Optimism in the Air

We are now closer to 2013 Mets baseball than we are to 2012 Mets baseball. Yesterday was the Mets Baseball Equinox and now we march towards a new dawn with anticipation. The Mets are undefeated this year. They have not disappointed us yet. Young players still have the potential stat sheets and scouts predict for them and no one’s gotten injured since last year.


This clearly doesn’t mean everything is rosy, but Mets baseball approaches and we’ve got miracles and just plain baseball fun on the horizon. No need to fret over how it’ll ultimately end up, let’s just enjoy whats coming.


Hey, even the NHL looks like it’ll sneak some games in to entertain us while we wait.

What’s Going On In Metsopotamia?

Well, The Mets last two good center fielders had really good games in the playoffs last night.


The 7 Line is having a Mets pumpkin carving contest.  I don’t usually carve my pumpkin until the night before to keep it fresh, but I might have to make an exception this year.


Rumors fly about how fast the Mets may or may not look to extend David Wright and/or R.A. Dickey.  I think there’s a rumor for every possible permutation.  I’ll just wait and see what happens.


Some Mets prospects are playing in the Arizona Fall League.  I don’t pay close attention, but you can check out Metsminorleagueblog.com for specifics.


Speaking of Arizona, it seems like the Diamondbacks are willing to consider trades for just about any one of their outfielders.  Given that the Mets desperately need outfielders a flooded market gives the Mets a larger supply to choose from.

Missing the Mets From Afar

I knew I wasn’t missing a pennant race two weeks ago when I took off for Europe, but I also knew I’d miss the Mets anyway.  Whether the season is good or bad, it’s still Mets baseball and it flies by way too fast. Sacrificing nearly 20 games to travel, no matter how awesome that travel is, is a bummer.  Watching baseball again after that type of layoff feels like Spring Training, but it’s going to be yanked away from me before I even get back into it.


It’s interesting coming back to just three meaningless games against the Marlins before being Mets-less until Spring Training.   I felt myself mentally wrapping up the season before I left, despite the Mets still having a bunch of games to play.  Now I flip on the Mets games at seven as usual, hungry for some baseball and although it feels great, I know it’s just a tease.  I’ll get three likely forgettable Mets games and then a month of playoff baseball not featuring the Mets and that’s barely enough baseball to sustain me through the long winter.


It’s not just the impending offseason that hurts; I missed some memorable Mets games while I was gone.  David Wright became the Mets franchise leader in hits, and while it was all but inevitable going into the second half of the season, it’d have been nice to see the games as they happened.  The other big one is obviously R.A. Dickey‘s 20th win.  Pitcher wins don’t mean much in the evaluation department, but seeing your pitchers accumulating them is never a bad thing. There’s history and emotion tied to the stat that even when you know it’s not hugely important it still tugs at the emotions to see Dickey be the first Met to 20 wins in over 20 years.  At least, it would’ve been if I wasn’t in Prague for it.  I peeked at Twitter before I went to bed that night, which was just after the game NY time, and was disappointed I didn’t get to share in all the excitement and celebration of it.  Living and breathing the Cy Young race with Dickey and watching the other candidates is fun too, and I mostly missed it.


So I’m going to savor and enjoy these last games like a well-cooked steak knowing that it’ll be my last good meal until March.  One more R.A. Dickey start to make his case for the Cy Young.   18, barring extras, glorious Mets innings filled with David Wright, Ike Davis and all the rest of them.  The Jeurys Familia debut start last night.  All some fun stuff to watch and I’m not going to miss a minute of it.


Give Me Factual Arguments, Not Boasts About Being Right

With over a month left of baseball it feels like a lot of people have already made up their minds about what the Mets should do.  Not only with the rest of the season and who gets playing time, but what they should do in the offseason and who should be the front runners for spots in 2013.  There is a lot of time to worry about the offseason, and the remaining games will still tell a lot about the Mets.  If we’re going to get a real sense of what’s going on this offseason, it’s important to pay attention to these next 39 games in addition to the ones we’ve already seen.


It’s so easy to jump the gun in today’s society of instant-reaction.  We’re in such a rush to be first to a topic, or to be correct in analysis, that we often run roughshod over facts and data to shout to the world that we told it so.   The Mets record sinks, or rises, to what we thought it would be and we’re quick to point out that it’s what we expected.  We’re silent two weeks ago when Andres Torres was hitting the ball and had a league average OPS+, but now riding a pretty bad slump we’re quick to call for Sandy Alderson to non-tender him in the offseason, despite the possibility that he could hit .350 the rest of the season and have very respectable numbers.


This week’s storyline is that the Mets have quit playing hard, even though there are still 39 games left.  They could go a rather pedestrian 21-18 and still finish better than last year.   The Mets fundamentals have been sloppy all season.  They’ve failed to advance on the bases, they’ve made bad throwing decisions, taken bad at-bats, and let balls fall in front of them that they got a bad jump on.  Simply put, they’re not real good in the field.  Them continuing to do these things is not indicative of effort but of talent.   On top of that, the other teams have learned that the Mets won’t throw them out at home.   That know they can expect the balls to drop in and be ready to take the extra base.  The scouting reports suggest that Josh Thole is not going to nab them at second if they get a good jump.  In the second half of the season teams take advantages of the weaknesses they saw in other teams in the first half while trying to patch their own.  The Mets failure to do this was a reflection of the talent level, roster depth, and injury, not one of how much they respect their manager.  Despite being four games over .500 on July 29th last year, the Mets fell to eight games under on August 23rd in less than a month and still played .500 baseball from that point forward.


The problem here is that the current state of the Mets is how they’re going to be perceived until the 2013 season starts.   Excepting the true die-hards most fans (and the media that’s going to be writing season recaps stories and season preview stories next year) will be refocusing some or all of their attention to other things.  There are plenty of pennant races going on elsewhere, the traditional television schedule starts up soon with new shows, the NFL starts it’s schedule pretty soon and kids go back to school and life moves on, leaving the Mets to play out the string with very little true analysis of what’s going on.  Even if the Mets win 22 of their last 39 games, they’ll be remembered as having gone into a tailspin in the second half.  Ike Davis, who’s had a good second half, could get his on base percentage over .300 and that’ll be quite an accomplishment, but his season will be remembered for the horrible start and when people look at his overall stat line, it won’t reflect the hard work he’s put in.  When everyone else around him was struggling to make second half adjustments, Davis did and the results are there if you look for them.


There is no prize for predicting how events were going to turn out in sports or how individual players would perform.  More important is thinking about why things turned out that way, what could have been done to fix it, and what are some of the ideas to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  “I told you Jason Bay sucked” is not analysis, and following it up with “Andres Torres sucks too, non-tender him” does not carry more weight because you were right about Jason Bay.


Here’s a piece of advice going forward:  Try making a coherent argument against what you believe.  If you think Ruben Tejada is a solid contributor for 2013, look up his baseball-reference page and try to come up with an argument for why the Mets should look elsewhere for a shortstop.   Then read your argument and see if it sounds believable.  If it doesn’t you probably aren’t making a thorough enough argument, because in baseball it’s pretty easy to make a case for the success or failure of most players.  It’s a game of percentages and probabilities.  Even perennial All-Stars have negative things to look at and pitfalls to worry about, but the chances that the things in the positive column happen are way more likely than the negative.  With other players the chances are smaller.   Ruben Tejada’s batting average on balls in play is pretty high, he’s walking less than less year and striking out more.  Those are all notable things and the chances are high that that some of his hits he’s been getting will stop finding holes and become outs.  That argument is, probably, out-weighed by the high line drive percentage and the increase in doubles.  It’s easy to look at both pieces of information and conclude that you think the chances are better that he’ll continue seeing the ball well and hit it hard for more doubles, but without the context of the batting average on balls in play and walk rate, it’s hard to guess what will happen the next time Tejada has a little slump.


With so much information and so many stats out there, it can be pretty easy to find something that supports your preconceived notion of what you think of a certain player or team.  It’s important to stop worrying about trying to prove what you think and try to get a truer sense of what’s actually going on.  Because nothing’s more believable than a well-reasoned factual argument.

The Second Half Swoons

So why the second half swoons? What has befallen this Mets team that’s kept them from playing as good baseball as they played the first half?  Why does this seem to be a theme, year to year?


I wrote about the Mets margin of error a month ago, and they haven’t played much better since.  I think this plays in to the second half; when it’s time to make adjustments and tweaks for the second half, the Mets haven’t done so.  Part of this is lack of depth for sure, the Mets in recent years haven’t had enough players to cover injuries, sometimes guys having strong starts don’t adjust when the league starts adjusting to what they’re doing.


The Mets were playing the line between winning and losing so close that a couple of adjustments, injuries, or slumps ended up ruining their season.  Such as when David Wright stopped hitting for two, or when Dillon Gee went down.  I think Gee’s blood clot in the shoulder may have been more demoralizing than people think.  It’s one thing when a teammates hurts himself giving it his all on the field, but to come up with a sudden medical malady?  I could see how that could jar you out of the competitive nature of a game when life interjects.  Nieuwenhuis stopped hitting, Duda struggled and even Davis didn’t ride out the hot streak long enough to make up for his bad April and May.


The Mets played very well in June, but I might make the case that they underperformed.  They had one of the best pitching staffs in June, with R.A. Dickey doing historic things, and managed to lose a couple of games they probably should’ve won.  The bullpen was not horrible in June either.   Perhaps if they’d gone into the All-Star Break a couple of games better they would’ve come out of it with a different attitude and focus and maybe would’ve fared differently.  Maybe not.


It seems clear to me that the good teams made adjustments and the Mets either didn’t have the talent, ability, or preparation to make counter adjustments.  They got hit with good teams coming out of the break and ended up getting knocked out.   Some of it’s injury and depth.   Kirk Nieuwenhuis is a good example of this.  Perhaps if Andres Torres has stayed healthy, Kirk would’ve come up in July instead and he’d have added an offensive jolt at that time instead of tailing off.  The Mets had no other outfielders to call up as Jason Bay, Nieuwenhuis, and Lucas Duda struggled.  They had no counter-attack.  They had options in the bullpen, but those options ended up being almost as ineffective as the guys they replaced.


The Mets had some talent, but it turned out that more of the flaws caught up with them than talent shining through.  With just one or two players having a little big more impact, it feels like the Mets might have weathered the storm.  Having the Kirk Nieuwenhuis of April and May over the Jason Bay of July and August almost seems like it might have been the difference between the 77 win Mets and the 87 win Mets.   This is definitely over-simplifying it, but perhaps the Mets are only a couple of adjustments away from being consistently good.  It’s certainly going to be an interesting offseason to see what adjustments the Mets end up making.  There’s a lot of baseball still to be watched this season, and some of these guys may be playing for a job next year.

The Bridge Between Hope and Elimination

There are often two extremes to any situation.  One side will tell you the Mets playoff hopes are over, while the other might say they live on until the Mets are mathematically eliminated or at least further than 7 out with 17 to play.   Right now we’re bridging the gap between the two in a murky cloud where the Mets try to grasp at the last tendrils of hope before they flutter away.


53 games to play is a lot of games left in front of the Mets on the season.  With that many games left the Mets are still chasing a number of wins more than a Wild Card leading team.  After all, the team that’s leading today might not be the team that wins, meaning you’re not quite as far behind as it looks.  It wouldn’t even take a collapse to drop the number needed to qualify for the postseason to 88 wins, just a less than awesome second half by a couple of teams.  Currently the team occupying the low end of the playoff spectrum in the National League is the Pittsburgh Pirates with a 93 win pace, followed by the Cardinals with an 89 win pace.  There isn’t enough hope to bet on, but perhaps there is just enough to fill a dream.


The Pirates have not had a winning record since 1992, as pretty much everyone is aware of these days.  The Pirates have long been held up as the example of the team you’re supposed to beat on the schedule.  The Pirates have not won a postseason series since 1979, which was before I was born.  Is it impossible that a Pirates team that won less games than the Mets last year falters a little in the second half? Andrew McCutchen may be the best player in baseball this year, but can he sustain this incredible pace all the way to the end and if he doesn’t can the Pirates  compensate for the drop in offense?  Look at the Mets since David Wright stopped batting .350.


It’s worth taking a moment out from my point here to suggest you take the opportunity to watch McCutchen if you have a chance.  He’s having an amazing year.


Even if 88 wins is the mark the Mets need to get to, they’d need to play to a 35-18 record the rest of the way.   That’s quite a record, but it’s not an insurmountable one.  It would require some very good baseball, quality baseball that the Mets have no sustained for that length of time all year, but it wouldn’t be the most shocking thing in the world if it happened.  The schedule works in their favor too, as they’ll be able to affect the wins and losses of some of the teams they’re chasing, including the Braves, Pirates, and Cardinals.


Time however, is not on the Mets side.  If they’re going to make a run it has to be now.  The last remnants of hope lurking in the recesses of the Mets season will be cleaned out and packed away for next year of the Mets don’t start a serious winning streak over the next week or two.   Winning road trips or home stands are no longer enough.  They need to win series and mix in a sweep or two.  Until then, the Mets exist in this murky state where you know they can get back into the hunt but you can’t quite see the path they’d have to take to get there.

This Is When Everyone Tunes Out

Obviously the die-hards don’t tune out, but starting tomorrow most of the casual fans of the Mets will.


It’s a week worth of night games and one 3:15 start.   Even if 10:15 wasn’t already too late for most people to tune in to a belly-flopping Mets team, the Olympic games are on this week and provide an alternative form of entertainment…even on tape delay.  Even for more serious fans, if you’ve got a partner that isn’t a baseball fan and wants to watch the Olympics, this team isn’t exactly providing you a reason to say “but but but the Mets are on!” beyond the simple fact that watching something other than Mets baseball seems somewhat alien.


By the time this west coast stretch is over and the Olympics finish many fans will be drawn to the over-hyped football stories coming across in the mainstream media and will choose to root for the hope presented in teams that haven’t yet started their season over watching the Mets finish out the schedule.  In addition, the ‘regular season’ of television shows will resume soon, drawing more eyes away from the Mets.


This will undo much of the good work the Mets have done in terms of fan interest the last couple of months.  Just like in 2011, the fade down the stretch will lead to more disastrous predictions during the offseason and no belief in 2013.   The fans will question the amount of money the Mets have to spend, every decision will be criticized and questioned, and the Mets will again be picked for last.  Personally I think the Mets have made very good strides this season and are a lot closer than everyone thinks, but that won’t be readily apparent the way things are going.  Additionally, the lack of interest does lead to less attendance and less revenue, which means a smaller budget for 2013.


The Mets aren’t quite eliminated yet, it’s still pretty early in that regard, but barring something radical to capture attention, like winning 14 of 16, the Mets will soon fade into the background.

These Mets Are Not Finished

The Mets have been bouncing around between just good enough and mediocre for most of the season now.  They’ve been unable to take that next step to great, but they’ve also never fallen off the cliff towards bad and it’d be foolish to read into their current state, again, as the beginning of the end unless you’re more concerned with your preseason predictions being correct than with how the Mets are actually doing.


There are plenty of times that if the season were to end the Mets would’ve been in the playoffs.  Some as recent as four games ago.  Losing three to a division rival is a rough way to start the second half, but it’s hardly the end of the world.   The Mets are actually only 4 and 5 against the Braves this year.  Those first three games are as important to the standings as these last three.  The Mets will clearly need to made some adjustments, play better, and have some better luck to win more games. These are all things the Mets have proved able to do.  R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana are human, apparently.  Everyone slumps.


Everyone streaks too.  Santana and Dickey will have other stretches of dominance.  Other players will get hits, pitch well, catch the ball and beat the opposition.  The Mets will win again.


If I were to judge this Mets team at this point, I’d say it might be a 50% chance they make the playoffs.  If the season happens to end while they’re on a hot streak, they’ll likely be in.  If not, they’ll likely miss out.  The margin of error may be that small, which was also the case in the series in Atlanta.  The Mets number one goal for the second half is to create situations where they have a margin for error.   Multiple run leads when the bullpen is struggling.  Less walks so that one error or poorly defended ball doesn’t lead to runs.  Most importantly, getting into playoff position and building a lead so every loss isn’t a possible elimination event.



Run Differential and the Mets

A lot has been made about the Mets run differential so far this year, and how it suggests that the Mets should have lost a lot more games than they have.  They’re 32-29, but the Pythagorean formula says that with 262 runs scored and 281 runs allowed they should be 29-32.   They’re at a point where winning a 3-2 game may get them a win, but will hurt their Pythagorean record.


Math does not have a memory.  If the Mets play well enough to win a one run game, then they get a victory which suggests a .6774 winning percentage (110 wins) via Pythagorean.  However if they get blown out 14-5, they get one loss but Pythagorean suggests a .1319 winning percentage (21 wins).  Combined that’s a .2195 winning percentage (36 wins).  Take the Mets record over the last 10 games.  They are 4-6, but their 42:37 runs scored to runs allowed ratio suggests they should be 6-4.


This is all nonsense really, because I’m just cherry-picking games.  The logic to it all is that overall you need to score more runs than you allow to win baseball games.  There is no inherent talent (besides things like using mop-up relievers that make blowouts bigger blowouts) or ability that allows teams to scatter those runs in a way that groups all of the runs allowed into a couple of games and spread the runs scored more evenly so that they win a lot more games than they lose.  That’s simply luck.  A team that scores 3.5 runs a game but allows 4 runs a game should lose more often that it will win.  For the entire season.  Runs do group though through luck and randomness and late inning replacements in out of reach games, and a near even run differential rarely means a team loses or wins mostly close games.


Manny Acosta has given up 29 runs this season.  Last season he gave up only 21 runs all year (although he started in June) to a rate of .4468 runs given up per inning.   If we’d have had that Manny Acosta so far, he’d only have given up nine runs, rounded up.  Acosta is pitching to a 11.86 ERA, which has accounted for a ton of those runs allowed.  This is why run differential is not predictive of how the Mets will do going forward.  The Mets removed a key input, Manny Acosta, from the equation and he won’t be around to give up more runs.  If he does return, it’ll be because he’s pitching better and won’t be giving up runs at the same rate.


Let’s compare the run differential if we’d had the 2011 version of Manny Acosta.  Instead of 262 runs scored and 281 allows the Mets would have scored 262 runs and allowed 261.  Aha! A positive run differential.  As I’m sure you can guess, that comes out to a .502 winning percentage via Pythagorean and 81 wins.  The Mets are only three games above that, which isn’t an unreasonable deviation.


What run differential predictions forget is that teams and managers make changes.  Manny Acosta is only one example of that.  The Mets will make, and have made, other bullpen changes.  They’ll make offense changes to to try to score more runs.  Ike Davis will hopefully learn how to play baseball again, Daniel Murphy is almost a lock to score more runs than he has been.  The Mets current run differential has roughly zero correlation to what we can expect from this team going forward; it only tells us about what they’ve done so far.