Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Lesson In Mediocrity: The New York Mets Over The Years

It's a slow news day on the Mets front, so I decided to see if I could find something of interest to write about. I didn't want it to be boring, but I couldn't think of anything exciting to write about either. Basically, I was left with writing something mediocre. And that's when it hit me like an off-kilter slider by Jesse Orosco (47-47 as a Met) or a wayward fastball by Oliver Perez (29-29 as a Met).

This year's Mets team, especially since the All-Star Break, has been hovering at or around the break-even point. A .500 team is usually the definition of mediocrity. So are the 2011 Mets the most mediocre team in Mets history?

Don't worry, Mr. Met. Every team wins some and loses some. Of course, the Mets are experts at both.

The Mets were so bad in their first few seasons that they didn't reach the .500 mark for the first time until their fifth season. Compare that to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who won the World Series in only their fourth season of existence. And it's not like the Mets reached the .500 mark late in the season. They reached .500 exactly twice in 1966, when they were 1-1 and 2-2. (Their first above-.500 mark came after three games, when they were 2-1.)

The following year, the Mets once again reached the .500 mark exactly twice, registering a 1-1 record after the first two games of 1967 and a 4-4 mark after eight games.

The Mets showed "progress" in 1968, the first year of Gil Hodges' much-too-short tenure as Mets manager, reaching the .500 mark three times. Unfortunately, all three times occurred within the first six games of the season, when the Mets were 1-1, 2-2 and 3-3.

That all changed in 1969.

In that miraculous season, the Mets continued their early season .500 trend, going 1-1 and 2-2. They also went above .500 for only the second time in team history, when they were 2-1 after three games. But this time, they decided that mediocrity in April wasn't good enough. On May 21, the Mets reached the .500 mark for the first time after the sixth game of the season, when they improved to 18-18. They reached .500 again ten games later (23-23), then went above .500 to stay on June 3, remaining above the break-even point all the way to the World Series championship.

Unfortunately, the Mets returned to a life of mediocrity in the 1970s, never more so than the early part of the 1970 season, when the Mets reached the .500 mark 13 times in the first 28 games. In fact, the Mets were a .500 team after every even-numbered game of the first 28 contests except after Game 20. (They were 11-9 after 20 games, but were 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, all the way up to 13-13 and 14-14.) Overall, the Mets reached the .500 mark on 20 separate occasions in 1970.

That trend continued throughout the disco decade, as the Mets reached .500 seven times in 1971, twice in 1972, six times in their pennant-winning 1973 season, twice in 1974, seven times in 1975 and 15 times in 1976. Then came the Dark Ages (no, not the continued growth of disco).

From 1977-1983, the Mets reached the .500 mark a total of 28 times, with a high of eight during the strike-shortened 1981 season. (Note: The Mets were .500 on three separate occasions during the first half of the '81 season. When they returned from the strike, it was decided by Major League Baseball that each team would play a split season, meaning that every team would begin at 0-0 once play resumed. During the second half of the '81 season, the Mets reached the .500 mark five more times, giving them a total of eight for the entire season.) Other than 1981, no Mets team over a full season reached .500 more than five times during those post-Midnight Massacre campaigns.

Not including the wacky 1981 split season, the only time the Mets climbed their way up to .500 after the All-Star Break was in 1980, when the magic came back at 42-42 and 43-43. However, the team lost their next game on both occasions when they made it to .500.

From 1984-1990, the Mets finished with winning records every year, not stopping for long at the .500 mark in any of those campaigns. Over those seven seasons, the Mets were a .500 team on 29 occasions, and were never at or below .500 after June 13 in any of those seasons. (They were 30-30 on June 13, 1989 and 28-28 after the first game of a doubleheader on June 13, 1990.) Also, the Mets were above .500 throughout the entire 1985 season, which marked the first time since 1965 that they never had a .500 record after any game and the first time ever that they had a winning record after every game.

The next six seasons (1991-1996) were lean years for the Mets, as they finished below .500 every year. In 1991, the Mets resembled the 1985 team, staying above .500 for most of the season. That changed on August 15, when the team dropped to .500 (57-57) for the first time all year. That would be the only time the Mets were at .500 all season, as they lost their next game to drop to 57-58 and never climbed back to the break-even mark.

That trend continued in 1992 (six times at .500, reaching the mark for the final time at 48-48), 1993 (five times at .500, but not after they were 8-8), 1994 (11 times at .500, all in the first 52 games), 1995 (only reached .500 once, at 2-2) and 1996 (reached .500 twice, but only at 1-1 and 2-2).

In 1997, the Mets experienced another renaissance. After hitting the .500 mark for the second time on May 16, the Mets didn't drop below .500 again until 1999. They were at .500 on three occasions during the 1998 season but always won the following game. The 1999 Mets were exactly a .500 team on four occasions, while the 2000 Mets were at .500 on six occasions on the way to their fourth National League pennant. The 2001 squad spent most of the season below .500 before finishing barely above the mark, stopping at .500 three times along the way.

The 2002 Mets tied the 1970 team by being at .500 on 20 separate occasions. Unfortunately, the 20th time they hit .500 was during their season-changing 12-game losing streak in August. The following year, the Mets reached .500 four times in their first eight games, but dropped below .500 after their ninth game and did not return to the break-even point again in 2003. For the first half of the 2004 season, the Mets flirted with .500 many times, hitting the mark 16 times, before an 11-game losing streak late in the season ended all chances of reaching it for a 17th time.

In 2005, the Mets brought in manager Willie Randolph to guide the New Mets of Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez. That team reached new non-heights and non-depths in mediocrity, breaking the 35-year-old franchise record for most times at .500, achieving that so-so feat before the All-Star Break. When the Mets won their final game before the Midsummer Classic to improve to 44-44, it marked the 21st time they found themselves at exactly .500. At year's end, the Mets found themselves one exit north of mediocrity, four games over .500 at 83-79, but not before hitting the mark 27 times during the regular season.

The 2006 Mets were 1-1 after two games. After improving to 2-1 the next day, the Mets didn't see the .500 mark again until the second game of the 2008 season, when once again, the Mets stood at 1-1. The 2007 team become the second squad in franchise history to have a winning record after every game, tying the mark set by the 1985 Mets. The 2008 team spent so much time around .500 (14 times) that ownership felt Jerry Manuel would do a better job than Willie Randolph. Of course, Manuel didn't do as well in 2009 and 2010. The 2009 team spent most of the season below .500 (hitting the .500 mark seven times), while the 2010 model was the second-most mediocre Mets team of all-time, reaching .500 on 23 separate occasions.

That brings us to the 2011 Mets.

The Mets lost the final game of their four-game series to the Padres today, dropping them to 58-59. Entering the game, the Mets' record stood at 58-58. It was the 17th time this year the Mets found themselves at .500. Only four other Mets teams have been at the .500 mark more times during the regular season than the 2011 team (1970, 2002, 2005 and 2010).

This year's Mets stand a good chance to break the 2005 team's record for mediocrity in a single season (27 times at .500). Despite the Mets' recent ability to excel in mediocrity, no Mets team has ever finished at exactly .500 (81-81). The 1975 and 2001 Mets came closest to accomplishing the feat, with both teams finishing their respective seasons with identical 82-80 records. Only the 1975 team went into the final game with a chance to finish at exactly .500. (They entered the season finale with an 81-80 record, but won their final game to avoid the .500 mark.)

Some teams underachieved on their way to mediocrity (see the 2001 Mets), while others rode their mediocrity all the way to the World Series ("Ya Gotta Believe" that I'm talking about the 1973 Mets). The 2011 Mets are somewhere between those teams (which I guess makes them the most mediocre of the mediocre teams), with role players playing above their heads filling in for the injury-plagued starters, while other players have performed below expectations (Jason Bay, Angel Pagan and Mike Pelfrey, to name a few).

For 50 seasons, the Mets have experienced extended periods of success, while also going through various periods of disappointment. The 2011 Mets don't really fall into either category. With 11 more games at the .500 mark, they will officially become the most mediocre Mets team of all-time. But if you've seen this team day in and day out this season, you probably knew that already.


Joe D. said...

I dont know where you get the time to do all of this amazing research, Ed. So what are you trying to say exactly, that we're just a mediocre .500 team and not really as Amazin as all of us thought we were? ;-) I'm telling Mr. Met on you.

Ed Leyro (and Joey Beartran) said...

The team might be mediocre, but Mr. Met certainly is not.

Research? What research? I had all of these numbers already in my head. ;)