Warning: small sample size. This well-worn caveat exists at the intersection of statistical analysis and human-interest narrative. At once, it says to the reader, “yes, I know that what I’m about to tell you cannot be representative of a greater truth, but I’m going to tell you anyhow,” and “who cares if it’s a seven game sample these numbers are just so big/small!” Both exclamations are equally relevant for established stars and vanilla role players. As the sample becomes less small, the “warning” wanes, as does the human-interest narrative. When this happens, the established players stand out more and more. From a big picture perspective, players who heroically lift their teams come from the places we expect.
The Mets need some heroes to lift them to the postseason, which, as the days pass, appears like it will have to come by way of the Wild Card rather than a division title. Those heroes, to use a baseball idiom, are unlikely to come out of left field. To get a sense of what a player can do for a team over the course of roughly a half-season of baseball, I sought out the best second halves in Mets’ history. The sample for a second half (usually a bit more than 81 games) is relatively small, but it’s large enough to demonstrate that the Wilmer Floreses of the world might be single game heroes, but over months of play, the stars stand out.
According to Baseball Reference, the Mets players with the highest sOPS+ for the second half of a single season yield a list of great players in the midst of great seasons:
There aren’t many surprises here. Perhaps Bernard Gilkey’s run of excellence is just as forgettable now as it was when it was actually happening, but the man posted an eight win season in 1996. Cleon Jones doesn’t stand out, but the “1971” next to his name elaborates why. But Jones’s second half that year was just a slightly better continuation of his first half. He finished up the season with a 144 OPS+. Perhaps Lucas Duda’s second half run in 2011 can be seen as surprising because it was the first time he’d gotten that much playing time, but in hindsight it’s not unexpected. Otherwise, this list is a who’s who of great Mets hitters, from Keith Hernandez to David Wright.
The best second half starting pitching performances, this time measured by sOPS+ against, are slightly more varied with regard to stars and others, but it is still dominated by players we’d expect:
Of these, Steve Trachsel’s 2001 is the only second half that was not also part of an excellent full season. He posted a 2.74 ERA over 14 second half starts and 98.2 innings. For the season, however, he produced a 4.46 ERA and an ERA+ of 93. Otherwise, there aren’t surprises on this list either.
The second half of the 2016 season is just a week old, so the split OPS+ figures for hitters range from Neil Walker’s -8 to James Loney’s 158. Bartolo Colón’s 150 represents the highest (worst) among the starters, Jacob deGrom’s 69 is the lowest. Right now, the samples are too small to draw any second half conclusions—the heroes, if there will be any, are yet hidden. If they do emerge, however, they’ll be from the places we expect. The Mets need more than great second halves from players like Yoenis Céspedes, Michael Conforto, and Noah Syndergaard, but they can’t get there without them.
Photo credit: Brad Penner: USA-TODAY Sports.