It’s said often. It’s repeated here . It’s taken as something approaching gospel:
In the course of a season, a baseball team is going to win a third of its games no matter what it does and lose a third of its games no matter what it does — it’s the other third of its games that determines the success of that baseball team’s season.
Y’know what? Hogwash.
We are now at the exact one-third mark of the 2010 season, the Mets having played 54 of their scheduled 162 games and compiled a record of 27-27. I have been tracking every game the Mets have played thus far specifically to determine, to the best of my “fanalytical” abilities, whether the one-third formula has held over the first third. If it has, the Mets should have won 18 games without a doubt as to their outcome, lost 18 games without a doubt as to their outcome and gone 9-9 in the other 18 that are determining their season.
Yet it hasn’t worked that way, according to a little something I cooked up called the DTI or Determining Third Index. I have sought to identify, on a going basis, the nature of each Met result. I watch the game, I consider its ebb and flow and I slot it under one of four headings:
• Games the Mets were going to win no matter what anybody did.
• Games the Mets were going to lose no matter what anybody did.
• Wins that are determining the Mets’ season.
• Losses that are determining the Mets’ season.
Like I said, the Mets’ DTI record should be, if the one-third formula is accurate, 18-18/9-9. But it’s not. Instead, it’s 12-12/15-15. So, based on these findings through 54 games, please revise the familiar bromide to read as such:
In the course of a season, a baseball team is going to win 22.2% of its games no matter what it does and lose 22.2% of its games no matter what it does — it’s the other 55.6% of its games that determines the success of the 2010 Mets’ season.
I have no idea how typical the 2010 Mets’ experience is in context. They are not the 1962 Mets (40-120) who most emphatically did not win a third of their games in any form and they are not the 2001 Mariners (116-46) who won more than seven-tenths of their games. They’re not an outlier. If anything, as a .500 team, they should be a perfect testing ground for the one-third formula. But how they’ve gotten to .500 indicates to me far more than one-third of their games have been up for grabs.
Of course you might wonder what the bromide-coiners meant when they came up with the part about “going to” win or lose. I take it to mean that there are games that you just know your team isn’t going to blow or isn’t going to capture. Baseball-Reference can tell you all about Win Expectancy and Win Probability , but your gut — and probably your heart — can pretty well gauge how a Mets game is going. Likewise, your head can tell you if it takes off definitively in another direction or if it hasn’t made itself clear where it might wind up. To me, that’s the so-called “other third,” or, per my tracking of the DTI, the other 55.6%.
Mind you, this is an on-the-ground, middle-of-the-action way of looking at it. This is not an after-the-fact exercise. We’re not going back to a game from early in what turned to be a glorious championship season and marking it as a turning point. Ditto for not deciding, in retrospect, that we all should have known the lousy season just completed was going to hell when this or that game didn’t go our way. It also can’t possibly take into account that on a particular day, the starting pitcher was messing around in the bullpen, found a new grip and began to figure out what he was doing wrong all these years. He got shelled that day, but later on, playing a hunch, he used the grip and led the team down the stretch. That would determine your season, I suppose — as would maybe the left fielder’s biorhythms suddenly spiraling awesomely upward — but how would we know any of that from watching?
Also, let’s consider the phrase “determine your season”. If you’re already going nowhere but home on the last day of the schedule, what difference does a taut, tense game that enters the bottom of the ninth 1-1 make to your bottom line? But put that game at the end of 1999 , and, as Felix Unger might say, it makes a great deal of difference. By the same token, an uncompetitive 8-1 loss in which your starter lasts only a third of an inning on the last day of the season definitely sounds like one of those you’re “going to lose” affairs. Yet, if it happens at the end of 2007 , with a playoff spot sitting squarely on the line, then I’d say it just determined (and devastated) your season.
There are many variables to consider in examining the one-third bromide. This 54-game examination is simply an exercise that mixes educated observation with well-honed hunches of the “Oh well, we weren’t going to win today anyway” or “Dude, that was in the bag all the way” nature. It’s also leavened with a Mets fan’s feel for the game. You know, holding a lead but somehow knowing it’s not safe, staying close but understanding intrinsically we were doomed or even (as hard as this may be to fathom coming off the most recent road trip) having a sense that we were never out of it, no matter the early deficit.
Don’t use any of this in Vegas, but feel free to take it as you will, particularly the next time anyone starts to tell you about destiny, determination and thirds of seasons.
Following is a breakdown of the first third of this season by DTI, with select examples of the four kinds of games the Mets have played and how they’ve played them.
GAMES THE METS WERE GOING TO WIN: 12
The Mets started the season with one of these, a 7-1 handling of the Marlins  by Johan Santana. I suppose he could have gotten locked in the John that morning, but otherwise that was the kind of game you just knew was a W in the making as it unfolded. Likewise, when the Mets went to Philadelphia on a roll, Barajas hit a couple of home runs and Niese cruised — that seemed fairly predestined , too. Maybe you couldn’t have seen R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi coming in a universal sense, but their shutouts over the Phillies on the last homestand, 8-0  and 5-0 , respectively, felt pretty much in the bag all the way (dude). Though the final score was close — 4-2 — I had almost no doubt the Mets would win Mike Pelfrey’s start in San Diego this week  once they got him a few runs. Ike Davis brought too much good karma to his major league debut  on April 19 for the Mets to be denied, and they weren’t. Four nights later, John Maine had to leave early and Frankie Rodriguez made us hold our breath late, but the Braves barely showed up (misreading infield fly rules, et al), so that was one is slotted as one the Mets were going to win no matter what .
GAMES THE METS WERE GOING TO LOSE: 12
Blowouts of the unfriendly kind go here, such as Roy Halladay’s 10-0 whitewashing  in Philadelphia or the next night when Johan gave up 10 earned runs . When none of your pitchers is the least bit effective — even if you’re losing only 6-4 in the middle of the game — you just know you’re going to lose…which is what happened the other night when Padres 18 Mets 6  went final. But it’s not only really bad pitching. The first week of the season, when the Mets couldn’t touch the generally vincible Burke Badenhop , that’s a game that wasn’t going to be ours, never mind the 3-1 score. When Pudge Rodriguez goes 4-for-4 and the Mets strike out 11 times, you know the Nationals have an edge  far greater than a 3-2 tally (or anything a Ford commercial is selling) would indicate. Most obvious sign things aren’t going your way? When your speedy centerfielder hits an inside-the-park home run and starts a triple play, yet you never much see any chance of winning. That’s when what could have been the Angel Pagan Game  become just another one the Mets were going to lose no matter what.
THE WINS DETERMINING THE METS’ SEASON: 15
A numbing 20-inning game  in which you outlast the Cardinals should determine something other than you’re not going out for a while. A soaking 6-inning game  when you sneak away with 1-0 decision should determine something other than your lack of dryness. Dingers  dinged in the ninth inning or later  by power-packing catchers  go here, as do six-run eighth-inning rallies that are put to undeniably good use . But this isn’t all rousing comebacks and tests of endurance. On the first Friday night of the season, the Mets beat the Nationals, 8-2. That’s here, both because it was 2-2 in the seventh and because Mike Pelfrey seemed on the verge of melting down early yet didn’t  (and hasn’t he gone a long way toward determining wins thus far?). The 4-0 victory the Mets posted somewhat handily over the Cubs on April 20 looks fairly routine on the surface, but it required Jose Reyes finding his legs  (first triple since returning from the DL) and Fernando Tatis finding his pinch-hitting stroke (two-run, eighth-inning homer) — it also turned out to be the beginning of a beautiful homestand, though we couldn’t have known then. When Raul Valdes throws five relief innings  once John Maine is pulled after one batter…when K-Rod fans A-Rod to end it…when a 3-0 lead is gripped tightly enough to become the finale in a Goose Egg Sweep …those are wins that seem to be determining the Mets’ season.
THE LOSSES DETERMINING THE METS’ SEASON: 15
You’re down 6-1, you’re in the process of making it 6-all, yet somewhere in there Fernando Tatis doesn’t score on a passed ball  that doesn’t pass very far…discouraging sign en route to a 7-6 loss. Willie Harris dives and robs you of your dignity  as well as a walkoff win…also not a good omen in a 4-3 defeat. Names like Chris Ianetta , Laynce Nix , Orlando Cabrera  and Adrian Gonzalez  take on nasty connotations with last at-bat swings for the fences…you get the idea. These games are the daggers in your schedule, though they stab at you from different angles. Oliver Perez might pitch a very good game  only to have Felipe Lopez hit a grand slam off Raul Valdes; you might withstand Tim Lincecum and a whipping wind but you can’t overcome Oliver Perez’s seven walks in fewer than four innings ; David Wright might strand a tying run in the top of the ninth and throw away the winning run  in the bottom of the ninth; Yovani Gallardo might last just a little longer  than Johan Santana. Everybody from Adam Wainwright  (complete game win despite trailing 3-0 the night after his team lost in 20 innings) to Roger Bernadina  (2 home runs and a Harrisesque catch) to Fernando Nieve  (walkoff wild pitch) is culpable in losses that seem to be determining in the Mets’ season.
There’s admittedly a good bit of touch and feel to all this. Maybe it was folly to think the Mets could beat Adam Wainwright with John Maine on April 18, but we did lead 3-0 in the fifth, and it was tied 3-3 in the eighth. Maybe it’s not giving Big Pelf big enough credit to think he wasn’t going to beat Washington on April 9, but at the time, we couldn’t be sure he wasn’t last year’s model. Maybe we shouldn’t have doubted the Mets’ ability to fend off the Yankees when they led their Sunday night clash 6-1 and held on 6-4. Maybe the Mets losing by two to the Marlins on May 15 implies strongly it wasn’t fait accompli that they’d lose just because Maine walked the first four Fish he saw…but your gut knew it was  (as did your heart).
And maybe the second third of the season will show us this all smoothes out, that there will be fewer nailbiters and heartbreakers and more clear-cut results. Maybe after 108 games, we’ll see a ratio that hews closer to the mythical one-third formula. I’ll continue to keep track and let you know in a couple of months, but I am fairly confident that I’ve discovered a new bromide:
“In the course of a season, a baseball team is going to win a third of its games no matter what it does and lose a third of its games no matter what it does — it’s the other third of its games that determines the success of that baseball team’s season” is hogwash baseball people came up with to absolve themselves of responsibility when their baseball team loses lousily.
The next third of this season promises one brand new benefit, courtesy of a great new blog called Hope is the Best of Things , authored by former ace ESPN researcher Mark Kelly. The Shawshank reference alone should be enough to draw you in, but be sure to stay for the sports.