The Mets are going to the playoffs. You heard me right. I'm not just intrigued by their hot start. I'm not just saying they might be better than we thought. I'm saying that the Mets will make the playoffs. And the juiciest part is that that's only sort of an opinion statement.
How can I responsibly make such an overly bold, wildly premature statement? In short, teams don't start 11-3 and NOT make the playoffs. (That's pretty much the gist, if you're in a rush. But if you'd like some, y'know, evidence, do read on.)
Since the beginning of time—meaning the earliest statistical record of the game of baseball—76 teams have started the season 11-3. Three have done it this year: the Mets, Kansas City Royals, and Detroit Tigers. (This is a Mets article, but if you're a fan of one of the AL Central teams, find and replace Mets and Royals/Tigers in this piece because things are looking equally good for your squad.)
That leaves us with 73 teams and 73 'rest of the season' historical records with which to play—dating all the way back to Cap Anson's 1876 Chicago White Stockings (who would eventually become the Cubbies).
Brief programming note: In order to make sense of the differing lengths of seasons we'll look mainly at winning percentage. (Obviously there are various other mitigating factors skewing the data here, but if we tried to normalize for every difference between every era of baseball this would become my PhD thesis.)
So at this point it's a pretty simple exercise—we'll look at every team that began the season 11-3 and see where they ended up, as measured by winning percentage.
Well, friends, the results are in and they are promising. Specifically, the average season winning percentage for teams that began 11-3 is .592, which translates to a 96-66 record in terms of today's 162-game season length. See why I'm encouraging optimism?
Now let's dig into the most interesting piece, the playoff implications. So on the surface, our pool includes 43 playoff teams:
- 16 World Series champions
- 18 pennant winners
- 6 division champions
- 3 wild card teams
That list includes teams like the 1986 Mets, the '26 and '28 Yankees, both teams from the storied 1918 World Series (Cubs and Red Sox) as well as the competitors and rivals from the historic 1922 World Series, when John McGraw's Giants beat the Yankees.
However, when you think about it that means a whopping 30 teams (with an aggregate .555 winning percentage) did not make the playoffs. Seems high, right? Well that's because we haven't accounted for the different playoff structures over the years. For example, eight teams in our pool with at least a ridiculously high .600 winning percentage (that's a 97-win team in today's terms) did not make the playoffs before 1943.
So let's take a look at the historical odds of making the playoffs after an 11-3 start and also parse for each playoff structure:
One Postseason Round (1876-1968): 62%
Two Postseason Rounds (1969-1993): 61%
Three Postseason Rounds (1994-2011): 63%
Four Postseason Rounds (2012-present): 75%
Once again, the results are very promising—and they're seemingly getting better with time. Honing in on today's structure, with three postseason rounds and an expanded wild card round, three of the four teams to start at 11-3 have made the playoffs—the 2012 Cardinals, the 2013 Reds, and the 2014 Giants.
What's more, if we assume that the current winning percentage threshold to reach the playoffs is .547— the average winning percentage of all wild card teams since the start of the current postseason structure in 2012—54 of our 73 teams clear the bar. That's a 74% postseason rate. Further, only four teams went on to sub-.500 records (including the weird and anomalous 1978 Oakland Athletics, who finished 69-93 after their 11-3 start).
Is all this to say that the 2015 Mets are a bulletproof, stone-cold, lead pipe lock to make the playoffs? No, obviously I can't say that (though it seems extremely safe to say they're going to be darn close). What I can say is that history is clearly passing us a pair of rose-colored glasses. And considering the much more important fact that, apart from some lingering question marks, the structure of this team—and its underlying farm system—appears to be very sound, all signs point to yes.