When the Mets went on their 15-1 run shortly after the All-Star break, many people were unimpressed because it came against teams that were not very good. Yet those very same people failed to hold the Brewers to the same standard. When Milwaukee went on an 18-2 run in September, they were beating the Marlins, Padres, Pirates, Reds and a Cubs team that had quit on itself. But we didn’t hear about that. The talk was how the Brewers were playing great, winning games when it counted.
Conventional wisdom in all sports is that you look to play .500 against the good teams and then clean up against the dregs of the league. But what happens when certain teams get to play significantly more games against the dregs? The A’s got to play 100 games against teams under .500 last year, the most in the majors. By contrast, the Marlins played just 41 games against teams with a losing record, the fewest of any team in MLB.
It should be intuitive that if you’re a sub-.500 team, you’ll get fewer chances to face losing teams. And vice-versa. Of the seven teams that played the fewest games against teams under .500, five of them were under .500 themselves, while a sixth team was exactly .500 on the season. And on the opposite end, the top nine teams with the most games against losing teams all had winning records.
So, who was the only team with a winning record to be in the bottom seven in total number of games against losing teams? Why, the Mets, of course. They faced sub-.500 teams this year 60 times, which tied with the Pirates for the third fewest total in MLB.
So, why did the Mets have such rotten luck with the schedule? The biggest reason was that the NL East was the only division in baseball not to have at least two teams with losing records in it, having just the Marlins.
A distant second is that the Mets always get the short end in interleague play. The Cardinals get to face the Royals as their rival that they play every year and in the 23 years of interleague play, the Royals have been above .500 just four times. The Nationals get the Orioles, who’ve gone 101-223 the last two years. And the Mets get the Yankees, who’ve won 90 or more games 17 times and have never finished with fewer than 84 wins in a season since the beginning of interleague play.
The Mets were 47-55 against teams with a .500 or better record in 2019. That’s a .461 winning percentage, essentially the same as the 101-win Twins, who had a .464 winning percentage. The difference of course was that the Twins played 33 fewer games against those winning teams. The Mets finished strong against these clubs, going 13-6 in their final 19 games against .500 or better teams. But their poor play against the good squads early in the year helped put them in such a big hole.
So, if the difference between the 101-win Twins and the 86-win Mets was essentially all due to the easier schedule of the Twins – buttressed by the fact that the Mets went 3-1 versus Minnesota this year – can we come up with a simple rating system to try to more accurately rank the teams? Let’s try giving double credit for beating a team .500 and above and a double penalty for a loss to a sub-.500 squad.
The Mets were 47-55 against the good teams. So, if we give double points for those wins, they’d be 94-55. They were 39-21 against the poor teams. If we give a double penalty for those losses, they’d be 39-42. Add both splits together and you get 133-97 for a .578 percentage.
Meanwhile, the Twins were 32-37 against the good teams. Double the wins and you get 64-37. They were 69-24 against the poor teams. Double the losses and you get 69-48. Add those together and you get 133-85 for a .610 percentage. The Twins finished with a 92-point advantage in winning percentage. Doubling the good wins and the bad losses cuts their percentage advantage to 32 points.
If we up the multiplier for good wins/bad losses from 2.0 to 2.5, we get the Mets at a .593 percentage and the Twins with a .606 percentage. This 13-point edge for the Twins certainly feels closer to being “right” than the actual 92-point advantage when it comes to describing the relative strengths of the two teams. Let’s do this for all 30 teams and see what we get.
|Team||Good W||Good L||Poor W||Poor L||Wins * 2.5||Loss * 2.5||New Wins||New L||Pct.|
In 2019, the average team found themselves playing 53% of their games versus teams .500 and above and 47% versus below-average teams. Yet the Mets played a whopping 63% of their games versus teams .500 and above. By contrast, the Twins played just 43% of their games against the good teams. And that’s not the worst mark this year in MLB. The Astros played just 39% of their games against teams with a winning record and the A’s had a 38% tally.
Under this simple system, the Mets would have the eighth-best percentage in baseball, rather than the 12th-best. And rather than 129 points behind the leader, they trail by 60 points in this ranking. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this ranking is that of the Marlins, who find themselves with a percentage 100 points higher than their actual one. The Marlins played a team .500 or better 75% of the time.
Is this any better than actual W-L records? My take as a Mets fan is yes. But even if this ranking is too simplistic to produce meaningful results, it seems few would argue with the overall point that ease of schedule plays a big factor into final records. Perhaps no better example exists than the 1954 Indians, who went 111-43 thanks to going 89-21 against teams with a losing record. They were 22-22 against teams with a winning record. They played just 29% of their games versus the good teams. Compare that to the Dodgers, who finished 2019 with 106 wins. LA faced a good team 48% of the time this season.