The Mets and Phillies and where they are on the success cycle

A decade or so ago, one of the popular terms around baseball was “the success cycle.” It was a pretty easy concept, basically asking if you were at the top of the food chain (serious playoff contenders), or working your way up or heading down. Perhaps spinning your wheels should be in there, too. The Pirates once had a long stretch of mediocre play and they would sign or trade for some name players in their annual “Drive for 75” wins.

If we look at the Mets since 1980, where would they fall on the success cycle? Here’s my opinion:

1980-83 – On the bottom and working way up
1984 – Finally seeing dividends
1985-1989 – Top of the food chain
1990-1991 – Thought they were still on top but actually on the way down
1992-1994 – On the bottom
1995-1996 – Working way up
1997-2000 – Top of the food chain
2001-2002 – Thought they were still on top but actually on the way down
2003-2004 – On the bottom
2005 – Working way up
2006-2008 – Top of food chain
2009-2010 – Thought they were still on top but massive injuries forced them down
2011-2013 – Maybe not rock bottom but certainly low, low, low
2014 – On the way up
2015-2019 – Top of food chain

Five different people could describe this and you could get five different results. Some may find the last grouping odd but the 2017-18 injury-plagued years were followed by a team that made a late playoff push. The Mets went 27-9 before a disastrous six-game losing streak. But they rebounded after that to go 19-10 the rest of the way, including 13-6 against teams .500 and above. That’s pretty different from what happened after the injury-plagued years of 2009-2010.

The Mets find themselves with a good team but in a tough division in 2020. Any position in the standings between first and fourth at the end of the year wouldn’t be a surprise. Two of the other teams they’ll be battling it out for – Atlanta and Washington – are clearly top of the food chain. But where would you put the Phillies?

They were clearly at the top of the food chain from 2007-2011 and possibly earlier than that. They probably felt they were still in that category for 2012 but injuries hit them hard. They finished with 81 wins that season and have not passed that total any year since.

But in 2018, they were leading the division in the middle of August before they faded and prior to last season, they were major players in free agency and certainly expectations were high. Would you count them at the top of the food chain the past two years? That’s not unreasonable. And they’ve made moves this year that indicated they believe they’re contenders.

Yet just like fans can have unreasonable expectations, organizations can think with their hearts and not their heads.

The ace of the Phillies’ staff is Aaron Nola. He drew serious CY Award consideration in 2018, when he won 17 games and had a 2.37 ERA. But the year before that he had a 3.54 ERA and last year it was a 3.87 mark. Those are certainly good numbers. But they’re not ace material. In two of the last three years, Marcus Stroman has put up ERAs of 3.09 and 3.22 yet no one is considering him an SP1. The Phillies add Zack Wheeler, who’s put up good peripherals but hasn’t exactly been great in the ERA category, either. Will an improved defense behind Wheeler make a difference in 2020? That’s certainly a possibility. But the pitchers who come after Nola and Wheeler are not exactly playoff-caliber.

The Phillies’ offense is really good. But is it enough to consider them legitimate playoff contenders given their pitching? We’ve been so accustomed to calling the NL East a four-team race. Maybe it is. But it seems that’s far from a given. The Phillies were under .500 in the second half of the year and only a good head-to-head record against the Mets kept them as close to contention as they were. Philadelphia was 12-7 against New York. They were 69-74 against everyone else, including 24-33 against the rest of the NL East.

And that was the first time since 2011 the Phillies had a winning record against the Mets.

The Mets played the Phillies seven times right before the All-Star break, when they were playing their worst ball of the season. Philadelphia went 6-1 in that stretch, including a win in extra innings and two games where they earned ninth-inning comeback wins against Edwin Diaz. A tip of the hat to them for coming through and winning those games in real life. But it’s easy to see them losing all three of those games, finishing 9-10 against the Mets and being under .500 for the season.

But that’s the take from a guy who has no love for the Phillies. What will the neutral observers think of their chances in 2020? Will any of them have Philadelphia making the playoffs? Will any of them have the team finishing higher than third in the division? It’s certainly possible. However, it’s not a wager you’ll see me making.

However, the preseason picks of neutral observers are not the final word on anything. They’re an important barometer, for sure. But the only thing that matters is what are the teams’ records at the end of the year. Will this be the year the Mets or Phillies make it back to the playoffs? It seems likely that at least one of those two fanbases will be disappointed.

21 comments for “The Mets and Phillies and where they are on the success cycle

  1. MattyMeta
    February 9, 2020 at 11:28 am

    I find the Phillies spending spree the past few years to be curious. Other than Hoskins and Nola, none of their homegrown talent has panned out as expected. A few years ago guys like Franco, Hernandez, Herrera, Kingery, Eikoff, Velasquez, Pivetta and Efflin were seen as future cornerstones. Now many of them are off the team or still fighting to prove they belong in the majors. What they have now is a talented, but top heavy team with a lot of holes and little depth. I think the lineup will score runs, but the back of the rotation is a problem and unless Robertson bounces back the bullpen won’t be strong enough.

  2. Remember1969
    February 9, 2020 at 4:32 pm

    My thinking at this point is that the Mets have the deeper team – both offensively and on the mound – to finish ahead of the Phillies (and probably the Nats).

    I agree with Matty – the Phils are not deep. To me they have Realmuto and Harper, then Hoskins on the second tier, then a drop-off in their order. Segura and McCutcheon are (have been?) solid in the past. but both are past their prime. Third base and centerfield are unknown. Kingery might prove something sometime, but has not yet. I suspect Gregorius will prove to be a decent signing for them.

    If any of the aforementioned go down, they are facing the issue that all the Mets fans continually complain about – no real major league talent to back-fill. Along the same lines, if Nola and/or Wheeler falter, they will be in for a long year.

    With all that said, the scariest addition to me is Girardi. The man always seems to get more out of his teams than it seems like he should. I don’t quite understand the split with the Yankees, but his sum generally is greater than the parts.

    I am more optimistic in the 2020 version of the Mets than I have been for quite a few years. Health is key. I believe they truly are at the top of the food chain this year. I would put the Phils at ‘treading water’ or ‘spinning wheels’ and hoping everything breaks right.

    • TexasGusCC
      February 9, 2020 at 7:58 pm

      “ With all that said, the scariest addition to me is Girardi. The man always seems to get more out of his teams than it seems like he should. I don’t quite understand the split with the Yankees, but his sum generally is greater than the parts.”

      Amen. That’s why I wanted him. Even when the Yankees were rebuilding, Girardi never let them finish below .500.

      • Remember1969
        February 9, 2020 at 10:14 pm

        I suspect either 1 of 2 scenarios was the cause of the Yankees parting ways with Girardi: Either (1) Girardi wasn’t embracing the analytics of a the modern game as well as the front office wanted and there was friction there, or (2) he was not aging well in the clubhouse, perhaps losing some communication skills with the younger players. Either one is a red flag.

        It will be interesting to see how that clubhouse comes together. I don’t know this for a fact, but have always been leery that Harper is not good for team chemistry. . funny how Washington came together and won the year after he left. He is great for the fantasy team, but maybe not for a real one??? There were more than one dugout incidents in D.C. in prior years.

  3. Chris F
    February 10, 2020 at 12:08 pm

    I think the Phillies are a pretty big question mark. I suppose its possible they could make 2nd place in the East, I wouldnt put any money on it unless some major things befall other teams, including the Mets. Id see them slotting in for 4th, but a long way ahead of the Marlins, and part of the group of four battling it out in the 80s wins (I sadly think the Braves will clear 90 with ease).

    I dont think the 40-man depth is enough on the Phillies or the Mets, which leaves them exposed in tough times. This for me is what separates the top-shelf clubs from the good clubs. The Mets get an injury and the situation is code red. The Yankees were like a veritable hospital wing and yet do fantastic. If you want to be the top, injury cant be an excuse. The Dodgers bring up Max Muncy…who? Kike Hernandez…what? Taylor….seriously? Turner goes from scrub to hero.

    Its interesting to think of the arrow pointing direction. I think there is room for adding a side-ways arrow, not really heading down, perhaps creeping up, but not a steep climb.

    Anyway, I think the Mets are more a sideways team, with a bit of upward pointing. I cant see they are considered by anyone other than Mets fans as much more than “middle third” (either in MLB or NL). In all but one year since 2015, the Mets have had draft picks in the 11-20 bracket, making them not among the playoff teams nor in the best draft position teams (our one year for top 10 draft, we selected Kelenick). In 2020, the Mets again will draft in the middle third. In this same time stretch, the Dodgers have drafted greater than 20th position every year.

    • February 10, 2020 at 12:26 pm

      Mets fans know firsthand the value of depth.

      I blame BVW for a few high-profile bad moves but he deserves credit for building the team’s 25-man roster depth to better than it’s been for a long, long time.

      My opinion is that the Mets are about 2 years away from having good upper minors/40-man roster depth.

      Having said that, it’s a really tall task to have MLB quality depth at every position. The example I like to use is a couple of years ago, Freddie Freeman went down with an injury. The Braves had the #1 ranked farm system at the time but didn’t have anyone in the high minors to promote. They signed James Loney as a free agent and then released him four days later. Then they traded for Matt Adams.

    • Remember1969
      February 10, 2020 at 5:03 pm

      Chris .. this may be a little off topic from the original article about the Phillies, but why do you see the Braves winning more than 90 games ‘with ease’. In what areas do you see them being that much better than the other teams, and the Mets specifically?

      • Chris F
        February 10, 2020 at 6:52 pm

        I think the starting pitching favors the Mets. Like it or not, and it kills me to say it, no matter how good deGrom is, there’s little evidence the Mets play well with him on the mound. However, don’t underestimate Soroka, Fried, and Folty. Around the infield, Freeman is better at 1B because he’s so good in the field and equally as good at the plate as Alonso. The keystone in Atlanta is the cream of the NL E, and only improving. up the middle those guys are insanely strong. I don’t care much for Camargo at 3B, and expect McNeil to beat him pretty soundly. I don’t care for the catchers on either team particularly much, but there’s more depth in Atl. The outfield is interesting. Acuña is better than any outfielder we have by a good distance. I’ve bet against Markakis for 2 years on.y to see him eat the Mets alive. Add Ozuna and Duvall and Encierte as a defensive guy, and I think you have a predictably better outfield on both sides of the ball. Sure I’ll take Conforto or Nimmo over Duvall but you line up Ozuna, Acuña, and Markakis and that’s pretty rough.

        I’m not crazy about their pen, but truth be told, outside of Lugo I’m not really sure what the Mets have no matter what Familia says. They could be good, really good, but, maybe not…

        The Braves have a long history of making life hard for NY. in the absence of injuries, id say they are simply a better team, unless a string of “ifs” land for NY.

      • Chris F
        February 10, 2020 at 7:01 pm

        I forgot to add, I like Anthopolous / Snitker better than BVW and a rookie skipper.

        • Remember1969
          February 10, 2020 at 8:15 pm

          Thanks Chris for the thorough response. Overall, I tend to agree with your assessment. I have gone through the NL East head to head by position much the same way you did to rank the players. I did a simple “would I trade that one for this one straight up” – not particularly scientific and also not easy. I understand your point on defense, but I don’t think I’d trade Rosario for Swanson at this point. Swanson has had a couple poor years with the bat – is there more to him than that? I don’t quite understand the MLB team depth chart listing of Inciarte starting in center, Acuna in right and Markakis on the bench. It seems like a better outfield with Ozuna, Acuna, and Markakis. I think Davis has the potential to equal or exceed Ozuna.

          I also think that NY has the bench depth advantage. I agree, though that Atlanta has the makings of the top team in the division – they have been there and certainly can do it again. They will miss Donaldson’s bat, but their good young pitching staff will be one year more mature.

          Conclusion – Atlanta or NY will finish 1, the other 2, Washington 3 and Philly 4. To me it all comes down to health. If Atlanta gets full years out of Freeman, Albies, Swanson, Ocuna, and Azuna and their pitching staff can be whole the entire year, they will be tough to beat.

  4. Eraff
    February 11, 2020 at 6:08 am

    When we get around to projecting wins, I’m pretty sure that nobody will greatly argue against a Mid to Upper 80’s Floor for the Mets….and in the same breath we’ll have a collective “allmost total” dismissal of Lowrie, Cespedes, Diaz, Familia, and Cano.

    I’m not a Fan of every past move, but the Mets arrive with depth and Quality. You need some fortune to win, so I’m hoping that even “just two” of those 5 return to some historical production level. That increases Mets Roster value for Use or Trade.

    I believe they’re they only team, other than Atlanta, that can win the East.

    • Chris F
      February 11, 2020 at 7:58 am

      upper 80s floor? I dont think so. THeres a big difference between 84 and 88 wins as the floor. I think the floor is 81-83, with the ceiling being 86-89.

      • February 11, 2020 at 8:44 am

        I’m pretty bullish on the Mets but if none of the relievers bounce back (unlikely, but certainly not impossible) and a SP goes down, this team could fail to break 80 wins.

  5. MattyMets
    February 11, 2020 at 8:39 am

    I see the Mets and Braves battling for 1-2 and 90 wins with the Nats and Phils battling for 3-4 and 85 wins. I don’t see significant improvement from the Marlins and again see them as a distant 5th.

    None of these teams is Yankee/Dodger deep and can fall back with injuries. I like the Mets offense a lot. Could be the best since 06, especially if we get contributions from Cespedes and Lowrie. I like our rotation and think the bullpen will surprise. Depth/bench depends heavily on the health of Cespedes and Lowrie and if we trade Smith (I hope not). My biggest concern is the same as it was heading into last season – defense.

    Frazier was arguably our best everyday glove. Only Marisnick and Guillorme, who figure to play sporadically, profile as plus defenders. McNeil and Conforto are solid and so is Rosario if the yips don’t return. But, the rest are weak. Nimmo has a noodle arm and doesn’t belong in center ideally. Davis is a bad fielder wherever we put him and Dom Smith is not a natural OF. Ramos is definitely below average and Alonso is better than expected but still no better than average. Cano is sure handed but has little range and I’m concerned about how many ground balls are gonna find their way through the right side.

    • February 11, 2020 at 8:55 am

      My feeling is that the Marlins’ offense almost has to be better than what it was last year. They may not be likely to finish anywhere but fifth in the NL East but I could see them improving by 8 or so games and that seems significant.

      Hopefully they do better than 4-15 against the Braves next year.

  6. February 11, 2020 at 2:44 pm

    Here’s a neutral prediction that gives the Phillies a 2.1% chance of making the playoffs:

    The Mets? They have them with a 52% chance.

  7. Remember1969
    February 11, 2020 at 6:12 pm

    Interesting stuff . . I get the simulated won-loss records, but not sure I understand the percentages .. anybody get how the ‘adjusted pct’ is figured?

    Obviously, I don’t have a program to throw a lot of number into to simulate the season, but there seems to be quite a bit of variance in there from the way I would pick things at this point. (Braves third, just a hair more than a .500 team? odd)

    • Chris F
      February 11, 2020 at 6:29 pm

      I think it’s it’s important to note that these are all modeling runs and that the standings they show represent the run they get the most outcomes in their simulation. However, it’s better to look at their graphs, which show a large amount of overlap between the Mets, Nats and Braves. If you do statistics, and see the range for 2 standard deviations on the curves, virtually any outcome from first through third is just as likely, although their modeling has the loss of Donaldson as very painful, so less likely to land in first, even though they have modeling runs that easily could get them in first. The danger is reading the standings they report at face value. Of course that’s what fans see every day in the season, but in reality the wins and losses columns based on their curves should be something like 87 +/- n (n=some number). When you look at the plus and minus range, for the top 3 you would see reasonable solutions that have any outcome.

      Click on the little graph button to see the frequency percent plots. It’s actually much more informative than the projected standings!

      • TexasGusCC
        February 11, 2020 at 7:34 pm


      • Remember1969
        February 11, 2020 at 9:04 pm

        If I am reading the graphs correctly, and I understand that it is probably done with n number (n = quite a few, I assume) of modelling runs, it still shows the Braves (far) more likely to win 80 or less games than they are to win 90 or more. The win total in the spreadsheet appears to be where half of the simulation runs are greater and half the runs are less (the shaded area being the ‘volume’ to determine the mid-point’). I would assume that number would be the number to be the N wins +/- x as you offer above, or the number presented as simulated wins in the spreadsheet.

        I have not seen any of the detailed Atlanta player projections, but it really does seem like they don’t like Donaldson leaving. It is just hard to fathom that the mid-point of current Braves team modelling runs is less than 83 wins. As discussed above, on paper, they have a stronger team than that.

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