Michael Salfino writes for the Wall Street Journal as well as Yahoo! Sports. A couple of days ago he posted this on social media:
Painful night for Familia, #Mets fans but is this team even any good?
Salfino’s a good guy, and a Mets fan, too. This wasn’t a putdown. Instead, it was a legitimate question, asked in the midst of a series against the Nationals, one the team ended up losing. The Mets were 7-12 against the Nats this year, further adding fuel to the fire.
So, how do you judge a good team? The easiest way is by overall record, with the hope that after 162 games that the cream will rise to the top. By this method, it seems the Mets are a good, not great, team. They figure to finish somewhere between the fourth and sixth best team in the 15-team National League.
Ideally, you would win your division and avoid the one-game Wild Card play-in. But, in part because of their poor record in head-to-head games against the Nationals, the Mets won’t have that luxury this year. Rather, they’re hoping to make the Wild Card game. And that’s okay, because once a team makes the playoffs, anything can happen.
Still, that leaves Salfino’s question unanswered: Is this team even any good?
The 2015 Mets made the playoffs by beating up on the poor teams. Against teams under .500, the Mets were 62-34 for a .646 winning percentage. They were significantly worse against the good teams, going 28-38 for a .424 winning percentage.
Compare that to the 2016 Mets. Through games of 9/14, this year’s squad is 40-36 against teams above .500, even with their lousy record against the Nationals and even with their uninspired play during the middle of the year. What’s preventing the Mets from repeating as NL East champs is that they haven’t cleaned up against the bottom teams like they did a season ago. This year, they are just four games above .500 against the dregs, compared to 28 games in 2015.
So, are you a good team if you don’t dominate the bad ones?
With some teams, the worry would be about being properly motivated for the level of competition, that the team figured they could just show up and beat the poor clubs. However, it seems to me that this is not the case with the 2016 Mets. Through most of the year, the club simply didn’t hit with RISP, regardless of the level of competition. It’s tough to win when you’re sitting down with the expansion 1969 Padres for hitting in the clutch. The 1969 Padres were 52-110.
Here lately, the Mets aren’t that helpless in that particular split. And in what I’m sure is just a coincidence, the team is 17-7 in their last 24 games, with 10 wins against the Giants, Cardinals, Marlins (when they were still relevant) and Nationals in this stretch.
It’s my opinion that with a relatively healthy team and relatively normal luck with RISP that the Mets are not only a good team but one that’s arguably the best in the National League. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen that too often this year. No one, least of all Dodgers fans, want to hear people whine about injuries. But clearly Asdrubal Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes are playing at far less than 100% and it sure will be nice to see Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz on the mound again.
As a baseball fan, I want to see those guys healthy. I want to see Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg pain-free and starting, too. And any other star on any other playoff team who’s banged up and trying to play through it – let’s get them healthy, too. Let’s have a level playing field for all.
Are the 2016 Mets a good team? Ultimately, that question cannot be answered yet. In this day of two teams making the Wild Card, it’s hard to argue that you’re a good team if you don’t advance to the playoffs. An 87-win team and the second Wild Card may be below preseason expectations but given everything the club has been through this year, we’ll take it. And look to have a run similar, or better, to 2015’s playoff team.