Visualizing the Mets’ Series Domination

The Mets just made the formula look pretty simple. You want to win in the playoffs? You have to hit, especially at the right times. You have to be good in the field, and you have to be aware on the basepaths. And you have to have good pitching, and you want to give the ball almost exclusively to the good pitchers. Baseball looks pretty simple when a team does literally everything well, and while you don’t want to just project the Mets’ NLCS performance ahead into the World Series, there’s no denying the fact that the Mets didn’t just beat the Cubs — they clobbered them. They outplayed the Cubs everywhere, and the Cubs would probably be the first to tell you that.

There’s obvious consolation for the Cubs and their fans. If there are any teams set up better for the future, you’re talking about maybe just the Dodgers, and this was a Cubs team that arguably arrived a little ahead of time. There are going to be more opportunities, and there are very likely going to be some NLCS wins. This pain will fade; the future’s too beautiful. One year ago, the Royals felt worse. Now they’re on the verge of getting back to the Series. You know all this stuff. Four losses aside, the Cubs are doing fine.

Yet before we all start to look ahead, to next week and to next season, I want to take a quick chance to reflect on the NLCS that just wrapped up. I don’t do this to rub anyone’s noses in it. I do it just because I think it’s interesting. Within a historical context, just how noncompetitive was this series?

Start with the obvious. In a best-of-seven series, the Mets won four games, and the Cubs won none games. It’s impressive enough to sweep away another quality opponent. But even beyond that, the Cubs never once held a lead. The Mets scored in the first inning in all four games. Game 2 was never real close; Game 4 was never real close. Game 1 was un-tied in the fifth. Game 3 was un-tied in the sixth.

On the series, the Mets outscored the Cubs 21-8. The Mets also finished with an .833 OPS, against the Cubs’ .522 mark, for an OPS differential of 311 points.

I decided to collect data for all the noncompetitive best-of-seven series. So I narrowed all the series down to just the sweeps, and I eliminated a couple old-timey sweeps that also included games that ended in ties. I wound up with 27 series on my spreadsheet, and I plotted run differential and OPS differential, with colors designating whether or not the team that lost ever at any point held a lead. There would be other ways to do this, but this works well enough. Research was made relatively simple by Baseball-Reference.

The graph:

non-competitive-series

The Mets/Cubs NLCS overlaps almost perfectly with another series — the 2012 Tigers/Yankees ALCS, in which the Yankees were outscored by 13, and out-OPSed by 315 points. In that series, the Yankees also never held a lead, although they did at least send the first game into extra innings with an insane ninth-inning rally (you remember). With this perspective, the Mets/Cubs NLCS was indeed pretty noncompetitive, but it wasn’t the least competitive best-of-seven series we’ve ever seen. That would probably be the 1989 World Series, where the A’s swept the Giants and outscored them 32-14. Or maybe you take the 2007 World Series — the Red Sox outscored the Rockies 29-10, and while the Rockies held a lead, they did so once, in Game 2, scoring a single run in the top of the first.

If you’re curious, that one anomaly is the 2007 Rockies/Diamondbacks NLCS. The Rockies won all four games, and they outscored the Diamondbacks by 10, but the Rockies actually somehow got out-OPSed. It was a funny end to the season for a Diamondbacks team that won 90 games while getting out-OPSed during the year. Maybe “funny” isn’t the right word. I doubt they saw it that way.

We can examine the Mets and Cubs in more detail. Here are all four of the win-expectancy plots, labeled and on top of one another.

win-expetancies-nlcs-game-by-game

You can see the two relatively close games, and you can see the two relatively easy games. By our own logs, the series featured a total of 299 “play events.” I noted before that the Cubs never had a lead on the scoreboard. Of those 299 events, just 24 took place when the Cubs stood a better than 50% chance of winning the given game. The Cubs never had a win expectancy better than 59%. The Mets had a win expectancy of at least that much 80% of the time. The series, in other words, was comfortable. It was memorable not for its individual moments, but for the Mets’ sheer domination.

Here’s another plot, showing the Mets’ odds of winning the NLCS at every moment in every game. I simplified for this, figuring all the games were just 50/50. It shouldn’t make too much of a difference. The vertical lines show when one game ended.

overall-series-win-expectancy

The Cubs’ best shot at the series came somewhat early in Game 1. When Starlin Castro doubled home Anthony Rizzo with nobody out in the fifth inning, the Cubs’ game win expectancy was about 59%, and the Cubs’ series win expectancy was about 53%. Two batters later, Yoenis Cespedes threw Castro out at home, trying to score on a single. In the bottom of the same inning, Curtis Granderson singled home Juan Lagares. The Cubs’ series win expectancy dropped to 43%. It would soon drop below 40%, then 30%, then 20%, then 10%. At no point Wednesday night did the Cubs have better series odds than about 7%. The first inning dropped them to 2%. The rest of the game only delayed the celebration.

The Mets swept the Cubs to advance to the World Series. The games were won by just two, three, three, and five runs, but this was a trouncing. The door for the Cubs was almost never open. And when it was, it was open only long enough for the Cubs to get it slammed on their fingers. The Mets couldn’t have played much of a better series. Few teams ever have.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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What about BaseRuns?
Guest
What about BaseRuns?

What about BaseRuns?

Or
Guest
Or

They’re very similar to ZoneTouchdowns.

Noah Baron
Member
Member

BaseRuns is a backwards-looking winning percentage metric. It’s meant to indicate how good a team was during the regular season.

It shouldn’t be used to predict future games, however. Playoff rosters are almost always completely different from the regular season teams.

During the regular season, Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee, Logan Verrett, Jon Niese combined to start roughly 40% of the Mets games. In the playoffs, they started zero games. The fact that none of those pitchers are good shouldn’t be relevant when it comes to predicting who will win a playoff series.

During the regular season, Kevin Plawecki started more games at catcher than any other Met.

During the regular season, Eric Campbell played almost twice as many games at third base as David Wright.

During the regular season, Michael Cuddyer and Juan Lagares combined for 260 games on the Mets compared to 113 games for Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto.

You get the point. A better way to predict who will win a playoff series is to actually look at the players on each team’s playoff roster – not just compare regular season BaseRuns records and call it a day.

Wobatus
Guest
Wobatus

I think he was joking, and also may have been referring to baseruns in this series.