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Crazy Eights

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Happy 2008 everybody! Like millions of others, my wife and I spent last night at home, on our couch, playing Wii and watching the animated remains of Dick Clark awkwardly count us down to the new year. I hope you all had as much fun as we did, lamenting the passing years as ABC trotted out some of the biggest musical acts of 2007, none of whose existence I had previously been aware.

As for the Mets, the boys from Queens roll into 2008 with roughly the same squad that finished one game shy of an NL East title in 2007. As for years ending in '8', the Mets have a short-but-prosperous history of performing better than they had in the prior '7' seasons. Arbitrary, yes, but with little else of substance to keep us going through these cold months, a trip down frivolous lane never hurt anybody.

Somewhat interestingly, the Mets have never posted a worse record in an xxx8 season (e.g. 1968, 1978, etc.) than in the xxx7 season (e.g. 1867, 1977, etc.) that preceded it.

Decade xxx7 xxx8 Delta
1960s 61-101 73-89 +12
1970s 64-98 66-96 +2
1980s 92-70 100-60 +8
1990s 88-74 88-74 +0
2000s 88-74 ??-?? ??

Without any further research I would hazard to say that there is little correlation between a franchise's historical performance in a decade's eighth year relative to its seventh year and its likelihood of repeating that prior success (or failure) moving forward. There is nothing inherently magical about their past septenery-to-octonary improvements, I think.

1967-1968

Unlike their marginal record improvement in the seventies (see below), this one has a perfectly reasonable explanation: Their pitching got a whole lot better. In 1967, the Mets got sub-par starting performances from the likes of Jack Fisher (72 ERA+ in 220.1 innings), Bob Hendley (98 ERA+ in 70.2 innings) and Bob Shaw (79 ERA+ in 98.2 innings), plus a slew of also-rans like Bill Denehy, Dennis Bennett, Jack Lambe, Chuck Estrada and others. Those middling arms were largely replaced by Jerry Koosman (145 ERA+ in 263.2 innings), Dick Selma (109 ERA+ in 169.2 innings) and Jim McAndrew (132 ERA+ in 79 innings). The result was a team ERA+ increase from 91 to 111 (22%). Their team OPS+ improved slightly from 83 to 87 (5%), but it was the arms that precipitated the surge in victories and, ultimately, the stunning world championship of 1969.

1977-1978

Only a two game improvement here, and a surprising one at that. Considering that the Mets traded Tom Seaver (and to a lesser extent, Dave Kingman) in the middle of the 1977 season, one might have expected them to decline a bit, even from that year's harrowing 61-win sleepwalk. The Mets actually posted identical 72-90 pythagorean records, or expected records based on their run differentials, in 1977 and 1978. The Mets did see offensive improvements from Lee Mazilli and John Stearns, though any actual improvement in their winning percentage may have been illusory at best.

1987-1988

Much like the sixties' teams, the eighties' teams enjoyed a spike in victories on the strength of their pitching. Specifically, two would-be rotational stalwarts found personal success that ultimately led their team to its second-best record in franchise history. Ron Darling improved his ERA+ from 89 to 100 (from poor to average) and David Cone improved his ERA+ from 102 to 146 (from average to NL top-ten). The bullpen also chipped in to help the cause, as the top two relief spots saw significant upgrades in performance. Randy Myers took over the primary closing duties and posted a 189 ERA+ (compare to Roger McDowell's 91 ERA+ from 1987). Jesse Orosco and his 86 ERA+ were replaced by McDowell, whose 123 ERA+ was a welcome amelioration from his previous season. As a team, the Mets' ERA+ jumped from 99 to 112 (13% increase).

1997-1998

This was the decade that changed this article's premise from "record always increased" to "record never decreased". The Mets' ERA+ got a bump from 103 to 111 (8%), largely due to the arrival of Al Leiter. Their offense regressed somewhat from a 100 OPS+ to a 96 OPS+ despite the addition of Mike Piazza and an otherworldly season from John Olerud.

Of course, this is just a goofy little exercise, none of which portends certain success or failure for the Mets in 2008. Invariably, the players, with a little help or hindrance from their manager, will determine the fate of this year's club.