There is plenty of optimism surrounding the New York Mets heading into the 2014 season, but is there too much at this point in the spring?
John Harper of the New York Daily News reported on February 27 that Mets general manager Sandy Alderson set a goal of 90 wins in a meeting with team executives.
This is a lofty goal, considering the “Amazins” haven’t had a winning season since 2008 and haven’t cracked the 90-win plateau since 2006.
Coming off a second-straight 74-88 campaign in 2013, the front office is certainly putting pressure on the coaching staff and team to improve their win total by 16 games.
Boston Red Sox
With Bobby Valentine at the helm in 2012, the Red Sox went 69-93—their worst record in a nonstrike season since 1960. Boston scored 4.53 runs per game in 2012, but a team ERA of 4.70 led to a run differential of minus-72.
They cleaned house with a blockbuster trade in August, then fired Bobby V. at the conclusion of the season. That gave the organization the ability to start from scratch and rebuild.
There are many reasons why the Red Sox enjoyed success last season. However, the most fundamental difference is that they hit and pitched better. The offense scored 5.27 runs per game and the pitching staff posted a 3.79 team ERA. That led to a run differential of plus-197 and a record of 97-65.
Oh, and a World Series title.
In addition to outscoring their opponents more often, Boston took care of business when it counted. They improved in head-to-head matchups against other American League East opponents, one-run games, extra inning contests and games at home.
Boston general manager Ben Cherington made significant moves last offseason, bringing in players like Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes and Mike Napoli (among others). Hope for a step in the right direction was expected, but their end result was something no one saw coming.
In looking at both of these success stories, the one completed by the Orioles is one Mets fans should pay close attention to. The organization hadn’t experienced a winning season since 1998, and the front office put their faith in Buck Showalter to right the ship as manager.
MLB Trade Rumors highlighted their offseason acquisitions prior to 2012 getting underway. Some moves were made, but it seemed more needed to be done to improve from a 69-93 record in 2011 and become a playoff team.
During their improbable 2012 season, the Orioles saw a major improvement in run differential. They went from a minus-152 showing to plus-seven. Historically speaking, teams with that kind of number hover around the .500 mark. However, Baltimore rode that to a 93-69 record and a playoff berth.
While their offensive output virtually remained the same (4.37 runs per game in 2011, 4.40 runs per game in 2012), their pitching improved greatly—especially the bullpen.
The Baltimore pitching staff lowered the team ERA by nearly a full run in just a year’s time (4.89 in 2011 to 3.90 in 2012). Matt Snyder of CBS Sports reported that New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman recently said the 2012 success of the Orioles was an “anomaly” based off their run differential.
Even if this was an anomaly, this didn’t magically happen. Baltimore’s bullpen was a major reason for the team’s success.
In 2011, Showalter’s relievers resided in the lower half of the American League with regard to team wins (23), ERA (4.18), WHIP (1.35) and saves (32). The following season, they posted a 3.00 ERA and 1.21 ERA. They also led the AL in bullpen wins (32) and saves (55).
An improved bullpen meant better performances in close games. The Orioles went from a 22-22 record in one-run games during 2011 to a staggering 29-9 mark in 2012. They also went from an 8-8 record in extra innings to 16-2 over that same span of time.
Comparing the 2014 Mets to the 2012 Orioles provides hope that a 90-win season actually isn’t so crazy to imagine. Baltimore’s pitching is what catapulted them into the playoffs, while its offense virtually remained the same.
New York is hoping Curtis Granderson, Chris Young and Travis d’Arnaud help revive a struggling offense. However, if the Mets want to have a winning season, their pitching must carry them.
The areas of improvement for the Mets are clear. They posted a minus-65 run differential last season thanks to averaging 3.82 runs per game, but the team 3.77 ERA saved them from a bigger deficit.
If Terry Collins’ squad is going to get better this season, it must beat division opponents with more regularity (34-42 record against the National League East in 2013). The Mets will also have to win more at Citi Field, as they went 33-48 at home last season.
Why would Sandy Alderson create such a lofty goal for the organization? If this team gets to the .500 mark, that would be considered a success.
My question is, why not shoot for 90 wins? If a team aims for mediocrity—like a .500 record—it's destined for just that.
The Major League Baseball regular-season schedule is six months long. If the Mets are seen as an 80-win team, fewer than two more wins per month (1.67, to be exact) gets them to 90 wins.
If New York is an 85-win team in the eyes of analysts, one more win a month gets them to 91 wins. Playing well and getting a lucky on occasion could have them on the cusp of this crazy number.
Does this goal seem a bit unrealistic? It absolutely does.
However, other teams have been able to turn their fortune around quicker than expected, so why can’t the Mets? Anything can happen in baseball, and the unknown from year to year is what makes this game as wonderful as it is.
Matt's Mets opinions have been featured on MLB Trade Rumors, Yahoo! Sports, MetsBlog, Amazin' Avenue and Mets Merized Online. To keep up with Matt, you can follow him on Twitter.