Mets Will Have To Destroy NL East

If recent history is any indication of future performance, and the past 43 years of history is indicative of anything, the Mets will have to beat the living daylights out of the Braves, Marlins, and Phillies to be a .500 team in 2015.

Wait, what?

To understand this theory, one needs to look at the Mets’ records against the NL East and non-NL East clubs since Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins took over leadership of the club in 2011. Below are the “plus/minus” results from season to season (0 means the Mets split; a + sign means the Mets won the season series by that many games, while a – sign is the number of games below .500 that the Mets were in the season series vs. that opponent. Got it?)

Mets Season Record: 77-85

vs. Atlanta Braves: 0 (9-9)
vs. Florida Marlins: 0 (9-9)
vs. Philadelphia Phillies: -4 (7-11)
vs. Washington Nationals: -2 (8-10)
NL East Total: -6 (33-39)
vs. all other teams -2 (44-46)
Total: -8

It was the first season of the Fantasy Front Office and Sergeant Collins in charge, so perhaps you can call it a throwaway year. Looking back at some of the moves, and reviewing the information relayed to the public, it was clear the team wasn’t serious about winning for a few years. So, the record was what it was. All things considered, though, the Mets didn’t do all that bad against their division rivals, especially considering that the Phillies won 102 games and the Braves were 16 games over .500 that season. Perhaps if David Wright and Carlos Beltran didn’t miss 120+ games between them, the bullpen hadn’t blown 24 saves, and either Brad Emaus or Ching-Ling Hu would’ve fulfilled the potential expected by J.P. Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta (respectively) and taken over second base, things could’ve been very different.

Mets Season Record: 74-88

ATL: -6 (6-12)
FLA: +6 (12-6)
PHL: +2 (10-8)
WSN: -10 (4-14)
NL East -8 (32-40)
OTHER -6 (42-48)

Sometimes, to take one step forward, you need to take two steps back. This was step back number one, as the Mets were pummeled by the Nationals and beaten up by the Braves. However, the Mets made mincemeat of the Marlins, and were plus-2 against a .500 Phillies club. In case you forgot, this was the year that Ruben Tejada looked like the future at shortstop, Ike Davis hit 32 homeruns, Scott Hairston was a star, Andres Torres (and Ramon Ramirez, for that matter) made no one forget Angel Pagan, and Frankie Francisco shat the bed. Oh, but for those who glaze over team performance and focus on individual highlights, R.A. Dickey won the Cy Young and Johan Santana spun the first no-hitter in Mets history.

Mets Season Record: 74-88

ATL: -1 (9-10)
FLA: -3 (8-11)
PHL: +1 (10-9)
WSN: -5 (7-12)
NL East: -8 (34-42)
OTHER: -6 (40-46)
TOTAL: -14

Instead of only 18 intra-division games, MLB clubs played 19 games against their division rivals, which meant one more game against the NL Beast Nationals. On the flip side, that extra game meant the Mets were a game ahead of the Phillies … but, also a game behind the division-leading Braves, so it was a wash. And, WTF? How didn’t the Mets sink the Fish, who lost 100 games? To add insult to injury, no one on the Mets won a Cy Young nor pitched a no-hitter, Scott Hairston was elsewhere, and Ike Davis hit only 9 homers (and didn’t hit his weight). But at least Eric Young, Jr., was a runner-up for a Gold Glove.

Mets Season Record: 79-83

ATL +1 (10-9)
FLA +3 (11-8)
PHL +7 (13-6)
WSN -11 (4-15)
NL East: 0 (38-38)
OTHER -4 (41-45)

The Mets finished in second place! The Mets finished in second place! Hey! Did you see??? The METS FINISHED IN SECOND PLACE!!!! Never mind that it was a TIE for second place with the Braves, a team that tanked the last six weeks of the season. Never mind that the Mets still finished 17 games behind the division-leading Nationals and 9 games out of a Wild Card berth. Never mind that, in their fourth full season at the helm, Alderson and Collins finally equaled the record of the Omar Minaya / Jerry Manuel 2010 Mets. Never mind all that, because the Mets finished in second place and therefore a dynasty in Flushing begins in 2015.

Not so fast.

The good news for Mets fans: the Mets beat the bejesus out of the Phillies. The not-so-good-news: the Nationals beat the bejesus out of the Mets, and the Mets were only a game better than the Braves. Why are these facts from the past so important to the future of the Mets? Look at the numbers above, and you’ll see a pattern. Every year, the Mets have had a losing record when playing outside the division. Playing nearly half of their games against division rivals, the Mets have yet to post a winning record. Their best year (of the past four) outside the division was in 2011. That was the year the NL East was still the NL Beast, with an average record of 84-77 and a winning record overall against the NL Central, NL West, and Adulterated League opponents. In 2012, the NL East still reigned supreme, with an average record of 83-78 and winning records against the other two NL divisions. In 2013, the tide turned as NL East clubs had an average record of 78-83. In 2014, only one NL East team had a winning record and the average record was 80-81; the only reason it was that good was because the Nationals were 30 games over .500. What’s clear from the numbers is that the NL Central and NL West were stronger divisions in 2014, which suggests that those two divisions had better teams. If you’ve been paying attention this past winter, you may have noticed that, for the most part, NL Central and NL West teams were the most active in attempting to improve their clubs for the short-term/near future. Based on the transactions we’ve seen since the fall, a gambling man would bet that the Cubs and Padres won’t be patsies in 2015, for example. Chances are also good that the Diamondbacks won’t suffer the same avalanche of injuries in ’15 that demolished their ’14 season, and similar could be suggested for the Reds. Meanwhile, the Braves and Phillies clearly are rebuilding, and more or less crossing off 2015, which means they’ll be fodder not only for their division rivals but likely will give everyone else a few more victories.

To provide a little more context, let’s assume the Mets are able to play .500 against non-NL East clubs — something they’ve not done in the Alderson/Collins era, and something that would appear, on paper, to be a long shot. In addition to accomplishing that feat, the Mets will also have to be +5 against each of the Braves, Phillies, and Marlins, and no worse than -5 against the Nationals (remember, the Mets were -10 vs. the Nats last year). So, again, the Mets will need to be at least 12-7 against each of the Braves, Phillies, and Marlins, AND be no worse than 7-12 against the Nationals. Go ahead and play with the numbers all you like; this was my way of simplifying the challenge in a way that seems plausible. And by the way, the last time the Mets were +5 against ANY NL East club — prior to last year against the Phillies — was in 2008, when they were 12-6 against the then-lowly Nationals. I went back 25 years and couldn’t find a year when the Mets were +5 against more than one division rival — the last time it happened was 1988, when there were only two divisions and the Mets were 12-6 vs. the Pirates, 14-4 vs. the Cardinals, and 12-6 vs. a team called the Montreal Expos. And the only other times in Mets history that happened? 1986 and 1969. Huh.

Bottom line is that it’s doubtful the Mets will have a winning record against opponents outside their division. And if that assumption is true, then the Mets will have to destroy everyone in the NL East not from Washington, D.C., just to get to .500. But that’s a tall order as well, because they’ll have to beat their division opponents as handily as they did the two times in their history that they were World Champions.

Of course, this is all conjecture, and we’ll have to see how the season plays out. Maybe the Mets will be good enough to play closer to the Nationals than we think. Maybe the Marlins won’t be as good as some think. Maybe the Phillies and Braves will be in a race to see who can get to 100 losses first. Maybe, all those things will happen, and even if they do, the Mets will still have to perform much better against non-East opponents than they have in the very recent past, and that may be even more difficult than performing to the heights of previous Flushing World Champs.

Do you see a hole in this theory? Let me know in the comments.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. dansj March 2, 2015 at 7:42 am
    Terrific analysis … Thanks!
  2. Tommy2cat March 2, 2015 at 11:08 am
    The Mets won-loss record was 42-35 from July 3rd to the end of the season. The team accomplished this record after resolving several positions (catcher, centerfield, first base) and ridding a bullpen of dangling modifiers and aging dingleberries.

    The team accomplished this record without Matt Harvey, a healthy David Wright and an absent Michael Cuddyer. Essentially, we’re adding 3 all-star caliber players to a young team that competed on its own two legs.

    Given our pitching depth, I like our chances.

    • Joe Janish March 2, 2015 at 12:26 pm
      No, it doesn’t work that way. The season is 162 games, not 77. You can’t just pick a random stretch of the season and point to it as an indication of how the team will do the next season.

      The pitching depth isn’t special. Every team has pitching depth.

      Matt Harvey, David Wright, and Michael Cuddyer are three huge question marks, not “3 all-star caliber players.”

      “dangling modifiers and aging dingleberries” — well, I’ll give you that.

      I replied to this exact same argument about the 42-35 record a month ago; maybe you didn’t see the reply. It’s here:

      Here’s the copy-and-paste:

      I don’t trust incomplete records. I especially don’t like records taken from a specific point in a season through the end, because they can be REALLY untrustworthy. The teams the Mets played in the last 77 games of the season aren’t the same teams they’ll play next year. There’s also the matter of September, when rosters expand, minor leaguers are playing frequently, and some teams check out early.

      It’s not “actually a 42-35 club” — it’s a 79-83 club. You can’t just pick a segment of the season and base the team on that segment. How many different teams did the Mets play in those 77 games? What were their records? Who was on active 25-man roster at the time those games were played? Did the Mets happen to miss facing a few ace starters of clubs they met only once during that period? Were key players missing?

      I did a quick look and counted 22 games against playoff teams in those final 77. In contrast, 17 of those games came against last-place teams, and 48 of those 77 were against teams that finished with a sub-.500 record. Granted, maybe the Mets were part of the reason those teams finished as poorly as they did. But really, my point is that the sample size is too small and unreliable.

      In his tenure with the Mets, Terry Collins has had some spurts of success that didn’t last for more than 4-5 weeks, usually coinciding with an injection of new talent. Motivated players came in from the minors or other clubs and played over their heads for a while, the team won more than they lost, then when the players regressed due to over-exposure, the team’s record predictably sunk to previous levels.

      Remember the big PR spin last winter? That the Mets were a .500 team after Zack Wheeler and Eric Young, Jr. were added to the roster on June 18, 2013? It was the rally cry ALL WINTER LONG a year ago — this notion that because the Mets were .500 from that random point forward, they were sure to be at least if not over .500 in 2014. How did that work out? They still had a losing record, even after adding Bartolo Colon and Curtis Granderson AND getting a career-year from Lucas Duda.

      The season is 162 games, and that’s how every team is measured.

      • Mets Maven March 2, 2015 at 2:44 pm
        The team the Mets fielded in August and September was a very different team than the one they fielded in April. The catcher’s position went from a group effort to the possession of Travis D’Arnard, whose OPS in the 2nd half of the year was .141 better than the 1st half of the year. Anybody who watched him could tell it wasn’t a fluke. Ditto Wilmer Flores, whose OPS was .150 better in the 2nd half over the 1st half of the year. First base went from Ike Davis to Lucas Duda, who started crushing the ball (at least against right-handers) once he had first base to himself. The relief pitching went from the mediocrity of Valverde, Germen and Farnsworth to a young ensemble that ranked among the best in the league. Oh, and then there was this guy named DeGrom…

        No, the Mets’ success in the 2nd half of 2014 was no fluke. The youngsters are likely to keep on improving, and, with the addition of Cuddyer, the return of Harvey (and Parnell!), and a (hopefully) healthy Wright, the Mets are poised to make a playoff run. GO METSIES!

        • DaveSchneck March 2, 2015 at 11:04 pm
          This issue is not whether the Met 2d half performance was a fluke or not. It doesn’t really matter. A team’s season is judged over the span of 162 games. The winning clubs have enough depth and plan Bs and Cs to avoid getting in a hole that they can’t dig out of. All teams have question marks and we’ll see if the 2015 Mets have enough alternatives should those question marks not meet expectations. And we’ll determine that over 162 games.
  3. Mets Maven March 3, 2015 at 11:01 am
    Oh course, the season is 162 games long. But the cards the Mets are holding are far better than the ones they were holding 365 days ago. I’m old enough to remember 1969 and 1984, and it has the same feel: young, budding stars ready for their chance to shine. The Mets have enough horses on their pitching staff to be the 2nd best staff in the NL (I’ll concede the top spot to the Nationals). To be a contender, their hitting just needs to be average. Watching Travis d’Arnard and Wilmer Flores towards the end of 2014 was exciting. They seemed to do better as they gained confidence, and they both clearly have great upside potential, since they have been perennial top prospects according to Baseball America.

    Hope springs eternal, and Spring is the time for hope. 92 wins this year. You heard it here first.

    • Joe Janish March 3, 2015 at 4:05 pm
      The second-best pitching staff in the NL, or the NL East? Maybe the NL East, assuming Jose Fernandez is not a factor for the Fish this year. But the entire league? I think the Dodgers, Cardinals, Padres, Giants, and Pirates are all ahead of the Mets as of this moment, and the Cubs suddenly have a pretty decent staff as well.

      Even counting spring training, it’s going to be tough for the Mets to win 92 games in 2015. But, we’ll see …

    • argonbunnies March 4, 2015 at 4:37 am
      I completely agree that the Mets’ position looks a lot better than it did entering 2014! The thing is, the Mets entered 2014 as, on paper, a 73-WIN TEAM. That’s what all the objective analysts, sports bookies, and projection systems said, which is why it was so infuriating to hear management put “90 wins” hopes on the team.

      So, now, entering 2015, with Harvey back and Valverede/Farnsworth gone and d’Arnaud improved and deGrom having burst onto the scene, the Mets are indeed better — 8 wins better, according to forecasts. That’s a great improvement in a single year without any star free agent acquisitions! But it’s still only an 81-win team.

      If the Mets want to taste a playoff race, much less a playoff spot, they’ll need to outperform the projections as much in 2015 as they did in 2014 (by 6 games). So, who’s the NEXT deGrom? Who’s the NEXT Mejia/Familia combo? Who’s the NEXT Duda and d’Arnaud?

      On the positive front, I would take the Mets’ rotation over Pirates and Giants by a mile, especially considering the quality fallback options in AAA. I dunno about 2nd in the league, but it’s at least close.

      The full staff, though, including the bullpen, is a different story. Being better than Kyle Farnsworth doesn’t make you good, or even average, and if you look around MLB at team bullpens, the Mets compare rather poorly.

  4. argonbunnies March 4, 2015 at 5:14 am
    Joe, if the Mets repeat last year’s showing of -4 against teams outside their division, and go -5 against the Nats, they would only have to go +3 each against the Phils, Braves and Fish to reach .500. That seems realistic to me. One happy thought: if the Mets manage to dominate one of those teams (presumably the Phillies) at a 14-5 clip, suddenly that’s 87 wins and an interesting season. So I agree with your premise that the NL East battles will be vital, but at least I can envisions how that COULD work out for the Mets.

    Also, two corrections: (1) You don’t have to go back to 2008 to see the Mets at +5 against an NL East team, just scroll up to that 2012 figure vs the Marlins. (2) I don’t think getting traded away counts as “missing games” for Beltran in 2011.

    • Joe Janish March 4, 2015 at 11:04 am
      Thanks for the corrections.

      I suppose part of my argument is that the Mets WON’T go -4 vs. teams outside their division. The rest of the NL is too strong, I believe, and I think the Mets are going to +2 in interleague play again. They play the Blue Jays and Orioles 4x each, the Yankees 6x, Red Sox and Rays 3x. Of course, the beauty of BeelzeBud’s interleague play is that teams play each other in such a small sample size that the final record isn’t necessarily indicative of which team is better, but rather, the timing of both clubs (i.e., injuries, streaks, available pitching, etc.). Assuming the Yankees stink as much as we think they will, the Mets may win that series, but I have doubts they’ll go .500 or better in the other 14 games. Then again, it IS a crapshoot, so maybe they will. Then again, it IS a crapshoot, so maybe they won’t.

      I hate interleague play, btw. It’s idiotic. How long before the new communist regime outlaws pitchers hitting altogether (and maybe second basemen and catchers, too?) and everyone in MLB plays each other 4 times a year leading up to a 25-team Stanley Cup Playoff?

      • argonbunnies March 4, 2015 at 6:27 pm
        Oh yikes. I hadn’t actually looked at the 2015 schedule. The Mets are going to get hammered by the Sox and Jays and out-baseballed by the O’s. We’ll just have to hope that some of the other NL wild card contenders get similarly stomped on.

        As for the rest of the NL, I see very few hopeless teams, but also very few juggernauts. I imagine it shakes out like most years — for every team that puts it together, another one falls apart. I would like to see the Padres succeed, but with Ross and Cashner’s injury histories and three DHs in the OF (4 if you count Quentin), they still have a chance to be terrible. I don’t love the Giants, and I think the Pirates are walking a major tightrope with their rotation. If the Rockies and D’backs get off to a bad start, they might enter rebuilding mode. The Cubs will be awesome one day, but 2015 might be premature. There’s the Nats and Dodgers and probably the Cardinals and then there’s everybody else. Jonah Keri thinks the Marlin’s are the NL’s 4th best team! So yeah, I can imagine -4 for the Mets.

        I am totally with you on interleague play. Give me 3-6 Yankees games a year and cut the rest of that nonsense out. If I want to watch AL teams, I’ll watch AL teams — they don’t need to play the Mets. The Mets should be working on rivalries with the Cards or Cubs or somebody, not hosting cameos for strangers.