets would chop their runs allowed by a whopping 50 in 2013. 50 runs equates to just over 5 wins. Those wins added to the 79.4 from 2012 means the Mets – had they done some bullpen revamping – could have looked at their starting pitchers and everyday players and very realistically had 85-win expectations.
If you were management and knew your team had 85-win talent before looking at making offseason roster moves would you look to improve your team or blow it up? The answer is strikingly obvious to me and, to the surprise of no one who know how the Mets operate, management took an alternate route and blew up the team.
Gone is Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey who not only had a 2.67 ERA, he amassed that figure over 233 innings pitched – most in the National League. That is an incredibly valuable combination to a team (nearly exactly as valuable as Justin Verlander last year). Losing that staff anchor means everyone else moves up a slot in the rotation and in the end, Dickey’s innings will be replaced by some combination of a #5 and #6 starter plus additional bullpen work (expected ERA of at least 4.50). You can chop 5 wins off the Mets season right there and discard all the realistic dreams of playing meaningful September baseball.
The Mets didn’t totally sit still in the offseason which makes the jettisoning of Dickey all the more questionable. They should get upgraded production at the catcher position with John Buck replacing Josh Thole who had a miserable year at the plate as evidenced by a slugging percentage (.290) below his on-base percentage (.294). Jason Bay is gone taking his .165 batting average and sub-.300 slugging percentage with him, although his replacement Marlon Byrd, was, amazingly, even worse last year.
The sad reality is the Mets are set to waste yet another borderline-MVP season from David Wright, who finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting for the fourth time last year. He’s 30 this year and he’s going to start on the downside of his career soon. This was the year to see if he and Dickey, a revamped bullpen, and an improved offense could have reached the postseason. Given the path Mets management decided to take, there is no chance that will happen now.
Oddsmakers’ expectations: As you may recall from last year, the Mets were my favorite over selection last year with a closing market at 72 ½ wins. Seeing their ultimate 74-win total it may have looked hairy, but it really wasn’t. At no time during the season were the Mets playing at a pace to win less than 73 games and despite the second half collapse, they only needed to win one of their last six games to get there. This year the market opened at 75 ½ wins and it’s attracting some over interest from analysts I read. In fact, the largest over recommendation from Baseball Prospectus (based on the difference between their projected finish and Vegas’ opening lines) is the Mets who they see winning 81 games. I cannot back into that prediction at all. Last year was the year to be bullish on the Mets.
74-88 – Fourth in NL East
644 Runs Scored 705 Runs Allowed
Mop Up Duty:
Joe Peta is the author of Trading Bases, A Story About Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball* (*) Not necessarily in that order, a Dutton Books/Penguin (U.S.A.) publication currently available wherever books are sold. Here are three on-line booksellers you can currently choose from:
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