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 Rating – UZR 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 Power – IsolaTed 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 Play – BABIP 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 Average – wOBA 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?
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.