The Mets have 12 walk-off losses this year. These losses have had a major impact on their record; had they won, say, even one third (4) of those games, their playoff position would look dramatically different (and better) than it does today. In the MSM, writers use the walk-off losses to bemoan the Mets' lack of "clutch" hitting or "fire." In the stats-based community, on the other hand, close games like these are often chalked up to randomness - indeed, David Biderman of the Wall Street Journal recently noted, discussing the Mets, that "sometimes this walk-off loss statistic is nothing more than a product of bad luck" (emphasis added). Stats like Pythagorean Record are used to estimate what a team's record "should" be, based on runs scored and runs surrendered, and it is normally expected that a team's eventual winning percentage will be close to its Pythagorean winning percentage once the luck evens out. The Mets' Pythagorean Record right now is 54-46, three games better than their actual W-L record, suggesting that they've been a bit unlucky in this regard.
But of course, close games like walk-offs are also where managerial decisions can contribute much more heavily to wins and losses. And if a manager is pursuing a particular close-game strategy consistently, and wrongly, then there's less reason to expect that the team's performance in such games will improve. With that, this FanPost (my first!) examines the Mets' 12 walk-off losses and the use - or lack thereof - of Francisco Rodriguez in those games. Very little of this is likely to surprise anyone here, but I thought it would be useful to actually lay out the evidence.
Here's a link to each Mets' walkoff loss with a brief description:
April 14, 2010 - Ianetta homer off Mejia
May 3, 2010 - Nix homer off Acosta
May 5, 2010 - O. Cabrera homer off Feliciano
May 13, 2010 - Nieve WP
May 18, 2010 - Wright throwing error after IF single off Mejia
May 28, 2010 - Hart homer off Igarashi
June 2, 2010 - Gonzalez homer off Valdes
June 29, 2010 - Uggla single off Feliciano
July 1, 2010 - Zimmerman sac fly off Igarashi
July 3, 2010 - I. Rodriguez single off F. Rodriguez
July 21, 2010 - Snyder single off Nieve
July 24, 2010 - Loney homer off Perez
Examining each box score, Francisco Rodriguez pitched in 3 of those 12 games. In 2 of them (June 2 vs SD and July 3 vs WAS), he had entered the game in a save situation and blew the save - in the SD game, the Mets went on to lose later; in the WAS disaster, K-Rod lost the game himself. In the other (June 29 vs FLA), he was brought in the game in a low-leverage situation (aLI: 0.18) in the bottom of the 8th to "get work" - he was dominant, retiring the side on only 11 pitches - but because his spot was due up in the 9th, he was pinch-hit for (by Carter, whose double keyed a game-tying rally). Feliciano, attempting to run the gauntlet of the Marlins' righties in the bottom of the 9th, failed and lost the game. Although his use there is debatable, I'll give Jerry a bit of a pass on that one - regular work for a pitcher is important, and based on the lineup situation, there was no double-switch Jerry could have made when inserting K-Rod in the 8th that would have allowed him to potentially pitch 2 innings without taking out one of the Mets' better players. (The last Mets' batter retired in the top of the 8th was the #4 hitter.)
That leaves 9 games, all walkoff losses, where K-Rod, ostensibly the Mets' best reliever, didn't pitch at all. (Small note: actually, to this point, the Mets' best reliever is Parnell, based on both FIP and xFIP, but that's subject to small sample size warnings, and Parnell wasn't available for use until the last month or so. In any event, K-Rod is at least the Mets' 2nd-best reliever according to FIP and xFIP.).
All 9 of these games involved high-leverage situations (the lowest aLI for the Mets' final pitcher, for Acosta in the May 3 game, was 2.03), yet the Mets lost each game with an inferior pitcher - sometimes a vastly inferior pitcher (e.g. Perez, or Feliciano against good righties) - on the mound instead of their ace reliever. We don't know, of course, if the Mets would have won any of these games had K-Rod pitched, but we do know that they lost them, and a pretty reasonable conclusion is that playing inferior players over better ones increases a team's chances of losing. Again, out of these 9 games, imagine if the Mets had won even a third (3) of them. They'd be 3.5 out of first instead of 6.5. They'd be 2.5 out of the wild card instead of 5.5. A substantial difference in their chances of making the playoffs.
As we learned a few days ago, the Mets apparently don't plan on changing their approach to using Rodriguez in tie games on the road, with Dan Warthen saying this approach is "standard across baseball." Of course, standard doesn't mean it's actually a good idea, in this case, it clearly isn't.