The 2018 Mets exist in the new age of baseball statistics, one where teams are trying to quantify the value and effect of previously disregarded variables such as luck (BABIP) on the outcome of games. With the third-best record in baseball behind only the Red Sox and Angels, the Mets’ best start in franchise history can be easily explained by the team’s strong combination of pitching and hitting to begin the season. The Mets have allowed the second-fewest runs in the league, own the lowest team ERA in all of baseball, and rank seventh in OBP and VORP, Baseball Prospectus’ value over replacement player for hitters. The Mets have thus far performed like one of the best teams in the majors and the numbers paint the same picture. Or do they? What if there was a statistic out there that hasn’t been quantified but does explain the Mets 12-2 start?
If you’ve watched the amazin’ Metropolitans this season, you’ve almost assuredly noticed the team’s uncanny ability to answer opponent scoring. Doesn’t it seem like every time they allow a run they score one right back in response? It isn’t your imagination though; the Mets are as resilient a team as there is in baseball and the numbers back it up. Before Monday’s game, the Mets had allowed opponents to score in 31 innings this season and had immediately responded with a run in their next at-bat an astounding 14 times. Yes, you read that right. After allowing an opponent to score, the Mets scored in their next at-bat 45% of the time. It’s a feat so remarkable that it almost seems unfair; how can they possibly keep doing this?
The unfortunate answer is that they probably can’t keep this up, unless Mickey Callaway is actually a wizard and not just a well-renowned pitching coach and manager. This ability to put runs on the board immediately after being scored upon is hard to fathom and it’s happening at an assuredly unsustainable rate. The Mets have pulled the feat off at least once in every series besides the brief two-game series against the Phillies, and it’s happened in 10 of the team’s 14 games thus far. Of the 14 occurrences, seven were to tie the game and three were to take the lead. The Mets have given their league-best pitching staff above-average run support in just about every game of the season, and even for the games they haven’t, they’ve somehow found a way to still come out on top.
The 12-2 start has upped the Mets postseason chances to 51.2% according to Baseball Prospectus’ Playoff Odds Report, and the model gives the Mets the best chance of any team in the division to win the NL East. There’s been a lot of talk about how the hot start is all SSS (small sample size) and the Mets ability to answer opponent scoring will eventually regress back to the mean along with their win total. What that argument fails to address is the fact that 10 wins in April count exactly the same as 10 wins in August or September. The Mets can go .500 the rest of the way and still finish with 86 wins, which was enough for a Wild Card berth in the 2017 postseason. The team has stayed relatively healthy (although they’ve lost just as many games as starting catchers) for a change and they have the look of a team primed for success in October. One of the best starting rotations in the game, a hard-throwing bullpen, a lineup that can get on base as well as anyone and tactical managing from Callaway make the Mets as dangerous as a team can look on April 17.
It’s unreasonable to expect the Mets to keep winning games based on their ability to bounce back, but it’s not unreasonable to believe they can keep winning games based on the healthy talent on the roster. The Mets ran into a ton of bad injury luck in 2017 and it’s extremely unlikely those problems persist in 2018. At some point though, the bats are going to get cold and the pitching staff will have a couple bad outings and Mets fans will lose their collective minds. The incredible 45% answer rate is going to drastically decrease at some point, but you know all that. It’s a long season that has many ups and downs, but the Mets are responsible for a lot of wins and one weird statistical anomaly so far. Immediately scoring after giving up a run doesn’t actually mean much; it could be luck or coincidence or any number of reasons. But it’s a fun treat on a thus far fun team, and, if nothing else, it gives fans a little peace of mind.
Photo credit: Steve Mitchell – USA Today Sports