With Spring Training 2.0 now underway at CitiField, the sense that actual baseball being played in 2020 is palpable. No doubt, misgivings about putting people together in the midst of a spiraling pandemic still run deep, especially with Mike Trout, the game’s best player, seriously questioning his participation – and for good reason. Nevertheless, baseball is only a few weeks away from its unusual 60-game season. So what do the Mets look like after the first 60 games played in the last five years? Let’s find out below.
The first thing to consider in this exercise is why focus on the start of the past five seasons as opposed to the final 60 games, which would align better with the time of the year. No super good comparison exists for what is about to happen for such a 60-game stretch, but the start of the season makes the most sense. The main reason for looking at season starts is that all teams have the same record and are tied for first place. By the time 100 games have elapsed so many factors are baked into the records that just focusing on time of year is not smart. By 100 games each division will already have lost one, two, or three teams from real competition, injuries have potentially put a large stamp on a team, and it has been shown that the first 60-game (say two months) record poorly correlated with the end of season record for baseball teams in general. Basically, a huge amount of variation is imposed on the record based on short streaks. Records only begin to stabilize after 60 games and really only become super stable after four months of games as shown here: https://community.fangraphs.com/when-do-the-standings-matter/
In the 5-year stretch from 2015 through 2019, the Mets have never been in first place after 60 games, although they were essentially tied for first in 2015 (0.5 games back having played one more game that the first-place Nationals). Of those five seasons, they would have been essentially out of the post-season in 2017-2019; in 2015 the Mets were National League Champions, but would not have made the post season after 60 games despite being 0.5 back in the East. The only season the Mets would have made the post season in the first 60 games in recent times is 2016, when they were 8 games over .500. Looking at the compiled record for all five seasons in this analysis, the Mets were 147-153 for a .490 winning percentage. The standard deviation is +/- 3 games.
A lot has been written here at Mets360 over the years about the Mets finishing strong in recent seasons. Excellent articles from earlier this year looked to see if the end-of-season player performances translated to a success “hangover” in the next season, which you can read about here http://mets360.com/?p=39968 and here http://mets360.com/?p=39976. The research showed no real correlation. Looking at this from a team perspective reinforces that analysis. In the past five seasons, the Mets have an outstanding record in the last 60 games of the season, playing .560 ball or better in four of the five seasons; only the terrible 2017 season did the Mets play poorly to finish the season with a winning record of .367. The compiled record for the last 60 games is 167-133 for a .557 winning percentage. Reviewing the first 60- from last 60-game record shows the team with a 70-point improvement. One can debate the string of causes for such a consistently dramatic difference in performance, but it seems to be real.
What does all this mean for this crazy 2020 baseball season if it actually materializes? I am inherently skeptical of how past seasons predict future seasons because the variables are so many such that a team with different players and managers playing other teams with different players and managers from season to season should not be correlated. That said, patterns that develop for a team are broadly worthy of consideration if there is a team philosophy in how it is run that might bend the course of play. This analysis indicates the Mets need to really step up their game this season and make the most of every out in order to be competitive. One positive will be the weather, with no games played in snow. Add the reigning Cy Young and Rookie of the Year award winners and that is certainly special. Here’s hoping the Orange and Blue flip the recent pattern and start with a .560 winning percentage!