Why the Mets are a 2011 sleeper team

Let’s pretend that before the 2010 season started, I told you that I had a projection system and my system predicted that the Blue Jays, Reds, A’s and White Sox were sleeper teams. You trusted me and went out and placed wagers in Las Vegas for these four teams to exceed their Over/Under win projections. How would you have ended up doing?

According to Vegas Watch, these teams had the following Over/Under totals for 2010 and in parentheses next to that I’ve placed their actual wins.

Blue Jays – 71 (85)
Reds – 78 (91)
A’s – 78 (81)
White Sox – 82 (88)

The same system predicted before the 2009 season that the Braves, A’s and Rockies were sleeper teams. Here are the 2009 Vegas Watch preseason Over/Under and actual wins.

Braves – 83.5 (86)
A’s – 81.5 (75)
Rockies – 77.5 (92)

Chances are that after seeing my system went 6-1 over the past two years, you would be at least a little curious to see who it projected as sleeper teams for 2011. Well, my system projects the Mets, Marlins and Cubs to be this year’s sleeper teams.

Actually, system is a bit of a stretch. I started off by comparing 2010 team records by overall wins, record in one-run games and blowouts, defined by Baseball-Reference.com as games with a run differential of five or more. Here is that information, sorted by total wins:

Team Overall One-Run Blowouts
Phillies 97-65 29-17 30-16
Rays 96-66 29-27 29-15
Yankees 95-67 20-19 35-17
Twins 94-68 31-23 32-16
Giants 92-70 28-24 22-13
Reds 91-71 27-27 27-16
Braves 91-71 23-22 27-19
Rangers 90-72 30-23 22-11
Padres 90-72 28-22 25-14
Red Sox 89-73 22-26 26-18
White Sox 88-74 28-21 23-20
Cardinals 86-76 20-22 33-18
Blue Jays 85-77 24-28 26-27
Rockies 83-79 28-30 18-15
A’s 81-81 23-20 25-18
Tigers 81-81 16-26 22-21
Marlins 80-82 23-28 22-22
Angels 80-82 24-25 21-25
Dodgers 80-82 26-24 15-22
Mets 79-83 25-30 20-16
Brewers 77-85 26-23 25-33
Astros 76-86 21-18 12-31
Cubs 75-87 22-32 23-26
Indians 69-93 23-21 21-29
Nationals 69-93 20-28 19-30
Royals 67-95 27-30 14-30
Orioles 66-96 29-21 10-31
Diamondbacks 65-97 19-23 19-28
Mariners 61-101 21-28 12-30
Pirates 57-105 20-24 11-39

Old baseball “wisdom” says that what separates the good teams from the bad teams is knowing how to win the close ones. But we see this is not true at all. The Rays and Yankees, the teams with the second and third best records overall, barely finished above .500 in one-run games. But those same two teams finished with a .659 and .673 record in games decided by five or more runs.

The good teams clean up in blowouts. Among the teams that won 90 games, the worst record in blowouts was the .641 of the Padres. In one-run games, the worst record was the .511 mark of the Braves. The Red Sox, who finished with 89 wins, had a losing record in one-run games. Four teams with winning records had sub-.500 marks in one-run games while only one team with a winning record finished below .500 in blowouts, as the Blue Jays went 26-27.

Conversely, only one team with a losing record had a mark over .500 in blowouts – the Mets. The Marlins finished at .500 while the Cubs were three games under. Meanwhile, nine teams under .500 finished with a blowout record under .500 of at least eight games. Only one of those sub-.500 teams finished with a one-run record eight games or more below .500 – the Nationals, who finished exactly eight games under.

I checked to see how rare it was for a team to finish under .500 yet have a better than .500 record in blowouts. It happened three times in 2009 (Reds, Blue Jays, A’s) and once in 2008 (Braves). So, it is not unheard of to happen, but it is pretty rare. A losing team is twice as likely to finish 15 games below .500 in blowouts than they are to have a winning record. Since 2008, 10 teams with losing records have been 15 or more below .500 in blowouts.

The four teams that finished above .500 in blowouts but that had losing records overall each exceeded the Over/Under total the following year. I added three more teams that finished close to .500 to make “the system” not seem infallible.

It seems that perhaps a team’s record in blowouts is indicative of the talent on the squad while a team’s record in one-run games has more to do with some combination of luck and managerial skill. If this theory is true, it would be a less than glowing comment on Tony LaRussa, whose Cardinals went 33-18 in blowouts, the second-most wins in the majors behind the Yankees, yet finished with a 20-22 record in one-run games.

On the flip side, the Orioles went 29-21 in one-run games despite a 10-31 record in blowouts. Baltimore used three managers during the seasons. Here they are in order, with their one-run records:

Dave Tremblay: 7-10
Juan Samuel: 10-6
Buck Showalter: 12-5

More than half the teams in the league finished within four games of .500 in one-run games. Here are the teams that finished five or more games under .500 in those contests:

Tigers: 16-26, Mets: 25-30, Cubs: 22-32, Nationals: 20-28, Mariners: 21-28. Three of these teams will have a different manager to start 2011 than they did in 2010. The Nationals made a managerial move the previous season.

It’s likely the Mets underperformed in 2010. Their record in blowouts suggests this. Their Pythagorean record, which was two games better than their actual record, also suggests this. Hopefully, Terry Collins can get more out of the talent on hand than Manuel did. If he does, and the injuries are kept to a manageable level, there’s no reason to think the Mets could not challenge for the Wild Card in 2011.

And they might make a good pick based on the Vegas Over/Under, too.

3 comments for “Why the Mets are a 2011 sleeper team

  1. Jonathan
    December 2, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    I can’t speak for the other teams, but in the Yankees case many of their one run games started out as potential blow out losses rather than being close contests throughout that they ended up winning or losing. These were games they fell way behind early (just about any game started by Burnett or Vazquez) and then came back to either win the game or fall just short.

    • Brian Joura
      December 2, 2010 at 10:43 pm

      Of the Yankees’ 39 one-run games, only four of them were they behind by three or more runs any time up to the end of the fifth inning.

      5/1 – Fell behind 5-1 after four innings — lost 7-6
      5/10 – Fell behind 3-0 after two innings — lost 5-4
      8/11 – Trailed 6-1 after five innings — won 7-6
      8/13 – Trailed 3-0 after two innings — lost 4-3

      The Yankees played 11 one-run games in September and two more in October. And all eight in August came after the first week

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