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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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The Taylor Teagarden Era Begins

You can all thank me now.

In the bottom of the sixth, with the bases loaded and two outs and 981st Met in history Taylor Teagarden at the plate, something I’d been wondering about for a day or two finally coalesced in my head, and so — as happens these days — emerged as a tweet.

I got there because they say it takes two points to make a line, and I found myself with three.

The first point had shown up on Metsblog a couple of days back: a note that the Mets were 8-17 in one-run games. Every baseball fan knows such extremes aren’t sustainable: Here’s some proof if you’re feeling mathy; if not, the lowdown is that too good or bad a record in one-run games suggests luck is at work, and a regression to the mean is on the way. And that’s important: Metsblog noted that if the Mets had even managed a mediocre 12-13 record, they’d be tied for first place. In the underwhelming NL East, granted, but it counts.

The second point arrived via ESPN’s Mark Simon, who posted this during the afternoon:

Basically, the Mets are in the middle of the pack in terms of balls hit hard, but at the absolute bottom when it comes to converting those balls to hits. When I asked Mark if he hadn’t essentially posted a Luck Index, he warned that big ballparks could have an impact too. (And indeed, you’ll find the A’s and Giants a bit lower than you might have expected.) But it seems safe to say that there’s a fair amount of luck involved — I wasn’t surprised to see the Blue Jays in the top spot.

Then, finally, there was a note tonight from the SNY booth, not long before Teagarden stepped into the box: The Mets were ranked third in baseball at getting runners into scoring position, but 24th in on-base percentage with runners in scoring position.

You can chalk that last one up to ill-advised hitting philosophies, the fear of fans booing, or mental toughness. (If you must. Perhaps sunspots and the Illuminati are involved too.)

Or maybe that one is also shaped by a fair amount of luck.

Anyway, all this came together in my head, I tweeted my serious question, and approximately two seconds later Teagarden hit a liner over the right-field fence for a grand slam, turning a 2-1 lead you figured wouldn’t last into a 6-1 prelude to a rare and incredibly welcome laugher.

We don’t like to think too much about the role luck plays in the outcome of baseball games, let alone seasons. Or at least I don’t — it makes watching baseball feel a bit too clockwork, like I’m staring at some kind of flesh-and-blood version of Pachinko. So instead we do something that’s more satisfying but no more logical: We make up stories to fit the data. You know the drill: Good teams are resilient and well-led and have chemistry; bad teams are lazy and rudderless and selfish.

This isn’t something we do just with sports. We’re wired for it as humans — we’re extraordinarily good at finding patterns and ferreting out connections. Most of the time that helps us learn and plan and succeed. But the side effect is we’re also pretty good at finding patterns where there aren’t any, insisting we hear signal when there may not be anything but noise. And that can lead us to silly conclusions — or sometimes ones that are unfair and/or dangerous.

Look, the Mets have a lot of problems that are definitely signal: a withered payroll, untrustworthy owners, and too many ABs and innings given to subpar players. But on top of that, they sure look like they’re contending with more than their share of lousy luck — noise, in other words. If that sorts itself out, as such things tend to do, perhaps things aren’t quite as bleak as they appear.

And if not, what the heck — at least it’s a nice thought to kick off the Taylor Teagarden Era.

16 comments to The Taylor Teagarden Era Begins

  • Lenny65

    And right after I was pointing out how awful the Mets catchers have been in recent years…that’s all they needed, some constructive criticism!

  • 9th string

    Yeah, we’ll, don’t forget the 2 strikeouts and a dp.

  • Dave

    I still think his name sounds like a PBS kids show with meadow fairies, or at least a Cat Stevens album.

  • kd bart

    One run games, luck and regression to the mean:

    2012 Baltimore Orioles, 29-9 in one run games. 93-69 overall. Made the postseason.

    2013 Baltimore Orioles, 20-31 in one run games. 85-77 overall. Don’t make the postseason.

  • The Jestaplero

    I don’t think it’s luck, or ballparks. I think it’s talent. Major league players hit the ball hard. The good hitters hit ’em where they ain’t.

  • argman

    Hockey players speak openly about luck – they call it puck luck, and if you ask a Rangers player or fan it has been going against them in their series with the Kings.
    Psychology has a term called cognitive dissonance that is somewhat similar to what Jason describes – we come up with a rationale to explain what we see happening.
    The ESPN data don’t say that the Mets are a great offensive team, only that they are having some poor luck in converting their had hit balls into hits.
    On the other hand, while I was happy when he it, it kind of depressed me that the biggest hit of the night was by a journeyman who doesn’t figure into their plans for next week, let alone next season.

    • open the gates

      Actually, I think Taylor Teagarden played for the Mets a few years ago. Only back then, he went by the name “Omir Santos”.

  • open the gates

    It’s a slippery slope. They used to say that about the late ’70’s/early ’80’s Mets: they lost lots of one-run games, if they could just have won a few of those games they would be competitive, they never catch the breaks, etc. Hindsight – they weren’t unlucky. They were just really, really bad.

    Bottom line: The good teams win the one-run games because they have the killer instinct. When you’re good, you make your own breaks. When you’re bad, you blame it on the “at ’em balls”. Not good enough.

  • Rob D.

    Right, but as the Little League coaches say, you can only hit the ball hard.. you can’t guide the ball off the bat. So if they keep hitting the ball hard, luck and percentages dictate that at some point those balls will fall in. Now, if we can keep the pitching afloat……

  • Patrick O'Hern

    Can’t believe I am writing this but I am really starting to admire Dice-K.

  • SL

    It’s amazing how talent generates “luck” and vice versa.

  • K. Lastima

    Luck is the residue of design . . . And the NY Mets are a poorly designed team

  • nestornajwa

    I believe in advanced metrics, so I’m on board. The Mets are both bad AND luckless. Of course, a major-league caliber closer would probably improve the record in 1-run games. A team suffering from a run of bad luck might, for example, lose their closer for the season on opening day. A bad team would lack a bullpen with another guy who could take over the 9th inning.

    I’ve always been fascinated by closers. Why are some pitchers dominant in situations where their team is up by 3 runs or less, but add an insurance run and they turn to jelly?

  • […] is something surprisingly stable about them. On June 10, they promoted Taylor Teagarden, who became our franchise’s 981st player ever. And since June 10 — a solid two months ago — they’ve not added a 982nd. There have been no […]