Baseball is a wonderful game, but it can be full of clichés at times — even though a lot of them are true. We’ve all heard the following handful (or some variety of them) too many times to count:
- You can never have too much pitching.
- Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint.
- You can’t win championships in April, but you sure can lose them.
That last one is what I’d like to focus on today. The New York Mets’ tremendous start last year (12-2 to start the year, 17-9 at the end of April) is no secret. The complete collapse that soon followed also isn’t a secret. As we continue waiting for Opening Day to approach, I was curious as to whether there was any correlation between the Mets having a successful April and finishing the year with a record worthy of being in the playoffs (or, at least in the hunt).
Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections currently have the Mets projected to finish second in the National League East with an 87-75 record, giving them the first of two wild-card spots. So that 87-win threshold is what will be used as the (very arbitrary) barometer. Here’s a quick look at how New York has performed in these scenarios since 2000.
Of the team’s 19 opportunities, they’ve produced winning records in April on 11 occasions, logging at least 14 victories 10 times (which are bolded above). Of those specific instances, the Mets went on to finish with 87-plus wins six times (all bolded above, which also resulted in four playoff appearances).
Two Aprils with a losing record eventually led to an overall winning record, but New York’s season-long win total in both instances was limited (82 wins in 2001, 83 in 2005). Obviously, there are a lot more variables that go into this conversation than strictly looking at the numbers. Players — whether they’re unproven or on the wrong side of the aging curve — need to sustain whatever performance they put forth in that first month, along with staying healthy. Which is always a challenge for the Mets.
This is far from a black-and-white scenario. However, it seems that a strong April performance can set the Mets up for eventual success when the sky doesn’t fall on them like it did in 2018.
The 2015 season is a good example of how a strong April can impact the months that follow. Despite a 15-8 record through one month, they were just 53-50 at the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31st before the mid-year acquisitions of guys like Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, and Yoenis Cespedes helped fuel a second-half surge. Without an above-average April, the front office likely wouldn’t have felt it was a good idea to make those win-now moves that ultimately pushed New York over the top.
Through the end of this upcoming April, the Mets are scheduled to play 29 games. It’s not the easiest of schedules, but if they come out of the gates playing well, the squad obviously has a better chance of getting to that 87-win plateau. If New York posts a 17-12 record during this stretch, they would need to go just 70-63 over the final 133 games to get there.
So yes, while the “You don’t win championships in April” cliché is still true, the Mets can set themselves up for success even before playing in their 30th game of the year. If they’re in a similar position to 2018, let’s hope the improved depth Brodie Van Wagenen has acquired and a year of experience from manager Mickey Callaway helps steer the club in a better direction.
And if the first month doesn’t go that well, let’s hope New York can buck some trends.