Winning cures everything and with the Mets sitting at 8-1, life looks pretty good. It’s important to remember that some people were fretting about the club’s poor record in Grapefruit League play this Spring and the feeling at the end of 2017, both the regular season and the calendar year, was one of overwhelming negativity. It’s both good and healthy to look at things with a critical eye. It doesn’t do anybody any good to bend over backwards to either find or invent things about which to worry.
So, how are the Mets 8-1? Obviously a lot of things have gone right and it would be foolish to point at just one thing. It would also be a mistake to disregard good fortune or luck. Carlos Martinez was not his usual sharp self when he faced the Mets. The club missed Max Scherzer and Daniel Murphy, who has killed the Mets the past two years, was on the DL. Also, it seems that every time the other team makes an error, the Mets pounce. There are a lot of different factors to consider in this opening stretch of good play. But here are five things that have caught my eye:
1. The bullpen has been fantastic – Yes, the relievers are carrying a bigger load than we would like to see. But in 37.1 IP they’ve allowed just 5 ER for a 1.21 ERA. There are other teams with similarly good bullpen ERAs – the Braves have a 1.33 mark while the Cubs have an incredible 0.94 ERA. But where the Mets relievers really have something jaw dropping is with their strand rate. Through nine games, the pen has a 97.8 LOB%. Sure, they’re not allowing a ton of baserunners. But they are stranding runners at a mind-boggling rate. It’s nice to see Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo pitching multiple innings at a time. Hopefully that will continue. Also it would be good to see fewer partial inning performances from Jerry Blevins and AJ Ramos.
2. Leadoff hitters doing their job – In nine games, the Mets have used four different players in the first spot in the order. That quartet has combined for a .324/.452/.529 line. After years of average or worse production from the leadoff spot, it’s refreshing to see the Mets lead the league in OBP from the very top of the order. Actually, it’s a continuation of last year’s success, especially once they moved Michael Conforto to the top of the order. After finishing 13th in OBP from the first spot in the order in 2016, the Mets placed 2nd last year. Because of that, they finished second in the league in runs scored from the first spot.
3. All pitchers keeping runners off base – While the bullpen has received the majority of the credit, the entire pitching staff has done a fine job of sending batters back to the dugout. They are second in the league with a 1.13 WHIP. While as a team they are clearly out-performing their peripherals – thanks to the previously noted LOB% – that low WHIP is an indication that it’s not all luck. While the club’s xFIP is 92 points higher than its ERA, that mark would still be the second-best in the league.
4. The hits are falling in – Currently, the Mets lead the league with a .316 BABIP. Last year they finished tied for last in the league with a .286 mark. The leader among the regulars is Amed Rosario, who holds a cartoonish .533 BABIP. Unfortunately, that also comes with a 41.4 K%. With about half the plate appearances of Rosario, Juan Lagares has a .538 mark. Five of the top 11 players in PA have a .333 or better BABIP. Last year the highest BABIP among the hitters with the top 11 PA was Conforto with a .328 mark. The hits falling in has led to a .353 OBP, the second-best mark in the league.
5. Coming through in the clutch – A couple of years ago the Mets were just dreadful with RISP. Last year they were markedly better in rate stats but suffered because they were still near the bottom of the league in opportunities. But here in early 2018, they are fourth with an .811 OPS with runners in scoring position and they are tied for fifth with 99 PA in those situations. Taken together, that’s led to the Mets being tied for fourth in runs scored with RISP.
One thing I thought would be on this list would be the team’s defensive performance. Judging simply by the eye test, they look much improved from a year ago, especially in the infield. But the advanced numbers tell a different story. They are last in the league in both DRS (-11) and UZR (-2.7) while the Padres have a +13 DRS and the Marlins have a +3.0 UZR. Of course, it takes longer for defensive stats to stabilize, so this is not necessarily an indication of their true talent level. But it’s hard to list the defense as a main factor for why the Mets are currently 8-1.