By: Brian P. Mangan
The New York Mets just finished blasting their way through the National League Championship Series, sweeping the Chicago Cubs four games to none, in a series in which they never trailed. Make no mistake about it, this was a trouncing, with the Cubs being held to eight runs over the four games while the Mets plated 21 (!) of their own. This chart from Fangraphs showing the Mets game-by-game win expectancy ought to tell most of the story:
Not only did the Cubs never lead in this series, but only in very rare occasions did the Cubs even have a 50% chance of winning any game. The latest in any single game that the Cubs were even tied with the Mets was in the top of fifth inning in Game 1. This is not to gloat, because the Cubs are a great team and anything can happen in a short series, even domination of a team who by true talent is pretty close to your own.
Putting aside the Cubs for a moment, many have begun to wonder just how good this current Mets team is. Sure, they won 90 games — that’s pretty good. But looking at full season figures for a team like the Mets is foolhardy at best. The Mets added Travis d’Arnaud, Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Michael Conforto, Steven Matz and David Wright throughout the year, making the current roster a magnitude better than the average team they fielded all season long.
So how good are these Mets right now, really? I used three methods to try and find out — the two most accurate of which pegged the Mets as ~97 win teams at worst.
Method #1 – Pythagorean Record (97 to 106 wins)
Believe it or not, these Mets were actually outscored by two runs in the first half of the year. They flipped that script in a big way after the All Star Break, piling on 373 runs in in only 73 games while allowing 301 (a differential of +73), ending up with a pythagorean record of 90-72 overall. However, plugging in their second half pace for runs scored and runs allowed results in a much gaudier full season record. If the Mets run production and prevention continued at that pace all season, they would have scored 827 runs and allowed only 668. That pace makes them a 97-65 team.
A record of 97-65 is impressive enough, but remember, the Mets also essentially “took off” the last week of the season, losing five out of six games once they clinched and losing five of their last six series. If you were to exclude the last six games of the season from the sample (they were swept by the lowly Phillies in games started by Logan Verrett and Sean Gilmartin), their run differential improves even more.
The Mets’ run differential from August 1st (the day Cespedes debuted) to September 27th (the day they clinched) was 306 to 216. That pace makes them a 106-58 team. Obviously, this cherry-picks the hottest stretch of the season for the Mets, but 52 games is a pretty large cherry to pick, being that it’s just about a third of the season. It is also a period of time that makes sense, every meaningful game from the addition of Conforto and Cespedes through the last week of the year. It was also historic in its greatness.
Method #2 – Wins Above Replacement (96+ wins)
The 2015 Mets were 3rd in runs, 5th in home runs, 7th on OBP, and 4th in wRC+ over the second half of the season despite playing in a pitcher-friendly park. According to WAR, all of that comes out to the 2nd best offense in MLB over that period, trailing only the amazing Blue Jays.
The pitching was not quite as otherworldly, but was still quite good, ranking 7th in the league in second half WAR. The Mets finished 4th in ERA, 2nd in BB/9, and 4th in K/BB ratio. When limiting the statistics just to the starters, the Mets were even better, finishing 5th in WAR and 1st in K/BB. This is probably a more accurate capture of the Mets pitching talent given how few pitchers are used in the postseason as compared to meaningless games in September.
WAR is not intended for team-wide comparisons like this (and I did not look at defense), but elite offense and elite starting pitching is a good formula. Only four teams in the last three years prior to this one finished in the Top 5 in both batting and pitching WAR on the year. Each of these teams won a lot of games.
The 2012 Yankees and 2014 Dodgers are probably the best comps for the 2015 Mets, with each team leading the way on offense and with very good pitching overall. I would argue, however, that the Mets are even better-off on the pitching side than either one of those two squads.
Method #3 – 3rd Order Win Pct. (98 to 110 wins)
3rd Order Win Percentage is a stat developed by Baseball Prospectus and is a team’s projected winning percentage based on underlying statistics and adjusted for quality of opponents. Love it or hate it, there is a lot about 3rd Order Win. Pct which is very fair, not only because it does it’s best to neutralize things like luck and sequencing, but also because it adjusts for strength of schedule.
Some have used 3rd Order Win Pct. to argue that the Mets are not as good of a team as the Cubs, regardless of the outcome of a short seven game series (well, only four games if you get swept). Although it’s true that a short series cannot definitively tell you which team is better, the idea that 3rd Order Win Pct. can be used to say that the Mets are worse than the Cubs (or not an elite team in general) does not stand up to examination.
The Mets finished the year at 90-72, and with an unremarkable .544 3rd Order Winning Pct. This 3rd Order Winning Pct. was only good for 7th in the National League, and is far behind that of the Dodgers (.599) and Cubs (.591).
However, the team’s 3rd Order Win Pct. for the second half was .604 (44-29) which would have been good for first in the National League and put the team on pace to win 98 games. From August 1st to September 15th, when the Mets really had their pedal to the metal before resting down the stretch, their 3rd Order Win Pct. was an astounding .682 (28-13) as the real team went 30-11.
I am not arguing that the Mets are a 110-win team (a .680 pace), but you know you are dealing with a real world-class team when 3rd Order Win Pct. (along with 1st and 2nd Order) support the same conclusion.
This is real, and it’s spectacular. We all know these Mets are good. They just beat the 92-win Dodgers in a best-of-five series — and they probably should have won that series in four games instead of five. They also beat the tar out of the 97-win Cubs in a sweep.
The Mets run differential this postseason is 43-26, and they’ve faced Kershaw twice, Greinke twice, Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. The only three other pitchers to have the misfortune of facing the Mets this offseason (Brett Anderson, Kyle Hendricks, and Jason Hammel) have a combined 8.1 innings pitched in three starts and a 15.12 ERA.
You already know how much praise the pitching staff deserves (holding their playoff opponents to less than 3 runs per game), but this is the lineup the Mets are throwing out there on a regular basis against righties:
These Mets are the best team that I have ever seen, and there’s a chance that if this team was together and healthy all season that they would have won 100 games, a feat last accomplished by this franchise in 1988.
As we discussed above, anything can happen in a short series, and both the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays are very good teams that improved themselves substantially at the deadline (Tulowitzki, Price, and Cueto). But the Mets are as well-positioned as any team to go win the damn thing.
Lets Go Mets.
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Brian Mangan is an attorney who lives in New York City. He grew up in Flushing and still can’t believe any of this has happened.
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