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How Helpful Is a 7-3 Start?

Posted By Howard Megdal On April 17, 2012 @ 10:06 am In Today's Mets headlines | Comments Disabled

Before I get to the topic at hand, I just want to point out that I weighed in on a possible Jose Reyes tribute yesterday [1], before all the cool kids were talking about it. My position hasn’t changed: this would be a classy, high-road move by the Mets, and I’m happy to see them doing it.
Now, to what actually matters. The Mets are 7-3 to start. There are two schools of thought on this that I think miss the full picture.
One is to point out that sure, they are winning now, but they have 152 games to screw it up, so 7-3 means nothing.
The other is to ascribe a 7-3 start to a magical season ahead, with the first ten games serving as omen.
As anyone who follows the game knows, the wins in April count just as much as the ones in September. However, the first ten do not count more than the second ten, and only half as much as the next twenty.
So what does 7-3 really mean? Let’s break it down.
Mets are currently playing at a 113-win pace. I think it is fair to say that no one thinks this team is five games better than the 1986 Mets.
Let’s assume for a moment that this is a true talent 70 win team, which is about where I put them at the start of the year. If that is true, they’d be expected to play at a .432 winning percentage level (70-92) over their final 152 games, or good for another 66 wins. However, by playing 7-3 ball to begin the season, that would make them a 73-win team overall. In other words, the fast start adds three wins to the win total, and they can bank those.
Ah, so if they are a true talent 70-win team, the fast start is merely cosmetic. But what if I have underestimated them?
If the Mets are a true talent 80 win team, then they’d play .494 ball over the remaining 152 games, which would be good for another 75 wins. Add that to the seven they have already banked, and a true talent 80 win Mets team ends up with 82 wins, thanks to the hot start. Still cosmetic, but a winning record is a lot nicer to look at than a losing record.
And if the Mets are a true talent 90 win team, then the Mets would expect to win approximately 84 games over the final 152. Add the seven they’ve banked, and that turns a 90 win Mets team into a 91 win Mets team. And at that level, the Mets know all too well that one more win could be the difference between a postseason berth and an October of golf. In other words, it adds less to the win total, but at this level, wins mean far more.
Now here’s the bad news. Let’s say the Mets are a true talent 120 win team, and I am way, way off in evaluating them. That 7-3 start, at a piddling 113-victory pace, has taken the win expectancy of a hypothetical 120-win Mets team all the way down to 112.59 over the remaining 152 games. Add in the seven wins they’ve already banked, and it rounds up to 120, but barely. Keep playing at that 113-win pace, and they can probably kiss the 120-win season goodbye by early May.
One other note: those seven wins have all come at the expense of divisional opponents, making them a good bet to be worth more in the overall playoff chase than wins against, say, Houston, since it also pins a loss on their likeliest rivals for playoff spots.
Needless to say, 120 wins was probably a pipe dream before the mere 113-win pace start.
Almost certainly, the Mets have helped themselves by several games already, thanks to the fast start. Feel free to use this piece as a clever retort to anyone who tells you otherwise. With our fantastic mobile site, it should be easier than ever.

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[1] Jose Reyes tribute yesterday: http://mets.lohudblogs.com/2012/04/16/weekend-roundup/

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