Are the Mets for Real?

After a tough stretch against the Nationals and Yankees that saw the Mets drop 5 of 6, it’s time to ask the question at the back of every Mets fans mind. Are the Mets contenders this year? Will the Mets play meaningful September baseball for the first time since 2008? Luckily, thanks to sabermetrics, we can analyze some advanced statistics and trends from the season so far to try and get a handle on the 2012 Amazins.

For more information on any of the stats listed below, simply click on the stat name. 

Pythagorean W-L –  Pythagorean Won-Loss record (PWL) is much simpler than it sounds. It basically figures out an estimated win percentage based on the number of runs scored and allowed. This is useful because it’s often an indicator of how lucky or unlucky a team has been over the course of a season. So far this season the Mets have scored 262 runs and allowed 281. That’s a -19 run differential and works out to a PWL record of (29-32) or 3 Wins worse than their actual record. There have been plenty of teams in the past who have outperformed their PWL (the 1969 Mets were 8 wins better than their expected PWL but also scored 91 more runs then they allowed) but a team with a negative run differential can’t expect luck like that to hold.

Ultimate Zone RatingUZR is an advanced defensive metric that uses play-by-play data  to estimate each fielder’s defensive contribution in theoretical runs above or below an average fielder at his position in that player’s league and year. A bit of a mouthful yes, but UZR is the best defensive metric around (in my opinion) for determining how beneficial a player (or team’s) defense has been over the course of a season. So far this season the Mets defense has put up a UZR of -24.3. That means that the Mets defense has cost the team roughly 24 runs this season. That’s the worst in the MLB. Some of the leading contributors to this stat are Lucas Duda with a whopping -10.6 UZR, Daniel Murphy with a -7.8, and Jason Bay with a -3.3. Also for all you Mike Baxter lovers, he’s 4th with a -2.7 so far this season. Disregarding offensive contributions for a moment, if you were to replace Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy with average fielders (a 0 UZR is league average) that would improve the Mets by almost 18 runs which is the PWL equivalent of almost 2 Wins!

Alright take a deep breath Mets fans, we’re not done yet. Let’s look at something the Mets have done well this season.

Fielding Independent Pitching and Expected Fielding Independent Pitching - These stats require a little background. First let’s explain Fielding Independent Pitching or FIP. FIP is what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average. Basically it’s a way of removing defense from the equation and figuring out the talent level of the pitchers. Pitchers have little control over the ball once its in play so FIP only looks at results a pitcher can control, giving a much more accurate representation of talent then ERA can. FIP is also set on the ERA scale so it’s easy to understand. This season the Mets FIP is 3.87 which puts them 12th in MLB (The Nationals are first…ugh). Pretty good numbers there.

Expected Fielding Independent Pitching or xFIP is calculated in the same way as FIP, except it replaces a pitcher’s home run total with an estimate of how many home runs they should have allowed based on league average home run rate and on individual pitchers’ fly ball rate. Home run rates fluctuate constantly so xFIP normalizes them to better predict a player’s true talent level. It has proven to be highly predictive of future performance because of its ability to remove crazy outliers which distract away from reality. So far this season the Mets have posted an xFIP of 3.73 which puts them 4th in MLB (The Phillies are first…double ugh). Notice the difference between FIP and xFIP. The decrease in xFIP shows that Mets pitchers have actually been a little unlucky so far this year due to bad defense, unlucky home runs, and other factors. Despite all that they have still managed to pitch quite well thanks to their ability to strike out a high percentage of batters and keep walks in check. The talent the Mets have pitching-wise is for real. If the Mets could manage to play middle-of-the-road defense they could certainly continue to put up impressive numbers.

So we’ve broken down pitching and fielding but what about hitting? To better understand the Mets batting ability we’re going to need to look at several stats before we draw an overarching conclusion.

Isolated PowerIsolaTed Power or ISO is simply a measure of a hitter’s raw power or ability to hit for extra bases. Obviously the Mets have struggled in the power department this year and the ISO numbers show that. The Mets’ ISO this year is .134 (league average is usually .145), which puts them 23rd in the league. The Yankees lead the league with a .194 ISO. Simply put, the Mets are not driving the ball nearly enough and are not scoring “easy” runs at a high enough rate.

Walk Percentage – Walk Percentage measures the amount of times a player or team draws a free pass per plate appearance. The Mets draw walks 9.4 percent of the time. That gives them the 3rd-highest walk percentage in the league, so while they may not be driving the ball enough, they are a patient team that works counts and gets runners on base.

Batting Average on Balls in PlayBABIP measures the number of balls put in play that become hits. Typically, 30 percent of balls put in play become hits, so analyzing BABIP can tell you which teams have been a little lucky or unlucky on where there hits are landing. BABIP always tends to drift toward the mean so a team with a high BABIP can expect some regression, while a low one might see their hits finding green grass more often in the future. The Mets BABIP this season is .311, which puts them 6th in the league. While that number is above average, it is not dramatically high so a regression would not mean a noticeable change in the number of hits dropping in. So while the Mets have been lucky to a degree in where there hits are falling, it hasn’t been insanely so.

Weighted On Base AveragewOBA is by far the most useful overall hitting statistic. wOBA is based on the concept that all hits are not created equal nor is a single half the value of a double. Instead, wOBA weighs all the different aspects of hitting in proportion to their actual run value. So a single is worth .89 runs while a double is worth 1.26, etc. This allows for a player’s true overall value as a hitter to be rightly judged. wOBA is set on the On Base Percentage (OBP) scale so a good OBP is a good wOBA. The league average varies from year to year but it tends to be around .320. This season the Mets wOBA is .313, which puts them 18th in MLB. So, based on wOBA, the Mets offense would work out to below league-average, but not dramatically so.  The Rangers lead all of baseball with a .347 wOBA, while the Pirates are last with a paltry .276 — just to put it in perspective.

So, after all that number crunching, are the Mets for real?

Conclusion

So far this season the Mets have been a relatively lucky team. Their hits are finding space at a nice percentage. They have managed to win a number of close games thanks to strong pitching performances. They have put together a patient lineup that works counts and gets deep into bullpens. On the other side of things, they have not hit for power and tout an offense in the bottom half of the league. They are consistently trotting out the worst defense in baseball. They are placing pressure on their pitchers to continue to strike out opponents at a high rate in order to secure victories.

The current model seems unsustainable. The offense needs to produce more to offset defensive deficiencies. The defense needs to play dramatically better if the Mets are going to continue to play close games, in lieu of an offensive boost. Still, the pitching has been great and could possibly get that much better if run support and solid defense can join them. A winning team doesn’t have to be great in all three facets of the game but it has to be at least good in two of them to have a chance.

I suspect Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins know this, being fans of sabermetrics as well, and will be looking to make changes to address these problems. That, however, is a story for a future column.

Bottom line: the Mets, as currently constituted, are not for real.

Nick Jablonski is a freelance writer obsessed with NY sports and statistics. He'll be sharing his thoughts on the Mets, sabermetrics, and all things uniform related. He thinks the Mets uniforms may be the reason for their luck this season. To get his unique and occasionally optimistic perspective during games or all the time, follow him on Twitter @nickjablonski82
  1. Merlin The Magician June 12, 2012 at 7:24 am
    No. I know smoke and mirrors when I see them.
  2. NormE June 12, 2012 at 7:53 am
    I’m not a stat person, but I reached the same conclusion.

    Thanks for the explanations.

  3. GMaster7 June 12, 2012 at 12:07 pm
    Great article and analysis. Love stuff like this. Hoping the Mets can continue to surprise and that Alderson makes the right moves at the deadline if they do. If they slump and return to where the stats suggest they should be, I hope Alderson makes the necessary improvements for next year. I think it’ll be sooner than most people think that the Mets will be competitive again.
  4. Testa Money June 12, 2012 at 12:17 pm
    For real or not for real?

    Get real! The REAL question is: Can the Mets still lose 90+ games this year?

    The answer is YES.

  5. Jon Gesin June 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm
    Do you measure the bullpens performance with the same sabermetrics as the starters? The bullpen has been awful and has cost the Mets alot of games. How do we measure each bullpen members performance? For instance inheriting runners that score, etc?
  6. Nick Jablonski June 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm
    This post measured the pitching all-inclusively. It’s important to remember that, while the bullpen has been below average, they have been subject to the same bad defense and bad luck in general. Later on in the season, once the bullpen sample size increases I plan on doing a more detailed breakdown of their failings compared to the Starting Pitchers success.
  7. argonbunnies June 12, 2012 at 1:00 pm
    Nice analysis, Nick.

    UZR numbers over 61 games have to be taken with a giant grain of salt. I guess we can probably say that the Mets’ defense has been poor, but I’m not sure if we can be more specific than that. While Duda’s been below average, a -30 run season would be truly horrific, and I don’t think we should reasonably expect that. As for Murph, given that he looked quite good in May, I wouldn’t expect him to post a -24 for 2012. But ya never know.

    Your optimism about the rotation assumes that their xFIP performance is sustainable. Do you think it is? Personally, I do not expect Santana/Dickey/Niese/Gee to finish the year with 9.0/8.7/8.8/8.1 K rates. Guys with the stuff that the Mets starters have do not often post such numbers. I don’t think it’s been luck, but I do think it’s been overperformance that won’t continue.

    I’d also expect Nieuwenhuis’s rate stats to tumble as his BABIP falls from .398. In other words, his Ks will catch up with him.

    My takeaway is that if we hope to contend, our best hope is more offense from just about everyone except Kirk and Wright.

  8. Crozier June 12, 2012 at 1:17 pm
    Nick, I enjoyed your analysis, though this is a case of statistics not uncovering something, but rather quantifying in fine detail the glaringly obvious: this isn’t a good team. Lousy defense, lousy relief, no impact players (even including doubles king David Wright). I like this team, though; they’re a decent bunch of guys who play hard. But as the glow wears off their surprising start, it’s hard to imagine they’ll have as many inspiring games in the late summer. Still-competing teams will roll over them, and losses will pile up. I’d like to be wrong about that, but, I’d also like Ike to hit .280 with power. It’s not happening.
  9. Chris June 12, 2012 at 2:38 pm
    Nope. Great starting pitching from Johan and Dickey. Great hitting from Wright and Hairston. BUT they are a team with too many youngsters not really ready for the majors and too much AAAA talent. Their pen sucks and Davis, Murphy and Bay have been worthless. Defense is bad. So, I expect a steep decline as the summer wears on.
  10. Kevin June 12, 2012 at 3:09 pm
    This is a fine analysis from a Sabermetrics point of view. However, there are a number of factors that are not considered here. For example, injuries. Pelfrey went down just as he was starting to show samples of returning to 2010 form. Hopefully, Chris Young will solidify that spot in the rotation which had been loss after loss after loss. Tejada had been a pleasant surprise but he’s been gone for a month. Bay’s absence didn’t seem to do much one way or the other.
    Secondly, player performance. Wright, Johan and RA Dickey have been outstanding. Everyone else is either playing below their histories, or in the case of Ike, WAY below his expectations. Teams that win championships always have a number of players having career years. The Mets bullpen has performed way below the histories of the individuals. They have no way to go but up.
    Finally, all the injuries have shown us what the Mets Organization- as opposed to Team- is all about. In that sense the organization is very, very much for real as we will hopefully see when a Jenry Mejia steps up in place of relievers who should never have been on the team in the first place.
  11. Nick Jablonski June 12, 2012 at 4:17 pm
    Thanks for all the good comments. I love how knowledgeable Mets fans are. Makes me proud to be one of them. I acknowledge some of this analysis was quantifying the obvious but I felt it was a good place to start in examining what this team is so far. I’m all about confirming what my eyes see with statistics. here’s a couple thoughts.

    Good point on the UZR. I don’t expect the Mets to finish last in UZR this season (especially with the Tigers around). Over a larger sample size they should be able to minimize some of their mistakes. The stat still demonstrates the Mets are ignoring their glaring defensive weaknesses and its cost them big so far.

    Injuries are also a fair point and they are another reason the defense could notably improve with the addition of Tejada and a return of a useful defensive sub like Ronny Cedeno and even Justin Turner.

    I remain optimistic about the rotation because the strikeout rates have been consistent staff wise (its an Alderson philosophy and obviously a sabermetric principle) while walks have been kept in check, and the bullpen will not continue to be this bad or unlucky. As I’ll cover in the future, the bullpen’s homerun rate has been astronomic and well above the individual pitchers typical HR rate.

    This team isnt done by any stretch of the imagination. Simply put though, as it is now they are not a true contender in a division this talented. By the time they become a whole team, it will most likely be too late.

    There is still a lot to look forward to for the future though.

  12. DaveSchneck June 12, 2012 at 5:05 pm
    Nick,
    Great piece. Very scientific but this science backs up what we have seen. With a lousy D, lousy pen, no speed, and powerless hitting, they have managed to be +3 and keeping the fans interested. The starting pitching will most likely not be as strong, but there is great potential for the other weaknesses to improve based either on individual improvement or replacements. If they play .500 through the rest of June, and anyone can be the Nationals, they should at least have a respectable season while not losing focus on the future.
    • donald colgan June 20, 2012 at 10:26 am
      If this formula was used on the 69 Mets they
      would have been a 500 team. The 2012
      Mets will be in the playoffs. Mark it down.
      All of the talking heads trashed the Mets
      all winter and spring and still are patiently
      waiting for that 10 game losing streak.
      Not gonna happen!
  13. Kenny June 13, 2012 at 11:08 am
    I think that the questions being asked here are valid. However, what you didn’t say is that the Mets are fourth in on base percentage in the National League (1st NL East) and fifth in the National League in runs scored (2nd NL East). So I think it is wrong and unfair to say that the Mets offense is below average. I think the wOBA stat is good to a degree, however, this team scores runs more on drawing walks, putting men on base, and doubles rather than home runs. Another thing to note is that a high BABIP is sustainable given a high line drive rate. Both Wright and Kirk have those high line drive rates. However, I do agree that Kirk needs to increase his walk rate a tick and work on reducing his strikeouts.
  14. Kevin June 13, 2012 at 6:37 pm
    Look at what just happened yesterday:

    Chris Young won in the #5 slot in what had been a Black Hole for the Mets since Pelfrey went down. He looks like he is healthy and is getting stronger. Like Johan Chris is a very intelligent pitcher. He compensates for his weaknesses. Now, IF he stays healthy….

    Then, there is Ike Davis with two hits, a successful bunt against the shift and then a 3 run homer. It can’t be easy being away from baseball for a year and, possibly, being sick with a virus. IF Ike slowly makes his way back it will substantially improve an offense that has been highly underrated…

    Nick’s fine analysis was a real bonus for readers of this site. He’s also correct that there is a LOT to look forward to. It’s interesting to speculate as the young and upcoming pitchers are ready, what moves will the Mets need to make?

  15. Chris June 15, 2012 at 8:55 am
    Nice job as far as it goes, but what’s lost is the fact that most of these stats are useful primarily as analytical tools after the fact–not predictors but rather explicators. We can see the Mets have been lucky so far, but that’s about as far as it goes.