Any team that wants to have success over the course of a Major League season must take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. Those opportunities often are with runners in scoring position (RISP), and over the course of a long season if you do not cash in on the opportunities you will fail to make the playoffs.
What do the following teams have in common?
2000 New York Mets - .243 RISP (30th) 4.16 ERA (3rd)
2006 Oakland A’s - .243 (28th) 4.21 (7th)
2007 Arizona D’Backs - .249 (28th) 4.13 (7th)
2007 Cleveland Indians - .255 (27th) 4.05 (5th)
2008 Milwaukee Brewers - .245 (29th) 3.85 (4th)
2012 Atlanta Braves - .231 (29th) 3.42 (5th)
2013 Pittsburgh Pirates - .229 (27th) 3.26 (3rd)
2015 Chicago Cubs - .236 (28th) 3.36 (3rd)
2015 St. Louis Cardinals - .242 (27th) 2.94 (1st)
The answer is, since 2000 they all finished in the bottom five in AVG. w/ RISP and still made the playoffs. In the case of the 2000 Mets, they won the National League pennant but lost in the World Series. All of the nine above teams were carried by their pitching staffs, since their offense was not coming through in the “clutch.” Only the 2006 A’s and 2007 D’Backs finished outside the top five in ERA, while the others were all in the top five.
What does all this have to do with the 2016 season? Well, of the bottom five teams in AVG w/RISP, the only team with a realistic shot at the postseason is the Mets, hitting .209 — the worst in baseball. It gets even worse for the Mets with RISP and two outs. They are hitting .170 — again the worst in baseball. What if we load the bases for them? They are still only hitting .205, 28th in baseball. As you can see, it is extremely rare for a team to struggle this much with RISP and still be in contention for a playoff spot: Only nine teams in the last 16 years have made the playoffs.
Hitting with runners on base isn’t much of a skill. Most hitters will do just as well with the bases empty as they do with runners on base, meaning there shouldn’t be much of a dropoff. But that doesn’t change the fact that the 2016 Mets are having some historic struggles with bringing runners around to score, and that might sink their already fading playoff hopes.
As of August 22nd the Mets are third in the majors in team ERA, which continues to fall in line with how the above teams made the playoffs after having so much trouble driving runs in with men in scoring position. The amazing part is the Mets have done this without Matt Harvey (and when they did have Harvey he was not himself), as well as struggling staff as the season goes on. In the last week the Mets have a 5.69 ERA, 23rd in baseball over the same span.
Before their series with the Cardinals, Fangraphs gave the Mets 0.1% chance at winning the division and 12.3 % chance at obtaining a Wild Card spot. The Mets have had a long season, as detailed last week by Nick Stellini, but they still somehow find themselves within striking distance of the Wild Card. There is still a month and a half to go in the season, but if the Mets can have some other areas work (Cespedes gets hot, the pitching holds up, and they start driving runs in with men in scoring position), then they can join the above list and make the playoffs. If they do, who knows? Maybe they follow the same script as another Mets team in 2000 and return to the World Series.
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Carl Triano is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and Minor League Ball.