Rigging the rules for Mets players to finish the year strong

On Sunday, we put my preference for people who finish the year strong under the microscope. It didn’t go particularly well. In fact, it was pretty much a failure. But, not willing to admit defeat quite so easily, the decision was made to look at the matter in a different way. And let’s be honest right up front – what we’re about to see is not really a good way to approach the subject. But desperate times call for desperate measures. And as Archie Bunker once said when playing solitaire – you give the deck three chances and then you cheat.

Last time we looked at how players performed in the second half of the year. This time around, we’re only looking at how they did in September. Here we looked at players on the Mets from 2000-2018, with a minimum of 40 PA in the final month. That was done specifically to include Justin Turner in the results. Cheating, you know. And you had to have a minimum of an .800 OPS to qualify. Then the September OPS was compared to the full year’s OPS and the following season OPS. But a minimum of 400 PA was required in the following season.

Again, this is a form of cheating. It was designed to get rid of the guys who were scrubs who just squeaked into 40 PA but who didn’t have anything remotely like a full-time gig. It was also designed to not get bogged down with people who got hurt the following year. And while not designed for this – wink, wink – it also had the advantage of eliminating guys who were given a shot, stunk up the joint and then were kept by their manager from clearing 400 PA because they weren’t good.

The final thing to know is that guys who were traded the following year in mid-season were not included in the results, even if their combined PA were over 400. Unless they amassed 400 PA with the Mets before the deal. Then they were included, with only their Mets total. Wow, that was a lot of hoops to jump through.

In our 19-year sample, there were 73 people who had at least 40 PA in the final month and an .800 OPS. But once we threw in the 400 PA requirement in the following season, our sample shrunk to 39 people. My hope was to get at least 30 players and that was a success. The problem was that the 400 PA requirement in the following season eliminated Turner from consideration. The moral of this cheating story is – If you’re going to bend the rules to get a guy in, make sure he qualifies for all of the parameters before beginning your research. Here’s what we get:

Year Player Sep Overall Following
2018 Michael Conforto .981 .797 .856
2018 Jeff McNeil .847 .852 .916
2017 Brandon Nimmo .866 .797 .886
2017 Asdrubal Cabrera 1.038 .785 .817
2016 Asdrubal Cabrera .970 .810 .785
2016 Jay Bruce .846 .685 .841
2016 Michael Conforto .817 .725 .939
2015 Yoenis Cespedes 1.017 .942 .884
2015 Curtis Granderson .829 .821 .799
2015 Daniel Murphy .844 .770 .985
2014 Lucas Duda .841 .830 .838
2014 Curtis Granderson .918 .714 .821
2014 Wilmer Flores .813 .664 .703
2014 Ruben Tejada .895 .652 .688
2013 Daniel Murphy .829 .733 .734
2011 Jose Reyes .858 .877 .780
2011 Lucas Duda .929 .852 .718
2010 David Wright .847 .856 .771
2010 Carlos Beltran .967 .768 .904
2009 Angel Pagan .853 .915 .765
2009 Jeff Francoeur .843 .836 .662
2008 David Wright .993 .924 .837
2008 Daniel Murphy .823 .871 .741
2007 David Wright 1.034 .963 .924
2007 Carlos Beltran .882 .878 .876
2007 Luis Castillo .822 .742 .660
2007 Carlos Delgado .949 .781 .871
2006 David Wright .975 .912 .963
2006 Shawn Green .838 .768 .782
2005 David Wright .857 .912 .912
2005 Cliff Floyd .833 .863 .731
2005 Mike Jacobs 1.027 1.085 .798
2005 Mike Piazza .832 .778 .843
2004 David Wright .901 .857 .912
2002 Ty Wigginton 1.124 .880 .714
2001 Mike Piazza 1.073 .957 .903
2001 Todd Zeile .802 .732 .778
2001 Robin Ventura .935 .778 .826
2000 Edgardo Alfonzo 1.062 .967 .725

The thing that jumped out at me the most was how good Piazza was in his final month with the Mets. A lot of fans were ready to move on at that point but it would have been nice if Piazza could have come back and been part of the 2006 team. And it would have meant that we wouldn’t have been subjected to Paul Lo Duca, who was one of my least favorite Mets of the era.

The other thing that made an impression was how often Wright showed up on this list, especially compared to Reyes. And Wright points why we put in an additional condition in the other look at this late-year performance on Sunday. Is it really instructive to include a guy who puts up an .847 OPS in September if he posted a full-season OPS of .856? So, let’s further cull our list of 39 players and only include those whose last-month OPS differed from their full-season OPS by at least 50 points.

That cut 10 people from our sample, so we’re down to 29. Of those 29, 27 of those saw their final-month OPS at least 50 points higher than their full-season OPS and two players who dropped 50 points of OPS in September.

Of those 27 players who saw their September OPS exceed their full-season OPS by at least 50 points, 17 of them put up a higher OPS the following year. And of the two whose September OPS was 50 points lower than their season total, one put up a worse year the following season and the other, the talented Mr. Wright, put up an OPS exactly equal to what he did the year before.

So, with all of our hoops and conditions, we finagled a sample where 18 of the 29 players were wins for the hypothesis. So, yay, success? Maybe – but with a giant asterisk.

It would be interesting to do a multi-year look of all MLB players who fit the above criteria. And it might even be useful to put an age limit on our list. After all, maybe it’s not so impressive if an established player like Beltran or Wright uses a big September as a springboard to a better follow-up season. But if – pulling numbers out of thin air – we look at 100 players 27 and younger who fit the criteria and 73 of them put up a better follow-up season, maybe that would be worthwhile.

But that’s a topic for another day.

6 comments for “Rigging the rules for Mets players to finish the year strong

  1. Chris F
    February 4, 2020 at 8:58 pm

    Can you rig it so Cohen does not back out of buying the Mets….

    Only in Queens

    🙁

  2. Remember1969
    February 4, 2020 at 10:32 pm

    Brian, this is an interesting piece of work (a lot of work) that seems like there should be some conclusions or at least give some predictability.

    Unfortunately, I have not had the time to go through it in the detail that you have, but I see a couple things that roughly back up my theory of age being a big factor.

    The 2018 Conforto and McNeil, 2017 Nimmo, 2016 Conforto, and 2015 Murphy all ‘prove’ my thought that a good finish to a good young hitter can springboard them to a better year following. Other than that, I don’t know what to think.

    It seems that there should be something to read from the two Granderson lines, but not sure I know what it is .. maybe that he was a good September hitter? Certainly in the years he is listed here, his career was waning so the expectation for a big bounce wouldn’t be there?

    Bruce? he was just a streaky hitter who went from a really poor year to a rather normal one form him with a decent last month.

    Asdrubal? who knows . .he found some fountain of youth or something.

    Tejada? he was just a crappy hitter who happened to get hot and have a decent month. Any big predictions for him would have been a folly.

    So add one more factor. .you have to be a decent hitter to start with.

    Where does that get us for predicting 2020? Will Cano’s decent finish translate into a career norm year?

    Ok, my head is spinning as I look through some of the monthly (and other) splits for the starters from 2019. Alonso and Rosario really like to hit on the road, Conforto was 160 OPS points higher at home that away. Conforto had a great month of August, fell back in September – hope that doesn’t translate to a down year in 2020.

    In the end, I agree that analyzing streaks and splits is interesting, but a bigger set would be needed to make definitive correlations. I’m pretty sure there are some smart guys out there doing this kind of thing for the free agent cycles .. there must be some hidden numbers someplace that drove Philly to believe that Zack Wheeler was worth $118M for the next 5 years. It could not have been on his really strong 2H2018 and decent but not great 2019.

    • Chris F
      February 5, 2020 at 8:08 am

      As Brian initially showed, there is no correlation. Therefore, there is no predictability. Furthermore, the variables that go from one season to the next change so much that isolating any specific cause-effect relationship would need serious number crunching to identify all the contributing amounts of each variable in order to avoid spurious correlation (things that correlate but are unrelated). Even down sizing the data to get the hoped for anwser was met with a negative result. Hence the conclusion is some people do better, some people do worse, in the year following a great second half or even a great September, but that itself is not the cause.

    • February 5, 2020 at 9:26 am

      When you’re starting with 40-120 PA, you’re always worried about BABIP. It’s hard to run a .400 BABIP over 162 games. It’s easier to do that over 20 games or so. When you’re looking for guys who finished strong, you have to eliminate those who did so strictly because the hits fell in during a brief period.

      Instead, you’ve got to look for guys who had some fundamental changes. Turner started hitting more fly balls and Murphy started to pull the ball more. So, you’ve got to identify the guys that change and then figure out why they changed. There’s not going to be an end result where we get 25 guys (regardless of the initial sample size) in a year to anticipate a strong leap forward. Maybe if you’re lucky you get three. May not get any at all in a given year.

      As for Wheeler, he put up back-to-back fWAR seasons over 4.0 – which doesn’t happen often. When it does, those guys get paid. You may not feel he’s worth what he got. The market disagrees with you.

      In the past two years, there have been 38 seasons by pitchers to amass a 4.0 or better fWAR. Here are the pitchers to do it twice:

      deGrom
      Scherzer
      Verlander
      Cole
      Corbin
      Wheeler

      That’s pretty good company. Wheeler makes the least amount of any pitcher on this list. That’s probably how it should be. But he’s paid appropriately for what he’s done in the recent past and his current age.

      • Remember1969
        February 5, 2020 at 9:46 pm

        Perhaps my thinking is not up to contemporary standards, but I don’t see a guy with a 3.96 ERA that gives up more hits than IP and more IP than strikeouts (albeit virtually even in all categories) as being a pitcher worth $24M per year.

        Without picking nits, he only reached 4.0 WAR in both 2018 and 2019 by adding his batting WAR to his pitching number. A 3.5 pitching WAR is ‘solid’, not elite, to me.

        I actually liked Wheeler as a Met, but am glad they didn’t tie up that kind of money for him long term. I just have the gut sense that Philly will regret that contract before it is over .. (see Jake Arrieta).

        • February 5, 2020 at 10:42 pm

          You’re looking at the wrong WAR

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