The New York Mets are the most underachieving team in baseball. The Yankees are the most overachieving. That’s not exactly a surprise. But for frustrated Mets fans, there’s even more to be frustrated about: A look at the team’s record shows that it is actually outscoring opponents. Just not when it counts.
The stats to compare are the Mets’ run differential and winning percentage—a textbook favorite of baseball statisticians.
With a record of 42-49 (through Wednesday, July 9), the .462 winning percentage puts the Mets in fourth place in the Eastern Division, eight games out of the lead—and barely two games ahead of the last-place Philadelphia Phillies. That’s even though the Mets have outscored their opponents this year, scoring 361 runs while giving up 355.
According to the Pythagorean expectation made famous by Bill James, the Mets record should have hovered above .500— more specifically .508, or 46-45 after 91 games. That’s a difference of more than four games. That’s a huge number, considering it would have put them only 3.5 games from a Wild Card spot if they had achieved what they were supposed to do.
The difference of four games makes the Mets the biggest underperformers of 2014. At the opposite end are the cross-town Yankees, which have won 4.4 games more than the team should have. A winning record of 46-44 has come despite being outscored, 397 to 366. The 31-run deficit is ninth-worst in the majors this year.
Compare the two teams against the trend line at which teams perform as expected. The Mets’ winning percentage is the biggest negative outlier of any team, while that of the Yankees is the most positive.
Now let’s look more closely at the teams centered around .500, the ones whose under- and over-performance can flip a team from having a winning record to a losing one. Here you can see how extreme the two New York teams’ performance has been:
All this comes down to when runs are scored. The Yankees efficiently use their runs to win narrow games. They tend to lose in blowouts. The Mets do the opposite; they cluster a bunch of runs for blowout wins while losing close games.
Typically, run differentials predict future winning percentages. That suggests that the Mets should overtake the Yankees. But baseball isn’t about statistics alone. And every Met fan knows not to expect logic to work in the team’s favor.